Jun 22nd 2008

A weekend Disaster At Raoux’s La Winery

by Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is a music critic with particular interest in piano. 

Johnson worked as a reporter and editor in New York, Moscow, Paris and London over his journalism career. He covered European technology for Business Week for five years, and served nine years as chief editor of International Management magazine and was chief editor of the French technology weekly 01 Informatique. He also spent four years as Moscow correspondent of The Associated Press. He is the author of five books.

Michael Johnson is based in Bordeaux. Besides English and French he is also fluent in Russian.

You can order Michael Johnson's most recent book, a bilingual book, French and English, with drawings by Johnson:

“Portraitures and caricatures:  Conductors, Pianist, Composers”

 here.

Winegrower Philippe Raoux has made a valiant attempt to create new ideas around the marketing of wines, and his efforts are to be applauded. But his La Winery, just north of Bordeaux near Arsac, is already starting to look like a disappointment after just one year in business. A reassessment of this ambitious complex is in order.

The architecture, which may have looked fresh a year ago, is losing its patina and now resembles a large railway station. The so-called boutique is just another wine shop. The huge warehouse is closed to visitors. The restaurant, too-cutely called "WY" is a complete fiasco, if my recent experience there was typical.

Taken together, this overly promoted installation is a rather routine wine shop with a ho-hum restaurant in the middle of a field a long way from central Bordeaux.

A warning to visitors to France: it is no longer true that most any French restaurant serves above-average food at reasonable prices. That kind of enthusiasm is probably 20 years out of date. According to a friend in the business, most French restaurants today serve vacuum-packed dishes and sauces produced industrially and heated up for unsuspecting customers. And they don't give it away.

But I keep researching the available treats. I had wanted to try the restaurant, run by chef Olivier Garnier, for several months, and finally made it on a Saturday at lunchtime.

It was perhaps the worst caricature of French dining I have seen in the Bordeaux region in the past three years - and that's saying something. It combined everything that has gone wrong with French restaurants: staff arrogance, kitchen complacency and front-office greed.

WY was a slow-motion disaster. The service was erratic, the food bizarre and the wines ordinary. I ended up with stomach cramps and a thudding hangover for about 12 hours. During the long pauses between dishes, I counted seven dead flies on the window sill beside my table. A mosquito dive-bombed me non-stop.

I am not sure what Olivier Garnier was trying to do, but the day's menu was raw tuna to start, and bacon fat as a main course, take it or leave it. I asked the snobbish waiter whether "poitrine de cochon" (literally, pig breast) might be known by some grander name elsewhere. "No, it's just a slice of lard," he said. The price was 23 euros without wine, or 35 euros with a couple of small glasses of wine of his choice. He advised against ordering anything different à la carte because it would take too long.

That last comment became the joke of the day with my guests because we waited an hour between the raw tuna and the lard, which was translucent and - at least to me and my guests -- inedible. The lard came with an overly sweet carrot purée and two lonely potato chips stuck in it. The small glass of red wine that accompanied the lard arrived about five minutes after the food, no apologies.

Contact with the waiters cooled gradually as they noticed the hilarity at my table and my open notebook. They turned their backs to the room and engaged in private chit-chat. Actually they weren't against us. They seemed to be against the whole restaurant.

The bill, when I finally got it, came to 102 euros (roughly $150). On the way home we passed a huge MacDonald's. "Let's stop here," one friend shouted. "I could murder a Big Mac." I floor-boarded the Mini Cooper, not wanting to add insult to injury.

 


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