Talk to anyone about the food scene in Bordeaux - and they’ll say in reverential tones - ‘Aaah, but have you been to La Tupina’. I have, twice now, and while I can understand why it stands out in a city that curiously doesn’t have the quality of restaurants to match its wine I’ve never been quite as blown away as my fellow customers seem to be.
It’s not, of course new. It was opened back in 1968 by Jean-Pierre Xiradakis at the incredibly young age of 23. The former Times restaurant critic Jonathan Meades used to rave about it. Maybe still does for all I know. So does most of the UK wine trade: the list, I admit is magnificent, particularly for minor, more interesting Bordeaux.
The food is also totally to my taste, robust, generous, flavoursome and with more substance than style. A dish of squid ‘like elvers’ with garlic and chilli looks uninteresting but is tender and sharply seasoned, a fine match for the crisp Chateau Bauduc white I’m drinking with its amiable proprietor Gavin Quinney. Sweet plump little scallops are perfectly offset by fatty, flavoursome slices of bacon (though at 24€ they’re not cheap for a starter)
Large chunks of lamb - what better partner for Bordeaux especially the 2003 we’re drinking? - come, delicately rosy, with admirably fresh haricot beans, perfectly cooked so they hold their shape but have lost their bite. A roasted rib of black pig, a traditional local breed, comes with a hefty, tasty edge of fat. The duck fat chips are perhaps a touch soggier than you might wish for but you can’t fault the flavour.
Even the dessert - baked apricots stuffed with almonds served with vanilla ice cream - is good espcially with Bauduc’s delicious 2005 Monbazillac.
Oh, and the service is impeccable. They gave us two tables and unlimited glasses. So what’s the problem?
It’s hard to put my finger on it but I think it’s the slight sense of ennui I detect in Xiradakis who was courteous enough to come over to the table to greet us but showed no real animation or passion - understandable, perhaps, after 44 years.
The feeling, that you also get at Rick Stein’s in Padstow, that you’re part of a vast commercial enterprise (Xiradakis has five more restaurants in the street - Le Bar Cave, Le Comestible, Kuzina, Cafe Tupina and the recently opened Le Maison Fredon which also has rooms) He's always been popular with visiting celebs, including French presidents - as this recent picture of him posing with Johnny Hallyday shows.
The kitschness of the place - the old pot over the fire in which the chips are cooked. If Disney were to recreate south-west French food, it would look like La Tupina. And the loud American (and other) accents which boom over the tables - there are too many tourists. But then I’m a tourist, albeit a working one too.
The locals also have reservations - too expensive and not as good as it was were criticisms that were voiced on Twitter.
Still, Bordeaux and France, could do with more of this. At a time so many French chefs are stil doing silly things with dots, drizzles, foams and Asian ingredients they don’t understand, La Tupina is a welcome beacon of honest, regional French cooking sourced from impeccably good ingredients. For which you quite reasonably pay over the odds.
As I say, Bordeaux doesn’t have much else to offer, apart from high-end fine dining experiences and a good Chinese. La Tupina wouldn’t stand out the same way in Paris, or even in London. But if you haven’t been, and you find yourself in Bordeaux, you should go.
La Tupina is at 6 Rue de la Porte de la Monnaie, 33800 Bordeaux 05 56 91 56 37
I ate at La Tupina as a guest of Chateau Bauduc.