Pleasing all senses
Lunch at Le Chapon Fin
By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com
25 June 2017
I recently revisited Le Chapon Fin, a legendary restaurant in Bordeaux. A few years back, I had attended a Vinexpo dinner with some fine wines, and loved the food. But during the week of this year’s Vinexpo, I was invited to lunch with a dear friend who works in wine tourism: Diana Verneau, of Secrets de Châteaux in Bordeaux.
Many thanks to Sylvie Cazes of Bordeaux Saveurs for the invitation to lunch.
The overall ambiance is sumptuous, with a unique touch, which I will explain later. The names of some famous former regulars are on medallions in the restaurant, including painter Toulouse-Lautrec and actress Sarah Bernhardt, politicians Georges Clémenceau and Aristide Briand.
The restaurant became particularly famous in the early 20th century under the long stewardship of chef Joseph Sicard (retired in 1960), with regular visits from royalty such as King Alfonso XIII of Spain, one of the restaurant’s most faithful customers, who had installed his own wine cellar there. Other regal guests included Manuel II of Portugal, the Sultan of Morocco, Queen Ranavalona of Madagascar and the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII – who is the current Queen’s great grandfather.
As you can see in some of the pictures, the restaurant is known for its uniquely cavernous interior. In 1900, Sicard hired architect Alfred Cyprien-Duprat to construct the cool, grotto style interior. This rocky decor was later crowned with a glass roof, and has been preserved to this day.
The restaurant reached its 20th century zenith in the 1930s when it boasted no less than three Michelin stars.
After some difficult post-World War II years, Chapon Fin returned to its former glory in recent years, especially under chef Nicolas Frion, who earned a Michelin star for the restaurant. Although Frion now works at Le Gabriel in Paris, since 2014 Brittany native chef Nicolas Nguyen Van Hai, who had worked under Frion, has been at the helm at Chapon Fin.
A native of Brittany, he had worked previously at two Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris: Le Clovis and Le Sèvres. Based on the splendid lunch I had during Vinexpo week this year, the star should soon be re-established, if only for a most refreshing and vividly flavored blue lobster.
The service was excellent and information about the wines succinct and appropriate. I mean, it has been ridiculously hot in Bordeaux during Vinexpo week, so the sommelier recommended an excellent Chenin Blanc based wine: Les Genêts Damien Laureau Savennières 2014. We could not have gone wrong, as the producer is well known and the vintage superlative. We encountered somewhat smoky notes with wet stone and touches of citrus and lively acidity. It was very easy and pleasurable to drink.
And it went very well with the 24-hour cooked foie gras served cold, infused in a cherry-based syrup with a bit of Cognac. Another starter of vegetables with ginger sorbet (pictured below) proved perfect for the summer heat. The wine went very well, too, with the appetizer of écrevisse over algae, although the starting glass of NV Gosset Brut Champagne that I ordered was excellent, too.
The Chapon Fin cellar is well stocked with many Bordeaux wines – including 1928 Château d’Yquem, 1986 Pétrus and 1955 Lascombes – but it also includes wines from other regions such as the aforementioned Loire Valley, and great Champagne including a 1985 Dom Perignon. Sommelier Alexandre Morin seeks accessible wines, both in terms of price and enjoyment.
Diana ordered a broiled turbot with artichokes and olives, which was delectable, but I really fell in love with the blue lobster, which reminded me of the fresh purity of Maine lobster back home. Accompanying vegetables were so clean and crisp and tasty that it was hard to resist. Again, the Loire Valley wine proved a perfect match.
We did not have any dessert, but the restaurant provided a treat anyway: mascarpone with orange both creamy and fresh, that went down the gullet quickly and followed up by excellent coffee.
I cannot recommend highly enough Le Chapon Fin for any special occasion when in Bordeaux: whether a birthday party or romantic date, the unique decor matches the fine cuisine and broad choice of wines that would make the most discerning palates happy indeed.