When you think France, it is undoubtedly Paris and the Eiffel Tower which jumps out of the corners of your imagination. For me it has always been the French wine country. Lucky for me, my first foray into Europe and France was the region of Bordeaux. Very well known for its gorgeous and rich wines, Bordeaux is also one of the very few complete cities in the world to be listed in the UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list. But these bits apart, the region’s cuisine also quite famous, and I am not talking Larousse Gastronomique.
French fries made the French way in duck fat by a cute looking French server – isn’t that a thrill! Well that is what you will get at La Tupina. Hidden in the alleys of the city of Bordeaux, a novice will never guess that the restaurant has been around since 1968. The moment you enter La Tupina or the ‘kettle’ (in Basque), you see a roaring fire, which is a great relief from the nippy outdoors. As soon as your eyes adjust to the dim lights, recreating an era bygone, the quaintness and rustic atmosphere envelopes you.
That roaring fire in the fireplace is the heart of the restaurant, as it was meant to be in a French household too, with a roast taking rounds on the fire, a big cauldron full of soup and not to forget the fries. In front of the fireplace is the charcuterie display with thin, neat cuts of cured meats, cheeses, and other garnishes. You look around to find mismatched tables and chairs put together, as in an old regional household because the family realised that they have to feed many hungry mouths.
And fed we were. Since I was part of a much larger group the menu was pre-decided, only the best of the house would do. As the charcuterie plates were set in front of us, the chit chat amongst a truly international group also picked up. The best of the region’s wines also helped. The service was home-like too, none of the fancy and exquisite plating, the advantage was clear — the food and taste is what matters. The highlight for me in the entire meal was the foie gras. It is an acquired taste, for the uninitiated it can be quite overwhelming, especially when you know the duck is being harvested by overfeeding. The way we were served was pan fried and with bread. The region’s cuisine specialises in duck and its said that ‘everything can be eaten in a duck’. The duck breast too was quite a revelation, with its tough succulence. Also on the menu was lamb, pork and beef, again cooked very traditional and with no frills. The beef is selected based on its quality than origin, the pork is the coveted black pig from Bigorre (Pyrenees), which is also found in the region.
At this point, I have to confess that the meal was incomplete for me as I avoided the desserts. Not because I wanted to, but my first jet lag experience was vehemently taking over me, sitting in that warm, cozy environ was lulling me to slumber. Having said that, the restaurant does offer desserts similar to the lines of its main menu they call it ‘Grand Mother Desserts’. The idea of food at La Tupina was not just to be rustic for the sake of it, but to enjoy the freshness and goodness of the produce. Sourcing local produce for its kitchens is one of the key elements which make the restaurant so famous. In the 1960s, Jean-Pierre Xiradakis was one of the pioneers to realise the potential of locally sourced produce and its affect on the region’s cuisine but also on the local economy. Is the experience easy on the pocket? Definitely no. Is it worth it? Absolutely yes, especially for those who enjoy experiments with their palates, and aren’t the squeamish sorts. This is one out-of-the-ordinary culinary experience, for an Indian atleast.