BORDEAUX, FRANCE: La Grand Maison de Bernard Magrez is an extraordinarily unique 19th century mansion and 5 star luxury hotel. Only 2 kilometers from the center of Bordeaux, this phenomenal Relais & Chateaux property is more like a private residence. Notably, it has just 6 classic elegant rooms in the Grand Maison, and boasts a sensational 2 Michelin starred restaurant, Pierre Gagnaire.
This exquisite property is the flagship of long time leading Bordeaux wine pioneer Bernard Magrez. Accordingly, it has an exclusivity and presence that is unparalleled.
Comparatively, paired with his 4 Grand Cru estates, including Chateau Pape Clement, La Grand Maison de Bernard Magrez provides the ultimate exploration of the Bordeaux wine experience.
La Grand Maison de Bernard Magrez – the setting
La Grand Maison de Bernard Magrez is a gleaming white limestone mansion set just off the street in a tony neighborhood of Bordeaux. Hence, upon arriving it is clear that this is no ordinary property.
Notably, Modernist art work adorns the entrance way, including a sculpture of a large meteorite.
Likewise, the lobby is an exploration of flowing architecture and modern art. A stirring glass molecular sculpture dominates the atrium.
High ceilings lead the eye to the wrought iron staircase and the large modernist portrait of an Asian woman on the wall.
Further on, a royal purple velvet cushioned bar area and sitting room stretch into one wing off the lobby. To be sure, it has the splendor of a bourgeois drawing room.
To the right are the two dining rooms with high ceilings and fiery elegance under crystal chandeliers. An array of large windows surrounds the rooms.
It is a salon, with exquisite furnishings and open space. In effect, it beckons the anticipation of an extraordinary evening.
Further in, the center upstairs guest chamber “Contemplation” on the second floor is stunningly gorgeous. Silk embroidered cloth wall coverings blend a cream undercoating with red and green embroidered patterns and matching curtains.
A sumptuous king size bed is accentuated by deep mauve upholstery chairs and matching patterned carpeting. Of course the bathroom is an extravaganza unto itself.
La Grand Maison de Bernard Magrez – The Bernard Magrez Cultural Institute
Beyond that, a balcony overlooks the entrance to the hotel with views across the road of the gleaming Bernard Magrez Cultural Institute.
To be sure, it is a tribute to Magrez’s substantial support for the fine arts. Set in an imposing white edifice, it holds an array of modernist sculptures and paintings by a range of contemporary artists.
Bernard Magrez is a wine pioneer and a master of his domain. Presently, he is the only wine purveyor in Bordeaux with 4 different Grand Cru wine estates.
Accordingly, Magrez has found the elements that encapsulate his many passions and brought them together here in La Grand Maison de Bernard Magrez.
Above all, it is a confluence of Grand Hotel, Michelin starred Haute Cuisine, culture, art, modernism, tradition, wine, education and the long history of Bordeaux.
Without doubt, it enunciates the pinnacle of his artistic expression in this, his grandest conceptual framework.
La Grand Maison de Bernard Magrez – Dinner at Pierre Gagnaire
Of course dinner at Pierre Gagnaire is a revelation of class and style. To demonstrate, the setting is remarkable, a gorgeous room with sparkling chandeliers, high ceilings and the air of a Parisian townhouse.
Likewise, hotel and Restaurant Director Julien Gardin sets the welcoming tone that creates an evening of exquisite ambience. In other words, it is sophisticated but relaxed, casual but elegant.
2 Star Michelin Chef Jean-Denis Le Bras takes Pierre Gagnaire’s vision of culinary excellence and creates an unrivaled evening of extraordinary Haute Cuisine.
For this purpose, he dazzles with each course, transcending the ordinary, bringing forth a parade of intricate dishes that compel and amaze, delight and enthrall.
Pierre Gagnaire and 2 Michelin starred Chef Jean-Denis Le Bras
Bernard Magrez brought in Pierre Gagnaire to take over the restaurant from Joel Robuchon two years ago. To be sure Pierre Gagnaire is a culinary legend in his own right, with a flagship three-star Michelin restaurant in Paris.
Gagnaire brought in his longtime lieutenant Jean-Denis Le Bras as the Chef de Cuisine. Likewise, Le Bras then brought in his longtime restaurant manager Julien Gardin to recreate this landmark flagship restaurant in Bordeaux here at La Grand Maison.
Together they have created a triumph that is a fulfillment of Gagnaire’s vision and Magrez’s hopes, creating a dining experience that is truly transformational.
Furthermore, it is a team effort, Le Bras and Gardin, and a lovely affirmation of the synergy that is the secret ingredient to a trend setting culinary partnership.
In the kitchen at Pierre Gagnaire with Chef Jean-Denis Le Bras
Jean-Denis Le Bras was rewarded in his first year with two Michelin stars, a stunning achievement. After experiencing an evening of Haute Cuisine at Pierre Gagnaire, it seems clear that a third star may not be far away.
Chef Le Bras is a genial genius, running his kitchen with precision and a jovial aplomb. The excitement that surrounds each evening is palpable.
The Chef is warm and relaxed as he invites us into the kitchen during service. It is a rare honor, a chance to see this top Chef’s kitchen in action.
It is both extraordinary and little bit intimidating.
His well-honed team is a constant flurry of activity, seamless in their execution. It is intriguing, like watching a ballet. Momentarily embedded within the kitchen staff, we are witness to the creation of culinary triumphs.
La Grand Maison de Bernard Magrez and Pierre Gagnaire – The Meal
Out front Julien Gardin is convivial and in full command. The dining room fills with finely dressed expectant patrons. They are due for an extraordinarily fine dining experience.
At Pierre Gagnaire this is a team that has come to create a scene. Over the course of the next three hours, the evening is a total triumph of all the factors that make for a transcendent restaurant experience.
Red mullet with a gelee of black olives is incredible, the taste explosive. Spread across the fillet is a fine foie gras mousse.
The mullet is served chilled over a salad of edible flowers suspended in gelee. An exquisitely complex combination of flavors, it is accompanied with a twist of crispy fennels and daikon turnip.
This is cooking for giants. No detail is left to chance. Plates are specifically designed for the courses at hand. The mullet and gelee gleam off a special golden tinged bowl.
La Grand Maison de Bernard Magrez and Pierre Gagnaire – The Wines
The early courses are served with a stellar Chateau Magrez Fombrauge 2014 St Emilion Grand Cru. This crisp, clean, elegant white wine is 40% Semillon, 30% Sauvignon Gris, and 30% Sauvignon Blanc, effortlessly tantalizing and delightful.
White asparagus served three ways is the perfect example of the intensity of imagination in the evening at hand.
Simultaneously, they first serve a glorious grilled large white asparagus under smoked glass with chopped arugula, chervil, and a Ranavelo quenelle.
This is accompanied by Poulette style frog’s legs, cockscomb, and nettle with white asparagus in a bowl with green asparagus sauce. Finally, the third plate, the coup de grace, is an asparagus ice cream with a cardamom foam.
The taste is incalculable, each morsel a new vision of a grand classic, redefined. Each dish is a revelation, a first in a lifetime experience, like a science fiction dinner on a planet of its own.
La Grand Maison de Bernard Magrez and Pierre Gaganaire – the Service
The clientele is extremely upscale. The room is abuzz with the glow of a special occasion. Moreover, the atmosphere is classy, but not uptight, gorgeously refined but not stuffy. The glow of the chandeliers is as warm as the delight on the faces of the dinner guests.
Service from the team of waiters and staff is picture perfect, a precision watch in action. A finely choreographed ballet unfolds, filled with measured dignity and engaging confidence.
Server Adrien Cerdiera is 22 years old but has spent years at other Michelin starred restaurants, including a year at the Chateau Fontainebleau.
Sommelier Nalin Dimitri is 29 and takes this chance to explore the great wines of Bordeaux. To illustrate, tonight it is a Grand Cru waltz thru a series of Bernard Magrez’s greatest vino-cultural triumphs.
La Grand Maison de Bernard Magrez and Chateau Pape Clement
A Pape Clement Grand Cru 2009 is like a course in itself. Extraordinary flavors and complexity emerge from this exceptional vintage from a landmark year.
A blend of 50% cabernet sauvignon, 47% merlot, with a dash of Petit Verdot and Cabernet France, it is a monumental claret for the ages.
Chateau Pape Clement, named for and once owned by the family of the 14th century French Pope, is a stunning estate in nearby Pessac – Legoyan.
Literally, just down the road from fellow Grand Cru stalwart Haut-Brion, it is unmistakably the prize marquis vineyard of Magrez’s four separate Grand Cru Estates.
La Grand Maison de Bernard Magrez and Pierre Gagnaire – the climax of the meal
Blue lobster Chateau Le Grand Chenes is of another world. Subtle flavors emerge, enhanced with a lard of “Porc noir Gascon”, spring onions, baby carrots, and broad beans.
At last, the climax of the meal is a Veal terrine with morels mushrooms and cuttlefish ravioli with turmeric in a piquillos pepper puree.
Layers of creamy morels spread out across the veal. Accordingly, taste buds explode with the fervor of exhilarating gustatory perfection.
Lastly, the Pierre Gagnaire Grand Dessert, actually 7 different individual desserts, is a serial triumph of creative expression. Each dish is a different flavor profile, a range of treats from the Chef de Patisserie that overwhelms the senses with their inventive variety.
Trepidation and caution are thrown to the wind. Any idea of only tasting part of each dish dissolve in a dessert orgy. Not surprising, ten minutes later they are all sumptuously consumed in their entirety.
In addition, dessert is served with a remarkable Bernard Magrez Clos Haut-Peyraguey 2011 Grand Cru Sauterne. This elegant dessert wine is the 3rd of Magrez’s Grand Cru estates sampled tonight.
It captures the depth of subtle sweetness in an award-winning Sauterne. Likewise, it perfectly complements the 7 extraordinary desserts, cleansing the palate with divine elegance between each plate.
La Grand Maison de Bernard Magrez and Pierre Gagnaire – a visionary experience
As the evening winds down, and the room gradually empties, the glow of the experience continues. Consequently, there are rapturous smiles on the faces of the diners. It is an expression of joy in memories that will live across the ages.
Chef Le Bras and Julien Gardin bring the vision of Bernard Magrez and Pierre Gagnaire to life. Indeed, they have created a microcosm of greatness wrapped in historic elegance.
Their fervor and passion is infectious. Their gratitude and energy shows in their every breath. To be sure they are well aware of the special nature of their confluent energies. It is clear how it has manifested itself in this space.
To be sure, it is a passion for life, the art of food, the expression of culture, the creation of ambiance and atmosphere. This is what makes La Grand Maison de Bernard Magrez a sublimely holistic indulgence. A fully immersive experience, it epitomizes the finest of all that is at the heart of magnificence in Bordeaux.
Rooms start at around $600 per night.
Air France flies direct to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and from there to the rest of France and all of Europe from Washington, New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco and a number of American cities.
Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles. @JoelBerliner
All photos by Alison Reynolds @BigAlPeoplesPal