When the world’s most awarded chef joins forces with a French wine tycoon, the result is the culinary gene pool equivalent of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.
Expectations are definitely high at La Grande Maison, a new luxury hotel-restaurant in Bordeaux. The tables are set and the mandate is clear: to gain three Michelin stars.
Taking charge is legendary French chef and known perfectionist Joël Robuchon, who co-owns the grand residence with Bordeaux wine mogul Bernard Magrez. The unveiling of La Grande Maison in December last year marked Robuchon’s carefully planned return to his home country, to rectify the fact that he does not have a three-star restaurant in France. Robuchon and Magrez certainly seem overqualified for this task, counting 40 wine estates and 28 Michelin stars between them.
In a restored 19th-century mansion in the historic backstreets of central Bordeaux, La Grande Maison is radiant in white stone, standing tall behind wrought-iron gates marking the entrance to a world of grandeur and finesse.
With six boutique rooms and two restaurants (one for fine dining, the other more casual), the décor throughout revives the flamboyance and extravagance of the Napoleon III era. Polished, draped or embroidered, the rooms are flourishes of texture and colour, softened by the low-lit chandeliers glowing overhead.
Travelling down from Paris for the night, I am here to wine and dine. The French are experts in the pursuit of pleasure and enjoyment. Eschewing takeaway coffee, fast food or eating on the run, they sip, savour and settle in.
From food to furnishings, the dining room exudes decadence. The cutlery is by Christofle, the glassware by Baccarat, and abundant displays of cheese, dessert and delicate petit fours tower in between. Expectations are high, but they’re certainly not dry.
I am in Bordeaux, after all, and a glass of wine is the first port of call.
Wine buffs will be mesmerised by the wine list, which reads like a ‘what’s what’ of renowned vintages. The cellar holds no fewer than 259 Grands Cru Classés de Bordeaux, including the four Grands Crus Classés owned by Magrez, and rare bottles of Veuve Cliquot, unavailable in other restaurants around the world.
Lounging with an aperitif, I admire the busy team of bilingual waiters chop and change between tables and languages. The menu, which changes with the seasons, is deliberately presented in French so that nuances are not lost in translation.
Classic French fare on the menu includes caviar jelly with cauliflower cream, an abundance of foie gras, and Robuchon’s much-lauded, and butter-loaded, pomme purée.
Following a contemporary hors d’oeuvre selection, le plat traditionnelle is grand by comparison. Designed to share between two, beef Rossini is carved at our table and delicately dotted with jus. I think of Julia Child’s elation when she dined on sole meunière at La Couronne in Rouen, Normandy, and her mantra: “The pleasures of a table … are infinite.”
The menu goes off-piste with an extraordinary assortment of cheese, gelato, rich desserts and petit fours wheeled to the table to test my self-discipline (and evoke high-end yum cha comparisons). It’s proper yet playful, if not a little fussy.
At midnight I throw in the towel and am thankful my bed is just upstairs. The six rooms at La Grande Maison are each named after one of Magrez’s vineyards and display artworks from his Cultural Institute across the road.
The design of each room encourages the guest to feel like part of the fabric. In my room, “Lumière”, interior designer Frédérique Fournier has had a field day with flowers. It’s hard to tell where the wall coverings end, carpet starts and bedspread picks up.
A little drowsy, I am happy to slip away into the floral folds.