Locavore Lovin’ at Belle Campagne

The counter menu at Belle Campagne demands your full attention. It’s a short selection of just 11 savory options, a cooler and more shareable complement to the full menu served upstairs. But each item on there requires careful consideration. Duck fat frites or frites soaked in meat jus? White asparagus or beetroot? Smoked trout or the catch of the day? Or perhaps both to be safe? It’s tempting, mostly because of the backstory on each ingredient. The liquid gold duck fat is actually Coopérative Palmagri, Auros duck fat. Asparagus is of protected geographical indication Landes, from the Famille Marchanseau in Haillan. And the trout hails from Olivier Truchetet in Geloux. And it’s like that for 100% of the items served, down to the olive oil finish on the fish carpaccio.

Belle Campagne was the first restaurant in Bordeaux to go 100% locavore (all ingredients sourced from within 250km of the restaurant). In total they work with over 90 French producers, each of whom specialize in one or few products. The menu changes bi-monthly and is presented with a short introduction to what’s currently in season, along with a list of suppliers whose products feature on the menu (36 for March-April). There’s even a shout-out to two “suppliers of the month.” It’s good, happy publicity all around, and makes the dining experience that much more interesting. We narrowed down our options, and chose a funky little Dominique Andiran “Vain de Rû” (5102) from their funky little wine list of funky little wines from all over France. Their selection is not limited to Bordeaux wines or even AOC anything wines, but instead is a mishmash of all kinds of interesting Vins de Pays, etc. Our lively Colombard from Gascony had a deeply mineral, limestone finish that made it a great one to drink while waiting for our food. But we didn’t have to wait long.

First came the Frites Façon Belle Campagne – gorgeous golden brown fries with crunchy tips and chewy centers, drenched in the flavor-packed cooking liquid of a meat dish from the upstairs menu. They were finished with a sprinkle of fresh parsley for a touch of green. Simply awesome.

Shortly after the fries, all of the other savory dishes arrived. My favorite: a showcase of spring beetroot in an array of vibrant colors. There were wedges of bright yellow beetroot, peeled and dressed in a piquant vinaigrette to balance the discrete earthy character. Supple in texture and subtle in taste, this was a still tender spring beet indeed. Next to these, generous quenelles of red beetroot puree, thick and sweet and musty and wonderful. This melted on my tongue, leaving a more robust beet flavor – a wonderful contrast to the yellow beets. There were also some round cut-outs of striped Chioggia beets giving an artsy touch to the dish, which was as much of a pleasure to stare at and photograph as to eat.

The catch of the day was a gorgeous carpaccio of some fish caught by some guy called Éric Bousquet who, as the menu informed me, spends his time catching fish on 5 boats anchored in Royan and selling them directly to markets and restaurants in Bordeaux. At Belle Campagne, the fish is served in paper-thin slices, drizzled with fantastic olive oil, and sprinkled with some flavorful microgreens for zest and color. There’s a nice acidity to the dish, a freshness that “cleans up” any of the fish’s excess fat, but it’s not as acidic as a ceviche. The gorgeous raw fish is left alone for the most part and it shines powerfully through in flavor.

Next came one of the strangest little fusion creations I think I have maybe ever had, a maki of smoked Lot-et-Garonne trout with shredded cauliflower, wrapped in cooked leaves of spinach that were meant to imitate Japanese nori. The roll was flavored with fresh horseradish on the interior, a few toasted sunflower seeds outside and a piquant sauce of pickled red onions and cucumber on the bottom. This dish is not for those who favor subtlety. The smoked trout was really smoked, the horseradish pretty hot, the cauliflower providing a weird grainy texture against the slick surface of the spinach. And then the crunch of the seeds on top and the acidic punch of the veggies below. Individually I liked each of these ingredients and I was in a good enough mood not to scoff at a smoked fish and veg recreation of sushi, but the combination of flavors and textures made for a little bomb in my mouth. I’m still trying to decide whether I loved or hated this dish, though I lingered on hate for a tad too long (before finally deciding it was love).

Next up, Ben’s favorite – a cordon bleu of guinea fowl from Ferme du Vignal in Castelnaud de Gratecambe, in Lot-et-Garonne. The golden brown and delicious fried, breadcrumb-coated roulade was made of the most tender poultry I have tasted in a while. A tight but heavenly soft breast butterflied, covered with a thin slice of ham and slice of quickly melting white cheese which squirted out when the roll was sliced into. A fried thing but beautifully executed, not too heavy and immensely satisfying. Next to it, a mustard-yellow, warm puree of seasonal veggies to dip into. This tasted like a frothy and thick blend of carrots and olive oil, another perfect introduction to the flavors of spring.

I guess char siu bao in French is called “brioche vapeur maison garnie au jarret de porc braisé”. This was a steamed bun filled with braised pork shank and some boiled peanuts, served with the sweet and savory cooking liquid of the meat for dipping. The bun stiffened up a bit too much after a few minutes, making it chewier than the light and fluffy bao’s I’m used to from Hong Kong. But, the moisture and complexity of the flaky meat inside more than made up for its stiff case.

The dessert list at Belle Campagne is inspired. Three beautiful options impossible to choose between. But somehow we managed. La Tarta de Nogas was like a warm hug from your pajama-clad mom on Christmas morning. A flaky, buttery pastry base is filled with crunchy walnuts sourced from the Castagné à Martel family. Chewy caramel seasoned with salt from Salies-de-Béarn is melted over the crunchy chunks of walnut, offering a sticky, thick texture that fills the grooves of the nuts, holding them together and contributing a wealth of flavor. On top, melting slowly, its cool exterior hardening the caramel underneath, a frothy ball of ice cream made with tangy yoghurt from Pessac. Sticking to the ball of ice cream were some paper-thin curls with a nice crispy texture. A hugely comforting dessert, crunchy and creamy and full of flavor.

Our meal at Belle Campagne was great. Their kiwi-based Lo Kiwai dessert was a masterpiece, and one that I will remember for a very long time. This stunning dish combined the particular class of acidity and sweetness characteristic of kiwis in various stages of maturity with the ripe, floral taste of olive oil. Add to this an array of different textures to make each bite unique and interesting. Swimming in a silky-smooth and lightly emulsified soup of Cordes-sur-Ciel olive oil were perfectly ripe Kiwis Gold, scooped into small balls that were then sliced into slick wedges that made the perfect petite bites. There was also a delicate ball of kiwi sorbet, melting its kiwi essence into the soup and mixing beautifully with the vegetal flavor of the oil. And then, the texture: a crumbly, crunchy cookie with a very delicate sweetness and some cubes of chewy nougat made in house with sunflower seeds and hazelnut. A brilliant and harmonious composition that stayed with me (on my palate, not in my gut) for days after.

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