For our final day we had two things planned, a tour of the stately home at Petit Hôtel Labottière, then lunch at Le Chapon Fin, Sam’s third Michelin star of the weekend. Sadly our host, Daniel, was taken ill; Lea was running around trying to do everything herself. She’d prepared us another filling French breakfast which we gorged on in the ornate dining hall.
In Daniel’s absence Lea showed us around the stately home where he used to live, and where his parents still do. She apologised that she didn’t have the same architectural knowledge and detailed history of the city as Daniel; but her stories and explanations were plentiful. Each room has been lovingly restored, and the decor is a mix of antique French with Asian influences. Great oil paintings hang from the walls, one shows a monkey feasting on tropical fruits above a Chinese dresser, another is quintessential European — a royal scene by a river. Between paintings sit ornate delicately crafted clocks and mirrors. We were taken aback by a beautiful mirror, in the style of the long portrait paintings of misty Chinese mountains and valleys, this gold framed mirror echoed those sentiments, swirling from a carved house at the bottom to clouds at the top. Enormous crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling, with multicoloured red and green glass, clearly fashionable and elegant in its day. All the downstairs rooms are connected to a central hall, the house’s entranceway. It’s from here that a grand staircase goes up, but we aren’t allowed upstairs.
Our lunchtime reservation was at 1pm, and we hoped that by then we’d have recovered from our breakfast feast. Situated near the bottom of Rue Fondaudege, it was a short walk from our hotel, in a part of town filled with luxury shops. The guide says:
A local institution, equally striking for its 1900s grotto decor as for its fine modern cuisine, which is astutely inventive and delightfully flavoursome. The wine list has a superb selection of Bordeaux vintages.
Le Chapon Fin’s decor is spectacular, you can’t help but gawp. It has an ornate hall that appears partly consumed by a sprawling stone grotto; the cave at the rear ekes out into the building, along the walls and into the ceiling. Well placed mirrors emphasise the effect. Our table for two was nestled in one of these coves, giving us a view of the whole restaurant.
In front of us three stereotypical French businessmen were lunching; a three-piece suited businessman, a man with a 6inch white moustache — waxed and pointed at the ends, and a guy with a toupee; they ended their meal with cigars. To the left another business group, two men were selling something to an important looking lady; a box of papers sat on the floor waiting to be signed — they were special guests too, the chef came to meet them after their food.
Lunchtime is too early for a tasting menu, instead we chose a three course lunch menu plus amuse bouches along with a glass of Kir Royale. Our waiter was a shmoozy sommelier, with combed back jet black hair. “Mothers lock up your daughters”, Sam joked. We chose meat over fish:
Our third Michelin star was distinct from our two previous. The flavours and ingredients were more adventurous; smoked popcorn with duck kidney is a once in a lifetime dish. The deconstructed lemon tart was perfect, all in all it was superb.
We asked for a copy of the menu, ie a written version of what we’d just eaten. Our waitress was quite apologetic, she didn’t have that, “but here, why not have this”, she said and passed us the large Le Chapon Fin menu itself. For the rest of the day we walked around with a menu tucked under our arm, too large to fit into our bags, we resigned ourselves to looking like property moguls with an important dossier. Back at home the menu took pride and place amongst all of Samantha’s 30th birthday cards. A fine memento for an exquisite meal.
Walking about town for one last time before our evening flight home, we did at last get to visit Cathédrale Saint-André, with its Grand Organ and vaulted ceiling.
We knew that our evening flight wouldn’t give us time to eat a proper dinner, and that the food options in EasyJet’s makeshift hut of a terminal would be poor. So we prepared ourselves with one final French shopping trip. Travelling back along Rue Fondaudege we bought ourselves a picnic; a Parisian baguette, a selection of fine cheese from the friendly fromagerie clerk (he noted the Chapon Fin menu we still carried, and at last a day when the shop was open!), and some chocolate too. This would go well with some bits we kept from breakfast, some fruit and some macarons we already had.
We no longer had a key to our hotel, so while we waited for Lea to arrive at our agreed meeting time, we parked ourselves in Le Jardin Public, to make the most of our last few minutes in Bordeaux. Then we picked up our bags and Lea bid us farewell. Just as we boarded the bus to the airport the sky grew cloudy and it began to rain. We couldn’t have timed our trip any better, but then Sam always seems to be lucky with weather around her birthday.
We took the last flight out of Bordeaux that night, then drove home to Brighton, where Sam would have all her presents and cards waiting for her.