A rare sight. La Tupina’s sirloin.
Pic: Clare Kleinedler
If you want blood you’ve got it.
If you don’t, why the hell are you sitting in La Tupina?
That’s what I’d ask any of the lunchtime diners around me, if I wasn’t too busy salivating amid the waft of duck-fat frites and seared sirloin in this Bordeaux bistro.
And sipping a local vin du pays, of course.
The establishment, housed among 18th century streets on the left bank of the Garonne, is a local if not national institution.
Founded in 1968, it’s showcased the country cuisine of the French southwest – a style wrought “between the kitchen garden and the fireplace” – for almost half a century.
If we were going to have steak frites anywhere in France this was the place.
And so, on a short visit to the city last week, we booked lunch there.
This despite the fact that I’m not a ‘steak man’, or anywhere near it.
And that’s because ’rare’ – in Dublin and in my experience – is often anything but.
Que les restes de sang – as they say on Rue Porte de la Monnaie.
With one exception (a very high-end joint where the steak and, alas, a thread of gristle were cooked properly) my recent experiences ordering such a steak in the capital had usually led to me eating it medium rare, or even medium.
Perhaps I’m unlucky. But the upshot is that at home I avoid the cow.
Not in Bordeaux, though.
First at La Tupina and, the following evening, at Brasserie l’Orleans I had two palate-changing beef encounters.
The former’s sirloin arrived on a disarmingly bare plate, garnished with sel gris and accompanied, though it was hardly necessary, with those frites whose aroma I’d been inhaling since we stepped in.
It cut like butter, releasing juices and – not to put too fine a point on it – blood that reduced me, after two or three bites, to a state of stupored carnivorous ecstasy.
It took a lot not to pick up the plate, take it to the nearest dark corner and spend the afternoon licking it.
A week on I can, just about, still taste that cut.
The parting dish – Brasserie l’Orleans’ steak tartare.
All good things end.
However, when you’re in Bordeaux and the clock’s ticking, more good things can and must be found.
And so, the night before we left, my wife and I found ourselves at Brasserie l’Orleans, opposite the famed sycamore trees of the storied Place des Quinconces, within sight of the statues of Montaigne and Montesquieu.
But my gaze extended only to the rim of my plate. On it lay French cuisine’s other great meat masterwork – a steak tartare.
Plenty of it too, the unctuous raw beef chopped and mixed with capers and onions, seasoned and presented, once more, avec frites. (And also sans egg, risking the purist’s outrage).
In one bite soft, delicate and seriously substantial (this is raw beef, after all) – it’s as close to the cow as you can get, on a plate.
I doubt anyone is happy to leave Bordeaux but this was a meal to soften the blow.
Two dishes – one ingredient. Two restaurants – one city.
There’s far more to Bordeaux, of course, but visiting there without eating these two dishes would be far less of an experience.
As would eating steak anywhere else.
Sur la Garonne.