Birthday meal

Pat had saved up a little spending money for our anniversary which we hadn't used, so we decided to push the boat out for a birthday meal. That meant, after some reflection, la Tupina.

La Tupina is one of the more prestigious but less swanky restaurants in Bordeaux. Rather than candelabras and funky crystal, it's gone for the best quality meats and fish from the river, cooked in traditional ways, often over the fire. For example, they do lamproie à la bordelaise (lamprey cooked in its own blood and red wine). It was around 30°C in Bordeaux today, but their fire was lit for grilling, as usual. We ate outside.

They do a really good value lunch for 18€ and we would have had that but it was langue de boeuf - ox tongue - so we decided to go for their à la carte menu. Much more expensive, but we had that little fighting fund. So the girls had roast chicken.

At la Tupina they despair of the quality of the chicken we get in the supermarkets. So their chicken comes from a farm on the Medoc where the birds live free-range and then the roasting is done slowly over the fire. "We used to have a really good chicken once a week as a Sunday treat", their website says, "and we could do with getting back to those days". Their chicken was served with chips fried in goose fat and sprinkled with crunchy salt.

Meanwhile I was undecided, so I asked the waiter what I should have. I almost always ask the waiter what I should have. I was considering breast of duck (he nodded and pursed his lips), lamb (his eyes lit up) or a steak (he nodded). I had seen the steaks displayed and they did look exceptionally good, but the waiter said, "You'll never eat lamb elsewhere like we do it here." I almost never eat lamb anyway these days, so I agreed.

The traditional Easter meal in this part of France was a shoulder of lamb which was braised very slowly in a low oven all day and served with equally slow-cooked beans. They call it seven-hour lamb. "Ours is cooked for eight hours", said the waiter.

He persuaded Pat to have a starter, partly because she didn't hear what he suggested she order - a skewer of grilled duck's hearts, beautifully cooked and served with a salad. Pat ate them with gusto while we looked on! He also brought us some saucisson, some cauliflower florets, some radishes and some fresh warm bread and butter while we waited for our main course.

Well the chicken looked really good, propped up on a little block of stuffing and with a bowl of really good chips. Meanwhile my lamb came in an low earthenware dish, surrounded by rich gravy and sprigs of rosemary. It took the waiter some time to meticulously spoon all the sauce onto my plate. The thick white beans were in a beat-up old pan together with slices of carrot, parsnip and chunks of bacon. It really was so good. "I'm never eating lamb again", I told the waiter.

The waiters were very well trained. When they collected plates they had to turn away from you to scrape the chicken carcasses onto one plate. You mustn't see them do that! Our half-bottle of wine was carefully placed on the table and turned with the label facing us. When one brought the bill he hid the bank machine card behind his back. Pat had cash. "We don't need the machine", I said. He looked relieved. But along with the ritual and formality there was an easy friendliness. We spoke a little English with them, but mostly in French.

Dessert was ice-cream. For me prune, for Pat fruits of the forest (fruits rouges) with "confiture de vieux garçon". "What is that?" The waiter laughed. "It's fruits rouges", he said. Catrin had gros canelé with ice cream. She'd had better canelé, but never fatter and never with ice cream.

Considering the quality of the meal, the bill was reasonable. More than we've ever paid before, and more than we'll ever pay again in a hurry, but what a birthday lunch, eh!


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