Monthly Archives: November 2012

Lunch at Latour

It seemed an obvious choice to go to Hotel La Tour for lunch with my friend and fellow Bordeaux wine specialist for several reasons – proximity to the station, it’s new so needed investigating and the name bears a striking resemblance to First Growth Château Latour which we thought we could have some twitter fun with!

Being wine professionals the wine list, rather than the menu, grabbed our attention first. ‘Anything but Bordeaux’, says Wendy and this was easy to oblige as there was not a single wine from here, one of the oldest, most famous and highly regarded wine regions in the world. Quite a surprise as one of Bordeaux’s great strengths is its compatibility with food.

We began with a glass of Champagne, Veuve Clicquot Brut, as anyone would (or should) out for a girl’s lunch, putting the world to rights and not driving, and then actually continued with it through our starters. The olives we ordered never arrived.

The wine list is certainly more than adequate and the selection of whites by the glass is varied but for some reason nothing particularly excited us that day. Two glasses of Champagne is always better than one, however, so our lack of adventure was rewarded by tasty fizz which, people often forget, works really well with food. Wendy was impressed with her roasted fig tart with English goat’s cheese, hazelnuts and roquette and I thoroughly enjoyed my Heirloom tomato salad despite it being not an ideal course to match with any wine really but it was healthy and made me feel virtuous. And it was colourful, tasty and very, well, tomatoey.

Our mains of Yorkshire Venison Sausages, grilled spring onions and celeriac mash for Wendy and Pig’s Cheek for me cried out for a Bordeaux red (which of course we wouldn’t have ordered anyway, we could do with a change from time to time) but we couldn’t breakaway entirely from the style and needed our Cabernet Sauvignon fix. As I had recently returned from a wine trip to South Africa we ordered a glass of Journey’s End Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 from Stellenbosch, which we were told we would love as it was just like a Burgundy, where they grow not a single Cabernet Sauvignon vine!

The wine was fine, with a ripe black fruit juiciness and oaky edge but I was unable to finish my glass. There were two reasons for this; firstly, it lacked a little bit of acidity or lift and after a while it felt a tad overtly fruity and struggled with the food. Secondly, we had been given 250ml glasses which we didn’t ask for. To be fair, we didn’t request the small size either but weren’t asked which we wanted so they erred on the wrong side of caution.

The food was delicious. My slow braised pork cheek with apricots, lentils, sage and mash was so good it prompted me to attempt to cook something similar at home. Wendy, too, was pleased with her dish, particularly to have proper English sausages which she can’t get in France. The salad we ordered never arrived.

The Aalto restaurant at Hotel La Tour

We lingered so long over our coffees that top ups were forthcoming not to mention an extra plate of deliciously salty truffles, neither of which, very generously, were included on the bill.

Hotel La Tour has much to recommend it; the décor is contemporary and appealing, the food is definitely worth a return visit, the service was friendly and helpful and the issues of things being ordered but not being served or our coats hanging on the back of our chairs throughout our meal didn’t bother us that day. The wine list is modern, manageable and acceptably priced and we forgave it its lack of claret.



Wishing you a Bubbly Christmas

It’s that time of year again so I thought I would add a few sparkling suggestions for presents for your loved ones. Champagne is always a winner and the champagne houses really have the knack of creating great ways of making the lovely liquid even more desirable as a gift – so much so there is something for everyone.

Taittinger have created an award winning ‘Bubbles’ hologram-effect gift packaging for their Prestige Rosé and a similar design for Taittinger Brut Réserve NV and Vintage 2005. The 3D sparkling bubbles are so realistic that you don’t realise until you touch the side that the bubbles are not in 3D but completely flat. In fact it’s so special I wouldn’t buy this as a present but drink it whilst decorating the tree and hang the empty box(es) from the boughs !

The beautiful new decorative boxes for Taittinger

For couples both Krug and Taittinger have had the great gift idea of a bottle accompanied by two flutes. At Krug their Grand Cuvée box has a secret drawer containing two flutes, especially designed by Reidel to show the wonderful bouquet of the wine to its best advantage.

Taittinger à deux

Talking of sharing why not gift an event rather than a product, which is a sure way of participating yourself. There are a couple of interesting champagne events in the run up to the festive season. Consider it a vinous advent calendar.

Krug has joined the trend for pop-ups, (no pun intended). From this December 5 to 8, a driver from Krug’s Institute of Happiness will take you to 85 Swaines Lane – one of the most beautiful private houses in London for a dinner created by Michelin starred chef Nuno Mendes to complement Krug’s champagnes. .

Or in the same spirit of the warm up to the festive season you could always offer a couple of tickets (one for yourself of course) to the Berry Brothers and Rudd Very Special Vintage champagne tasting on 10th December.

If you prefer your Champagne tasting experience in the comfort of your own home Laura Clay winner of the prestigious UK Champagne Ambassador award in 2010 will come to your home to give a Champagne Masterclass with a selection of champagnes from hidden treasures to top cuvées to introduce you to the subtle complexities of this wine region. The budget and number of champagnes can be designed around a dinner or the number and tastes of your guests. Perfect for starting off the season in style.

For the ladies what better Champagne than a magnum of aptly named Femme De Champagne from Duval-Leroy presented in its elegant gift box.  It is the perfect wine for a lady, its name underlines the fact it is made by a woman : Sandrine Logette-Jardin, Chef de Cave at Duval-Leroy is the only woman of this rank in Champagne (see previous post by Laura Clay) and the company is also run by a woman, Carol Duval-Leroy.

Femme de Champagne

For something more original it’s worth remembering that Champagne is not the only wine that sparkles and recent years have seen the rise in the profile, quality and ensuing success of English Sparkling wines. West Sussex Nyetimber was the very first producer of English sparkling wine to craft wines made exclusively from the three celebrated varieties found in Champagne: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Their Classic Cuvee 2008 is now available in a Festive Celebrations Gift Box, perfect  for the more patriotic on your gift list.

The Festive Celebrations Gift Box for Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2008

Finally celebrate the 50th anniversary of James Bond films, and 40 years of Bollinger being his favourite tipple, with their  limited edition presentation box in the shape of a Walther PPK silencer. Perfect for the man in your life, it opens by aligning the three figures to 007 (of course) and by clicking on the gun logo button to reveal a bottle of the delicious Bollinger La Grande Année 2002. It ticks all the boxes Chic, fun and inventive, just like Mr. Bond – now all we need is to get Daniel to deliver……..

The name is Bollinger



Brilliant Brillat

Brillat Savarin, French philosopher, famous for his ‘Physiologie du goût’ written in 1825 was the first food and wine matcher, advising Graves wine with Poulard de Bresse and old Sauternes with oysters, insisting on changing wines with every course. What a wise man.

He also has a delicious cheese named after him. Brillat Savarin is a fresh, creamy cows milk cheese from Normandy and Burgundy. Our local ‘fromager’ Pierre Rollet Gerard, in the covered market in Libourne, prepares this cheese by slicing it in the middle and stuffing it with truffles. It is so delicious that just this one cheese suffices on the cheese board – no need for a selection. It is also perfect match with an older Pomerol – well known for the development of truffle aromas as they age.

Brillat Savarin with truffles

I was not that surprised then to find the match of Brillat Savarin and truffles on a menu recently – what did surprise me however was that is was suggested as a dessert. A Brillat Savarin cheesecake served with a truffle ice-cream. This was at the excellent ‘Restaurant 23’ in Leamington Spa. Chef Peter Knibb, came back to his home town in 2006 after working with various Michelin star chefs all over Europe and in February this year moved to a grade II listed Victorian building in a leafy avenue in the centre of town. It was delicious, may I suggest an old Sauternes as a match?

Brillat Savarin cheesecake with Truffle ice cream at Restaurant 23


Burgers and Bordeaux.

It may surprise you to know how much the French love Burgers. There are currently more than  1220 ‘Mcdos’ (as the French affectionately call McDonalds) serving 1.7 million meals a day ! However as befits bordeaux’s growing gastronomic reputation two local chefs are showing the french there is more to burgers than Mcdo.

Bruno Oliver left a bereaved fan club when he sold Le Café Gourmand a few years back. The gastronomic scene in Bordeaux was just not the same without his take on using fresh local produce in a fun atmosphere. We missed him despite his recipe books , TV programmes and blog. Despair no longer, Bruno is back in a new form. Never one to be behind a trend he has put a French accent on the street food which is so successful in the anglo saxon world adapting it to French cuisine. He says it is a return to his roots.

Bruno Oliver makes fresh Limousin burgers to order in his ‘camion’.

You will find his cute van bearing his franglaise logo ‘Camion by Oliver’ parked in various locations throughout the city – you can follow the itinerary on Excellent burgers from Limousin beef, traditional ‘jambon beurre’ sandwiches, great desserts and wine, of course. Hardly surprising considering his pedigree, Bruno’s grandfather, Raymond Olivier was from Langon (in the heart of Sauternes country) the chef-owner of 3 star Michelin Le Grand Véfour in Paris. He was also an innovator, creating the first ever French TV programme dedicated to cooking in the 50s. I’m sure he’d be proud of his grandson carrying on a family tradition.

If you prefer your street food off the street in more confirmable surroundings british Ben Lethbridge has just opened West Coast Burgers in the centre of Old Bordeaux. After Paris and a restaurant on the Bordeaux waterfront Ben decided to create a restaurant dedicated to quality but affordable burgers.

The West Coast burger with avocado, bacon and caramelized onions.

Also using Limousin beef  with a different speciality burger on the menu each day as well as a range including veggie and chicken burgers but also onion rings, coleslaw, a couple of salads and great desserts. He also offers clients the possibility to bring their own wines for a nominal corkage fee of 7 euros. Bordeaux and Burgers – a winner.

Try all the desserts at once with the ‘café gourmand’











Back to school

It makes a pleasant change to be attending class rather than teaching and this week I had the change to experience the new cooking school ‘Côté Cours’  at le Saint James in Bouilac.

The Saint James hotel and restaurant is an iconic Bordeaux establishment on the slopes of the Cotes de Bordeaux overlooking the Garonne across to the city from the right bank. Created by jean-Marie Amat the Michelin star restaurant with its floor to ceiling windows has one of the best views of the city. The chef Michel Portos brought it back up to it’s original excellent level before leaving to return to his native Marseille this summer. The kitchen has now been taken over by Nicolas Magie previously from the Michelin starred le Cap just down the road at Cenon.

Ready for class

The Cooking school opened in July and Chef Nicolas Nguyen Van Hai offers classes from a one-hour lunchtime class, to early evening aperitif or half day classes including a visit to the local market. ?The contemporary style school was previously the bistro restaurant and it is perfect place for it, in a glass veranda along the hotel courtyard. White work surfaces and a table for tasting allow up to 12 students to prepare and taste recipes from the restaurant. Nicolas is happy explaining the seasonal dishes in English and in French that he encourages everyone to participate in creating.

Chef Nicolas Nguyen Van Hai adds the finishing touches

Classes start at €20 a head for one dish and coffee at lunch time but wine is available (of course). You could even try ‘Le Vin du Jardin’ made from the grapes grown in the garden of the hotel by André the gardener and vinified by Stéphane Derononcourt no less.

Le Vin du Jardin