A tale of two steaks

We’re heading west to Bordeaux, where we’ve been warned they’re very serious about their wine and the food is not for the faint hearted. Bordering Gascoigne we’re looking at more duck, foie gras, the famed Pauiilac lamb and more steak with sauces made from Bordeaux wines and marrow among other things.

Our first stop is the charming itty bitty cute cobbled streets of St Emilion, an appellation in a town that has dared to buck the trends and re evaluates which chateau belongs in which classification once every ten years. The sun is out the streets are sweet, we managed to get a parking spot and Nav-girl only had a minor tantrum on the way here. We’re trying tough love on her and setting strong boundaries. We think it’s working.

We’ve got an afternoon blind tasting wine class where they’ll teach us such important things as why they believe St Emilion is the best, why it’s ‘bad’ to swirl your wine as soon as you get your glass, only pansy men drink rose (oh and how the Hungry One loved to hear that) and how to accurately recognize a nose of cats urine. Actually, it was one of the better wine tours/ experiences we’ve done here and the class which can host up to thirty was shrunk to just us and a lovely retiree from Byron Bay.
Lunch before hand was another chapter in the saga that shall one day be written called “Why you shouldn’t trust food recommendations from Lonely Planet”.

I’ve tried to instill in Nav- girl and have had my parents try to instill in me that if you haven’t got anything nice or helpful to say, sometimes it’s best to be quiet. I very rarely write if I don’t enjoy a place. But our chosen lunch location also relates to a couple of other principles I’m learning.

a)More often than not the places that look the nicest don’t serve the best food.
b)If your French isn’t that good, sometimes that translates as ‘You have no palette at all” so everything from the back of the fridge will be fine for you.

So our beautiful balconied restaurant with the sun on my back and a nicely set table that Lonely Planet sung the praises of served us delights such as an entrecote with bordelaise sauce with meat so stringy that the Hungry One could have used it as dental floss, a cheese plate with a specimen so tasteless and springy I swear it was tofu and a chocolate mousse with a fridge skin thicker than a handful of sorbolene.
They didn’t bring us 9 euro in change until we asked for it three times and served a small sneer with every course. We won’t be going back.

But to Saint Emilion we certainly will. It has an ancient rustic charm, steep cobbled streets, plenty of alternative eating spots tucked away in nooks and crannies enough wine stores to lose yourself in for hours. The combination of Merlot, Cab Sauv and Cab Franc in their wines is also a friend to me- even if the price tags of the better vintages aren’t.

There’s a funny phenomenon we observe when we arrive at our hotel in Bordeaux city, after a 30 minute drive from Saint Emilion. There’s a restaurant next door, with a queue of at least 60 people streaming out the front- at 6.30 pm before it’s even opened for dinner service.

We park the car, we check in, we unpack and peer out our window. At 7.30 pm the queue is still there- if anything, it’s growing.

This piques interest in the Hungry One- and so does it’s name; L’entrecote.

He can’t help himself. He directs his ear down to the queue. The people are all speaking French.

Perhaps this is the best steak restaurant in all of Bordeaux! Why else would they wait this long!

Maybe this will help heal the hurtful memories of lunch.

The Hungry One is nothing if not persistent and patient. So while I stay upstairs in our little room, check emails, have a shower he patiently stands in the ever growing queue for this bright yellow branded restaurant.

It takes him an hour to reach the doors to the restaurant, but which time I’ve sneaked in and joined him.

When we reach the door there’s a door man who looks like he works for Beyonce in his spare time and should be ironically called ‘Tiny’. He yells that we should all keep to the right of the stairs. It’s like Disneyland. You think you’re at the front of the queue, but then you discover another room. More than once I question our choice of location.

When we finally get a table, there’s no choice of meal. This is not a place to bring a vegetarian/ vegaquarian friend. There’s one standard serving for every person in this four story temple of beef. To start is a lettuce salad with walnuts. It’s nicely dressed but plain. Then comes the main event. You do get to choose how you would like your steak cooked.

Our medium rare ( but closer to blue by Australian standards- but there’s no problem here for us) piece of beef arrives seared, trimmed and thinly sliced, with half on our plates and the other half suspended on a silver platter above little tea light candles that keep it warm.

There’s a mound of matchstick fries like lawn trimmings from an acreage. They’re crispy but fluffy and there’s more than you should ever eat. The Hungry One makes a good fist of it.

But what keeps bringing the Bordeaux folks back in droves, and what caused a minor scandal when a recipe was published in Le Monde, is the sauce.

It’s earthy and rich and coats the meat, the fries and your entire mouth. I take a guess at what’s in it, some of which is later confirmed by the rogue leaked recipe. There’s cream, onions, thyme, Dijon mustard, lemon and something base like, which is chicken livers.

It took the Hungry One an hour and a quarter to reach the front of the queue. Forty three euro poorer, after two salads, two famous steak frites, a half bottle of their house Bordeaux ( a little rough but fine with a sauce that rich) and forty five minutes of eating later, we’re out.

The queue is still growing longer.

So, was it the best steak the Hungry One has ever had?
Perhaps not. Not being able to cut into the steak yourself took away from some of the carnivorous pleasure.

Was it worth the wait?

Was it great value for a good meal here in France?

And for sheer novelty value in Bordeaux?

Saint Emilion wine tasting in English
L’Eole du Vin de St-Emilion
05 5774 4429
Rue du Clocher, St Emilion
La Cote Braisee
3 rue du Tertre del la Tente
05 57 24 79 65
4 cours du 30 Juillet
05 56 81 76 10

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