The Gannet loves sticking his beak in a beaker full of the warm south, and there is no better location to do so than Bordeaux’s Left Bank. There are many ways of getting there: you could sail in from the Bay of Biscay, putter up the canals from the Med, or, from July next year, hop on a TGV in Paris and arrive in a shade over two hours.
Two of my recent pilgrimages there were by startlingly different modes of transport. The first was by ferry (and a borrowed bicycle) from Blaye for lunch at Le Lion d’Or, a classic bistro that acts as a works canteen for Médoc winemakers. The walls are lined with wooden lockers, each bearing a gold-coloured nameplate displaying the title of one of the region’s great châteaux and filled with the relevant bounty.
Chef patron Michaël Lemonnier takes pride in the produce on his doorstep: the grenier médocain, for example, a kind of spiced sausage made from pork belly that has been simmered in broth until tender. Lemonnier serves it alongside gratton bordelais, a ham terrine for which everything is chopped by hand, not minced. Even the organic flour in the bread comes from a boulangerie in nearby Saint-Vivien-de-Médoc.
There is a daube, too, the beef yielding easily after hours of simmering in local wine; pigeon roasted and flamed in Armagnac, with a little escalope of warm foie gras on the side; and excellent homemade canelés, the classic, sticky Bordelais cakes flavoured with rum and vanilla. It is very good cooking on its own, but as a backdrop to a bottle of fine wine (Château Pichon-Longueville Baron 2004, in my case) it is perfect.
My second visit was the result of a friend asking if I would like to go with him on a turboprop from Denham Aerodrome for a day’s wine tasting. Friendship, I think, is all about little touches like that, so we settled down to relax in the Philippe Starck‑designed Pilatus PC-12 and two hours later, we arrived in Bordeaux.
Lunch this time was at Château Cordeillan-Bages, the smart hotel and restaurant close to Château Lynch-Bages (we drank its gamey, savoury and delicious 2001) and, coincidentally, also where Lemonnier worked before moving to Le Lion d’Or.
We enjoyed a superb monkfish carpaccio, seasoned with chopped oysters and local caviar; fish rillettes paired with mushrooms in a beefy stock; and pink, spice-dusted pigeon breast with root vegetables in a sparkling bouillon. I was, I will admit, rather glad not to be cycling home.