With decadent signature sweets like buttery chocolatines and teetering, cream-stuffed religieuses, it’s no surprise that southwestern French cuisine is lauded for its pastry prowess. But when visiting Bordeaux, don’t let the region’s reputation pigeonhole your gastronomic exploits. If you take the time to peek behind the stacks of flakey goodies crowding the pâtisserie windows, you’ll find a hearty feast of options ready to reward your curiosity.
To restaurateur Stessy Faber, co-owner of the Brasserie Bordelaise, the taste of the southwest can be summed up in three flavours: the mild sweetness of foie gras, the musk of locally sourced duck, and the richness of red wine sauces. To furnish your culinary bucket-list, Culture Trip sat down with Faber to identify the essential dishes for a foodie exploring Bordeaux.
Fowl is a centerpiece of southwestern cuisine, so it figures that Bordeaux’s grilled duck breasts top Faber’s list of must-try dishes. Most restaurants tout their own take on this staple recipe, but if you’re looking for a simplistic, traditional interpretation, you can’t go wrong at La Tupina, a Bordeaux institution with a rustic ambiance and an enormous stone fireplace that doubles as the grill.
For those looking to score a healthy meal without sacrificing flavour, Bordeaux’s pan-fried cèpes (porcini mushrooms) are a delightful compromise. In fact, with their chewy texture and nutty flavour, this mushroom dish is a perfect meat substitute for carnivores and vegetarians alike. Best enjoyed during peak harvest season in autumn, these mushrooms make for a great appetiser or main course.
These mini-cream puffs are any sweet-tooth’s dream come true. Named after the nearby sand dunes of Arcachon Bay, dunes blanches are bite-sized pastries stuffed with cream (flavoured with vanilla, raspberry white chocolate, salted caramel, nougat, Nutella or dark chocolate) and dusted in powdered sugar. For the most authentic dunes blanches, visit the pâtisserie of their inventor Pascal Lucas, Chez Pascal Dunes Blanches.
This quintessential French delicacy is typically served with red wine and boisterous conversation, so don’t skimp on drinks or good company when you decide to finally indulge. While France as a whole is known for its exceptional foie gras, the southwest has perfected it to a science. Kick off a night of extravagance with an appetiser of slightly savoury foie gras at La Tupina or opt for a sweeter version accompanied by fruit chutney at the Brasserie Bordelaise.
Pauillac lambs are a speciality of the Médoc wine region, raised exclusively in the Gironde département of France and known for their flavourful meat. Faber suggests ordering Pauillac lamb in the spring months when the lambs of the season are leaner, producing more tender meat. April is the Brasserie Bordelaise’s prime lamb month, but Faber assures that this tender, milk-fed lamb lives up to its reputation no matter the season.
Another prize of Gironde farmers is the Bazadaise cow – a heifer so renowned that Bazas residents have honoured them with an annual Fête des Boeufs Gras celebration for more than 700 years. A rib cut of bazadaise beef is typically served with a dripping of bordelaise sauce, a popular red wine reduction typically seasoned with thyme, shallots and bone marrow. Faber notes that the most favourable cuts of beef are available in February and March, around the time of the Fête des Boeufs Gras. If you’re truly food-motivated and are lucky enough to spend mid-March in Bordeaux, consider taking a day trip to Bazas on the Thursday before Mardi Gras to get a taste of the fête and the freshest Bazas steak available.
For an indulgence available year-round, Faber recommends treating yourself to a helping of Damien Boulan oysters. Pair a flight of these gold-star rated oysters, sourced directly from fishing headland Cap Ferret, with a bottle of white wine and you’ll be living the high-glamour dream that lured you to Bordeaux in the first place. Most restaurants allow you to order oysters individually, so you can tailor the meal to fit your budget. Get your fix at the Brasserie Bordelaise or, if a seafood-fuelled weekend trip into the country is more your style, steal away to flagship oyster bar Chez Boulan in Lège-Cap-Ferret.
This dish has been a part of Aquitaine cuisine since the Middle Ages, when chefs would cook lamprey in a sauce made from a mixture of the fish’s blood and red wine. Luckily for you, lamprey à la bordelaise has since evolved, and is accompanied now by a spiced red wine sauce seasoned with garlic and leek rather than fish blood. Lamprey migrate to the region between February and March, so restaurants like La Tupina and the Brasserie Bordelaise will be serving the freshest fish in April.
A boozy dessert, canelés are rum filled, top-hat shaped pastries with a crackly, caramelised outer shell and a spongy centre. These pastries are such a cornerstone of local snack culture that specialty canelé bakeries have popped up on practically every other street corner. Grab one to go from popular street vendor La Toque Cuivrée, or savour one over a cup of coffee at Le Boulanger de L’Hôtel de Ville.
No Bordelaise feast is complete without a bottle of the region’s world-famous wine. For white wine enthusiasts, Faber suggests a bottle of her personal favourite, Château Thieuley. If you’re in the market for a superb dinner combo from the Brasserie Bordelaise menu, she recommends pairing a dry glass of G de Guiraud red wine with a tray of oysters or a bottle of white Château Dudon accompanied by an indulgent serving of foie gras.