With the drive in the Médoc region coming to an end, we take the road back to Bordeaux. It’s difficult to imagine that we have driven from Toulouse via Condom then all the way to one of the most prestigious wine region in France to visit Château Lafite Rothschild – all in one day. This is turning out to be quite a Tour de France.
Bordeaux: Château Lafite Rothschild
After checking in at our minotel, we pick up a few restaurant business cards from the reception desk then decide to ask madame where for the best place within walking distance that serves regional cuisine.
We amble just a few doors down from the hotel towards Le Bistrot du Sommelier. The manager or le patron greets us at the door and takes us to our table. The misleading small entrance is misleading. It opens onto a large bar with an enormous selection of wines and a vast indoor area with a high ceiling. Adjacent to the main dining area is a terrace en plein air.
The menu is comprised of regional specialities and local bordelais wines. The establishment’s owner and consultant Sommelier, Hervé Valverde, prides himself on offering people authentic local culinary and vinous traditions, as it says on the business card. Helpful waiters roam around taking orders and offering suggestions. We start with a kir while studying the menu. Kir is an aperitif made with cassis, an alcoholic blackcurrant syrup, and white wine. When Champagne is used, it is called a Kir Royale. The drink gets its name from Felix Kir, a distinguished Resistance fighter and mayor of Dijon in the forties.
I decide to go all out on the regional specialities. I start with the terrine de foie-gras canard. From the first taste, it was le coup de foudre, a love at first bite. Mr G opts for fresh seafood and orders the cassolette froide de fruits de mer. I can’t help but interrupt his entrée with little foie-gras teasers that leave him wishing he ordered the same.
For the main course, I order confit de canard maison. While Mr G orders its cousin, the magret de canard en aiguillettes. My dish is another start of a love affair with confit, duck thighs and legs preserved and cooked in their own fat with a crispy skin. The magret, which is the breast of the duck is equally impressive. We ease into the evening with a bottle of Chateau Haut-Bailly 1984 from Graves, Cru Classé, a full-bodied red rich in fine tannin.
When the dessert menu is presented, I feel that I am about to surrender. Price, this time is not to be contemplated. So what if the cost of the drinks far surpass that of the entire meal? We deserve it after the day’s events. We exchange glances, smile and nod in agreement.
The bottle of Chateau d’Yquem 1987 is presented. This is the nectar of the gods, the taste of heaven I have been anticipating. Each sip of the golden Sauternes is inhaled and savoured in an almost worshipping ritual designed to prolong the experience. We are almost oblivious to the warm charlotte au chocolat and the sorbet de cassis et poire which are delectable. I must have been rather merry to ask the waiter for un morceau de papier et un stylo so I can write down what we ate for dinner, having left my notebook at the hotel.
It is just past 10 pm. The evening sky takes on an enchanting blue hue. I look around us. The tables are full of stylish people of various ages dining out on a weeknight. The women are perfectly coiffées and elegantly groomed, the men are habillés in fine taste. It becomes apparent that eating in France is not just a necessity; it is almost a national pastime. Finally, there is a place in this world where a couple of bon vivants can settle down. We empty the last drops of the Sauternes before staggering a few doors back to the hotel.
Le Bistrot du Sommelier
163 rue Georges Bonnac
… continues tomorrow
‘Le Tour de France Gourmantic’ series is the story of a young couple from Australia who took to the French roads on a whirlwind Tour of France back when the internet wasn’t at everyone’s fingertips, phones were still attached to sockets, GPS was an unfamiliar acronym, digital cameras were a pipe dream and the Euro hadn’t replaced French Francs. With just one fold-out map of France and boundless enthusiasm, they took their Renault 19 and went on a cultural and culinary discovery.
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