Tag Archives: Visiting Bordeaux

France – ne me quitte pas

Feeling like filet. Pic: Clare Kleinedler

Feeling like filet.
Pic: Clare Kleinedler

Well, we lasted almost two weeks.

It’s remarkable that we held out for that long. But we did.

Remarkable why? Well, given the amount and quality of beef I’d eaten a fortnight ago in Bordeaux I’d reckoned it would be months before I’d want to encounter another steak.

Likewise, after the seafood smorgasbord we tackled in Le Petit Commerce I doubted I’d want shellfish again until a visit to Howth in midwinter.

But it’s hard to shake off French cooking. After two weeks of whole-wheat pasta, roasted veg, rice and – to be fair – a monstrously delicious rib-sticking mac and cheese dish at The Woollen Mills, we wanted back.

But how can you replicate dining al fresco at the balmy Place des Quinconces on an autumnal weekend in Dublin?

There’s two ways: do it yourself or go to La Maison at Castle Market in central Dublin. We did both.

The DIY meal was steak – a filet mignon to be precise. The cut lacked the fat-fuelled taste sensation of a La Tupina sirloin but, seared for two minutes on each side in a scorching pan and seasoned with just sel gris and pepper, it was a perfect Friday night dish.

Admittedly it lacked the accompaniment of open-fire-cooked duck fat frites, and I still had to wash up afterwards, but it was enough to place us back by the Garonne, however briefly.

La poelee de la mer sauce bonne femme, at La Maison, Dublin

La poelee de la mer sauce bonne femme, at La Maison, Dublin.

The following night was more of full-on French dip.

La Maison markets itself as fine dining. Maybe it is, in terms of service at least, but the menu also has a strong rustic feel, with pungent pates and meaty cassoulets.

Despite a number of good meals in Bordeaux we’d missed a decent pate. In La Maison we got at least two – one a chicken liver and the other a pork rillette. Both were meaty, earthy, fragrant.

They were the curtain raiser for the real star though, my entrée of fresh and shell-fish in white wine sauce. Salmon, trout and a white fish (that, frankly, I’d swallowed before I recognised) were mixed with mussels and baby potatoes to make a dish grandly dubbed ‘la poelee de la mer sauce bonne femme’.

This was a more modest offering than that the Le Petit Commerce showstopper but, alongside a crisp sauvignon blanc, it was satisfied my lingering pangs – of hunger and for France.

Perhaps it was the last of the ‘sauce bonne femme’, the blaze of my companion’s crepe suzette, or the cognac afterwards, but for an hour last weekend I could have been sitting in a bistro off the Triangle d’Or.

What’s “I could get used to this” in French?

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A la carte à La Maison, Dublin.

A la carte à La Maison, Dublin.

“An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me.”

It’s perhaps unsurprising that it was a Frenchman who immortalised the concept of taste as memory. Unlike Marcel Proust I’ve never experienced it with madeleines.

Filet mignon and la poelee de la mer though? – that’s a different matter.

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The raw and the (partly) cooked

A rare sight. La Tupina's sirloin. Pic: Clare Kleinedler

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 in this Bordeaux bistro, if I wasn’t salivating amid the waft of duck-fat frites and seared sirloin.

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 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.

That’s why, on a visit to the city last week, we booked lunch there.

A declaration: I’m not a ‘steak man’, or anywhere near it.

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.

Que les restes de sang – as they say on Rue Porte de la Monnaie.

With one exception (a well-established place where the steak and, alas, a thread of gristle were cooked properly) my recent experiences ordering such this dish in the city usually led to me it being served medium rare or worse.

Perhaps I’m unlucky. Nonetheless at home I avoid the cow.

Not in Bordeaux, though.

At La Tupina and the following evening at Brasserie l’Orleans I had two palate-changing encounters with beef.

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 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.
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The parting dish - Brasserie l'Orleans' steak tartare.

The parting dish – Brasserie l’Orleans’ steak tartare.

All good things, and meals, must 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 Place des Quinconces, within sight of the statues of Montaigne and Montesquieu.

I confess: 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, with 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.
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Two dishes – one ingredient. Two restaurants – one city.

There’s far more to Bordeaux, of course, but visiting there without eating these two meals would be far less of an experience.

As would eating steak anywhere else.

Along the Garonne.

Sur la Garonne.

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