Harley Young wines and dines at a one Michelin-star restaurant in Bordeaux
After arriving home from work on a glum winter evening, having defrosted from the bitter-cold commute back from a job that I really didn’t care for, I watched the rain cascade down the window of my far-too-expensive, far-too-shoddy apartment and wished to be anywhere but there.
I aimlessly browsed SkyScanner looking for something, anything, that would give me a break from the mundanity that was my schedule back in January 2023.
Arcada’s not showboaty about its Michelin star and there’s certainly no need for bragging
“Fuck it.” I muttered under my breath, clicking the ‘Explore everywhere’ button, hoping to find a cheap deal in the not-too-distant future that would scratch my longing itch. Flights to Bordeaux, France, plus two nights in a hotel for less than 200 quid. Nice one. It was booked.
Fast forward a couple of months and my partner and I woke up in Bordeaux, feeling groggy and dishevelled from too much wine the night before and the lack of soundproofing at our budget hotel. Served us right, really. Bloody cheapskates.
Determined to not be a tight-arse all weekend, I booked us in for an afternoon of fine dining at one Michelin star restaurant, Arcada.
We ambled our way around tiled streets, ducking and weaving as we tried not to bump into cyclists whilst gawking at Google Maps for directions, before stopping dead at a rough-looking alleyway.
“It’s wanting us to go down there.” I said before turning to my partner, David, who looked equally bemused. I’ve never been one for successfully following directions, so we just assumed it was another one of my geographical woes that had led us astray.
We continued on down the dingy alley, skirting around bins and marvelling at the graffiti that adorned every seemingly shut-down building we passed. The short mooch didn’t feel like the intro to a luxury dining experience, and wasn’t helped by the godawful weather the weekend had planned for us either, but we remained optimistic as we scoured the street for an inkling of Arcada.
Then, out of nowhere, like a diamond in the rough, we saw it. A beautifully understated, intimately-sized restaurant with a warm glow of light that beckoned us inside.
We were seated at a small table by the bar, at eye-level with all of the action and with full visibility of the kitchen. Thinking about it, every seat in this restaurant had full visibility of the kitchen - there were only about 40 covers available.
Once we were settled, a friendly and attentive waiter presented us with the wine list and asked what kind of flavour profile we were looking for. We asked for a sweet white and were presented with what I can only describe as the most dangerously moreish white wine I’d ever tasted. Madame de Rayne (2013) ; slightly amber in colour, this white had notes of honey and apricot and was viscous like medicine, but one you’d definitely take willingly.
As we glanced over the lunchtime tasting menu and sipped at our drug-like bottle of vino, we were able to catch a whiff of the dishes that other couples had ordered. On first glance, the presentation looked pretty special and boy, was it even more so up close.
Given that the lunch menu was a case of this-or-that with just two entrees, two main dishes and two desserts to choose from, David and I decided it was only right to have one of each so we could get a full feel for the menu. He chose the chicken dish whilst I opted for fish.
My entree came in the form of a honey-soy marinated piece of bonito, drizzled with a purple carrot mousseline dressing surrounded by a sphere of caramelised sweet onion petals and broccoli tops. A visually stunning and light dish with a rich taste.
The presentation of the plate was an absolute picture. If we’d had been in Paris I’d have hung it in the Louvre myself, but, being 600 miles away, I snapped it with an iPhone camera and shared it to social media instead.
David was presented with Jerusalem artichokes on a bed of roasted celery with tarragon, walnut kernels, fried capers and a coffee emulsion foam on top. The flavours melded together to create a bitter tang that followed through with a creamy finish, the rich, fatty textures of the walnut dulling some of the saltiness of the capers.
After our first dish had sufficiently whet our appetite, it was time for the main event; for David, free-range poultry with an artichoke mousseline, macau crisps, sage-roasted apples and shavings of radish dressed in a chicken and sage jus, delicately topped with pickled Granny Smith fragments.
He noted how funny it was that such an understated, bog-standard fruit like a Granny Smith made the cut for such a sophisticated menu, adding that he’d “never had a pickled one before”, before reluctantly agreeing to let me try a forkful of the dish that he’d become besotted with.
My second fish dish arrived; roasted hake paired with grilled leeks, button mushroom fricassee with kasha and dill, topped with horseradish root and parsley oil that decorated the plate with beautiful, bright green lashings.
The expertly cooked hake fell apart with the slightest brush of my fork and melded well with the sauce - a tangy and unusual flavour that made you salivate.
By now, we were feeling quite satisfied, not only with the high standard of the food but the fairly reasonable portion sizes for such rich and painstakingly prepared dishes.
We thought that it would be near impossible to beat the entrees and mains with dessert, and though it came very close, we predicted correctly.
I sweetened my palate with a white chocolate pistachio ganache, topped with a mango half-sphere, meringue and coconut tuiles - a subtle flavoured dish that I expected to have a hearty mango punch, but it was more of a gentle mango kiss.
David opted for candied comice pear on a bed of vanilla pastry, hazelnut sand and orange tuile, glazed with an anise gel. This dish had flavours similar to peanut brittle but less… well…brittle. A pleasant course, but nothing compared to the entree and mains.
Whilst savouring my last drop of wine, I recognised one thing was clear; Arcada’s not showboaty about its Michelin star and there’s certainly no need for bragging, the expertly crafted dishes in such an intimate setting speak for themselves.
If you’re not in need of a big song and dance with your dining experience and you’re a fan of expertly crafted dishes (and you find yourself meandering down the back alleys of Bordeaux), add Arcada to your bucket list.
Arcada, 13 Rue de la Rousselle, 33000 Bordeaux, France
Follow Harley on Twitter @Harley__Young
Soy-honey marinated bonito 8, Jerusalem artichokes 8, poultry supreme 8, roasted hake 8, candied comice pear 6, white chocolate pistachio ganache 7.
Incredibly attentive and friendly. Our server guided us through the entire menu and described every inch of the plate.
Cosy, intimate and simple - there’s no need to be flashy with dishes this good.