Le Saint James à Bouliac

Our last trip in the year 2016 was a brief yet spectacular excursion to the City of Bordeaux. Once a year, for our anniversary, we enjoy the luxury of dinner at a Michelin starred restaurant. This year, taking our advanced ages into consideration and of course les flics’ obsession with sober driving, we booked an overnight stay. And to enjoy a truly carefree sojourn, we took the train.

Bordeaux Métropole is composed of 28 communities. The city itself in the center, surrounded by 27 townships on both sides of the Garonne river. About 750K people live in this metropolitan area, a quarter million in the City of Bordeaux proper while the rest of the population is distributed quite unevenly among the other communities. Some villages have as few as a thousand inhabitants, others, like Mérignac which hosts Bordeaux’ international airport, are towns of 20 to 70 thousand people. Our destination, Bouliac, is a quaint, ancient village of about 3000 people located on a hillside on the right bank of the Garonne, overlooking much of Bordeaux across the river. From the Saint-Jean railroad station in the city, we took a taxi to Bouliac, specifically the Hotel Saint-James in the village center.

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It was such a glorious winter day, we didn’t mind one bit that our room wasn’t yet available. After check-in, we left our luggage behind and explored.

The hotel gate opens onto the village square with it’s pretty mairie.

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We walked past the town hall toward the Romanesque church of Saint-Siméon.

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Despite the interesting architecture, despite the grand view, at this point, we were much more interested in a little something to eat, but lunchtime had since passed and everything was closed in the village. Returning to the Saint-James, we settled on the terrace for un petit repas of cheese and charcuterie.

This boutique hotel is a melange of new and old. The modern additions – designed by architect Jean Nouvel in 1989 – to the original stone farmhouse, a traditional Bordelaise Longère, were designed to resemble tobacco drying barns with moveable horizontal shutters. Four such “barns” now accommodate all the guest rooms and the restaurant.

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Wandering back inside we passed through the bar and crossed the original corridor of the longère toward the reception for our room keys.

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Our room was ready now and we settled in to enjoy the view from our private windows.

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A couple of hours later, the main event commenced.

Le Saint James restaurant is a tiered, glass enclosed cube thus giving all tables a splendid view over the vineyard and the city beyond. We started our festive evening with a glass of champagne while perusing the menu. Actually, we more or less pretended to study the menu since we had given it a lot of thought already at home, dissecting the online version in anticipation. But it won’t do to rush into something as serious as a meal. Instead, we listened carefully to the maître d’s explanation and deliberated our choices with the required gravitas while sipping thoughtfully from the elegant flutes and tasting the most amazing amuses gueules imaginable. The first one consisted of a phenomenal foie gras cube enrobed in a citrusy glaze. The second bite was a creamy-gooey apple guimauve which translates to marshmallow but isn’t, not really. The concluding morsel was introduced as a Jerusalem artichoke preparation, a firm cuboid with a juicy center. A convincing promise of wonderful things to come!

Eventually, we made our selection, the “Inspiration Menue” which opens with an appetizer of crabe dormeur also called crabe-de-lune, crab of the moon, I suppose because they’re night active. I’m sticking with the French names because the English version is way too boring [brown crab, really?!]. The crab meat had been shredded and seasoned with lime before it was plated with a dollop of pineapple and yellow pepper fluffiness.

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This elegant dish was followed by a second entrée composed of the unusual marriage of beef tartar of bœuf de Bazas, shredded not minced, with marinated anchovy slivers. Think of it as a crazy surf and turf ceviche.

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Our fish course was especially pleasing to me, as I adore scallops. Especially the large Saint-Jacques variety!

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Since our six-course meal encompassed a wide range of flavors, the sommelier suggested pairing each course with its own glass of “matching” wine, which we gladly accepted. This was the wine selection for our meat course.

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During an evening like ours, one enjoys with all senses and emotions. Aside from the quality of the food, other important factors contributing to the wellbeing of the guests including the atmosphere in the restaurant and the attitude of the team. Le Saint James manages to combine a warm, welcoming, relaxed ambiance with impeccable service and an elegant presentation of Chef Nicolas Magie’s creations which are based on the products of the Bordelaise region. The menu names 29 individuals, farms, fisheries, and artisanal producers beneath this quote by the Chef:

« In a search of quality and respect for the soil, I thank our suppliers and locals artisans
for the confidence and the inspiration
which they give us throughout the seasons.»

Once during the evening, management turns off the restaurant lights for a brief moment to let their guests experience the full impact of the illuminated cityscape across the Garonne river.

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To my delight, our cheese course was a funky recomposition of my most favorite cheese in France. When I was a hungry student at Tübingen university, my aunt Eva introduced me to the taste sensation of the delectable Chaource, a cheese that bubbles on your tongue like champagne.

After the fabulous Chaource happiness, we leaned back and exhaled deeply, quietly savoring our good fortune to be able to share such a special evening with each other, surrounded by natural beauty while enjoying the creations of a master.

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Then it was time for the grand finale.

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Pear Hélène, reinvented. But that wasn’t all, not by a longshot. There were chocolates, there was champagne, there was a candle. In French l’anniversaire means birthday, for an anniversary you have to add de mariage. That was a little too detailed, so we were presented with a lovely handwritten Happy Birthday in chocolate. It tasted just as good!

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Sugar cubes in the shape of the famous Canelés du Bordeaux pastries

What a feast!

To get home after our private orgy, we were fortunate to only have to stagger along relatively straight hallways and short staircases, resting along the way in angel’s arms.

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After a good night’s sleep, we awoke engulfed in milky fog.

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There were no gorgeous river valley views today, allowing for morning ablutions and packing without pesky distraction.

After paying the inescapable bill, we loitered in the front court for a few minutes waiting for our taxi to take us back to la gare Saint-Jean.

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A mere 27 hours after our anniversary adventure began, we were back home, bringing with us memories of a wonderful and exceptional day of celebration.

Hotel Saint-James, Bouliac, France

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