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Restaurants & Bars

Bordeaux, San Sebastian, and surroundings trip report

damiano | Jun 5, 201901:19 AM     33

I just returned from a visit to Bordeaux (France), the area around Libourne, San Sebastian (Spain) and its surrounding villages. Restaurant recommendations came from Chowhound, google, tripadvisor and locals. Thanks to everyone contributing to my earlier post asking for intel, and past recommendations here.

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Bordeaux
What a great city! It's like what I'd expect from a French city but cannot seem to find in Paris (no offense to the Parisiens here). It's friendly, relaxed, and all around enjoyable (though lacking in Parisien 'style'). It's also one of the few European cities I've been to where most restaurants tend to offer great food, so do as we do and rent some bikes, and find a great spot on a terrace somewhere in the sun and enjoy your food and wine. Half of below Bordeaux choices were just random guesses without looking at reviews.

Maison Mere
Unassuming little cafe slash cocktail bar with a small area for dancing at night. We had lunch here, which was one of the best lunches we had. My partner chose a sandwich topped with a lot of salmon, and I had the tartare de boeuf. My tartare was unusual as in the meat being cut very coarsely, but it was very tasty. Special mention to the red house wine, a Bordeaux superieur. It was the best Bordeaux I drank during my entire stay. I didn't make notes at the time (we drank two bottles in a short time...) but I've sent a message to the restaurant for help.

Brasserie Bordelaise
Probably one of the busiest restaurants in the area. We had steaks for dinner, which were good but not mindblowing. It has been a recurrent theme for me in France, steaks being a bit underwhelming compared to what I've had in Spain (as in San Sebastian later), and Italy. Brasserie Bordelaise is a reliable tip though, with a great vibe.

Les halles de Bacalan
Opposite the wine museum is a food hall, filled with small stands and lots of different cuisines. From 6 oysters for 10 euro to a Spanish Basque pintxos place. Great place for lunch, it was packed.

La boite a huitres
Great place for oysters. We only had oysters here sitting outside on a lovely car-free square.

Chez Jean on Place du Parlement
This restaurant is located in one of the busiest squares in Bordeaux and hence a bit touristy. We still decided to have dinner here as the vibe on the square was great. Good food, though nothing truly amazing. Just around the square is one of the most interesting/fun street full of restaurants (walk towards Place Saint Pierre), including the next one Le Petit Commerce.

Le Petit Commerce
Our best meal in Bordeaux, foodwise. Outstanding selection of fresh fish, including daily specials and lots to choose from the regular carte. I had truly excellent grilled prawns as a starter (only 10 euro for 6 prawns) and a whole (smallish) sole as a main. My partner had a filet of cod which was also good. The one thing I didn't like, but can partially understand, is that we were seated in a backroom, despite the main room being empty. We were early eaters, started at 7PM as we had to drive back 45 min to our B&B in the countryside, and most eaters here arrived around 9PM. We asked for a better table but were told it's not possible. We made reservations on the day itself. If you come here book well in advance.

Le Comptoir d'Etienne
In the same, very busy area of Bordeaux, and hence more tourists than usual. Still a good choice as the service is very friendly, the restaurant is in a beautiful old building, and the portions are very generous. I had the steak with foie gras, and it's been the best foie gras I ate during my trip here. Also lots of it! My partner had the ris de veau (sweetbreads of veal) and it was the best meal she had.

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The surroundings of Bordeaux
We had a hard time deciding where to base ourselves as there is not much info online. In the end we chose to stay at one B&B in Mauriac (http://www.chateau-lamaronne.fr/) near Libourne, just in between Saint Emilion and Monsegur. It's a wonderful area, filled with vineyards, gentle slopes, rivers, wooded hills and green pastures. It's also different than the landscape near the Medoc, which is busier (more cars) and flatter, as well as around Bergerac (which is more 'grand') - apparently they refer to it as the French Tuscany. Driving around the B&B with our brand new Peugeot 508 rental car in this area was an absolute delight. Almost nobody on the road (almost hit a deer twice though) and lots to see.

Le Glasshouse
As part of the vineyard and B&B Chateau Carbonneau there is a small restaurant slash tea room. The setting is dreamy, and the service superb, so we went here twice. There is no real market menu, just a selection of charcuterie and vegetables for lunch. No dinner. We had tea, cakes, and their very good sparkling wine here. In nearby Gensac we wanted to have lunch at restaurant Gensake but it was fully booked. The food and place looked good.

Le Mounan
In Castillon-la-Bataille we had dinner here. Safe choice but not the best meal we had. Standout dish was an entree of ris de veau with scallops with creamy pasta. For mains we had steak and grilled duck breast.

La Caffe cuisine (Branne)
Best meal in this area. Relatively stylish but still comfortable setting, with a nice terrace (though some noise from the road). Very confident cooking, not too fussy but still a cut above the usual country food. For starters we had a terrine of foie gras and a salad of vegetables and grilled beef, and for our mains a duck breast and a truly wonderful quasi de veau de lait (veal) with potato puree, which was sublime and the one dish I'd copy to cook at home.

Le Lion d'Or (Arcin)
This restaurant in the Medoc area came as a recommendation from Chowhound and we were glad to have eaten here. It's very much a traditional restaurant with a lovely decor and visited by both locals as well as wine-oriented tourists. We had the lunch menu consisting of a pate de campagne followed by a lamb stew with rice and vegetables. Honest country style cooking at a decent price. We would like to return one day and sample more from the menu. The one dissonant during this meal was the waiter not noticing and thus not telling us pouring sediments from the wine bottle in my glass. Usually sediments remain at the bottom of the bottle so the person serving should see it. Instead as I took my last sip from my glass I found my mouth full of sediments and had to spit it out. The waiter shrugged off my remark about it.

Auberge du Grand Megnos
Testimony to where tripadvisor can be a reliable source if you know how to judge restaurants and reviews. On our way to San Sebastian we had a stop for lunch in the Landes region, near Mont-de-Marsan. Unassuming, very traditional auberge in the truest sense of the word. Excellent lunch menu with a magnificent quiche lorraine as a starter followed by an even better pork in a creamy mustard sauce. I had a different main, the lamb shank which was good though not great. Green salad and fried potatoes came with it all. Excellent value!

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San Sebastian
Very hyped up, and my first time here. As a city it's less interesting and alluring than Barcelona imho but the food is outstanding indeed. What's great about San Sebastian is of course the pintxos scene: having lunch and being able to pick small bites for 2-4 euro with fancy ingredients such as beef cheeks, sea urchin and so on. I don't really care for Michelin places so I left those be. We went to Hondarribia as well but didn't eat there.

Old town pintxos
The old town is the most touristy part but here is where some of the traditional pintxos bars are. We sampled around 8 of them and the standouts were Bar Sport, Nestor Bar and especially Gandarias.

Bar Sport is a small sports bar (tv hanging and all) but with a great and very fresh selection of pintxos. High quality ingredients, and good service. Plus a great vibe.

Nestor Bar is specialised in txuleta, ie steak. They only serve steak, fried green peppers, tortilla and tomatoes, as part of a meal. It's not for the person who wants to have a relaxed evening. Places are limited, you have to be put on the waiting list, and waiting you probably will. We arrived at 8PM and only got served after 9.30PM. There are no chairs to sit on not even a place at the bar as those are reserved for the people eating. Still a terrific steak, and much better than what I had in France. Good value too.

Gandarias is probably the best of them all, with an incredible selection of high quality pintxos and raciones. However, the restaurant is so busy that again this is not a place where you'll have a comfortable evening. We tried to get a table in the annexed restaurant but it was fully booked for days ahead. From the dishes I saw this is a definite must while in San Sebastian though make sure to book well in advance. We had pintxos here three times in three days standing at the bar.

Bodega Donostiarra
Leave the old town and you'll be rewarded with more locals and a more relaxed vibe. This place is very very good and has a great scene. We went here twice, once for lunch and once for dinner. They offer lots of different options than the bars in the old towns, including excellent morcilla (black pudding) in two varieties which are both sublime. We also had amongst others the octopus, white asparagus, and their specialty a steak from the neck of a pork. Special mention to their excellent ensalade de morros, a salad of charcuterie from the nose of the pork. They also have specials of the day but ask for them, they are not on any menu or board.

Kaia Kaipe (Getaria)
Getaria is a small village near San Sebastian and famous for their fish. Most attention usually goes to Restaurant Elkano, but I was a bit put off by their website and booking mechanism. You have to be put on their waiting list and hope for a call back. It sounded like too much of a foodie tourist place so I didn't put in any effort into going, and instead got an easy reservation at Kaia Kaipe. It's one the best fish restaurants I've been to in Europe probably: when we walked to the place we saw a fisherman with a white cardboard box containing fish coming straight from the nearby pier heading over to the chef who was busy grilling turbot outside. It turned out that was the catch of the day, anchovy straight from the sea. We started with percebes, also known as goose barnacles. Have always wanted to try these as they are hard to find outside Portugal and Spain. The harvesting of these seafood is dangerous and hence their price tag: 140 euro for a kilogram. Then we had a tomato salad, followed by a dish of fresh new small peas, and then the anchovy grilled as catch of the day. Dessert was a millefeuille. Special mention to the local wines from this region, ie txakolina. We had a Txomin Etxaniz 2018 which was outstanding (around 8 euro at the nearby shops). This area of Spain is famous for their quality turbot and we saw some people around us having it. I considered ordering it but it would have been to much for a lunch as we also wanted to try other dishes, and turbot where I live is also good quality (including imported from Spain). For next time I'll definitely order it though!

Thanks all for your recommendations and help.

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