Le Lion D'Or in Arcins

While I was in the Medoc region of Bordeaux, I ate out one night at Le Lion D'Or in the tiny town of Arcins. Not only is the restaurant highly recommended by every guide book about the area, but more importantly, it was recommended to me at nearly every winery I visited both in Medoc and in St. Emilion, all the way over on Bordeaux's "Right Bank." So I figured it was worth a try, if only to catch a glimpse of the notoriously mischievous (some might call him cantankerous) chef, Jean-Paul Barbier.

I was wondering why there are so many Lions D'Or in France--I stayed at a hotel of the same name in Bayeux, for instance--and it was explained to me that the name had nothing to do with golden lions or any other such heraldic device. Rather, Lion D'Or is a mash-up of a medieval French hospitality policy. Basically, when inns and taverns, auberges in French, were first springing up all over the country to cater to newly forming middle classes and religious pilgrims trekking from place to place, the owners had a problem. People were coming for quick, cheap meals, but not staying the night, where the real money was to be made by providing accommodations. So they told their would-be guests, "Ou il y a un lit, on dort": where there is a bed, you sleep. That was their roundabout way of saying, if you want to eat here, you have to sleep here too...sort of like creating a captive audience. Brilliant strategy, because it worked, and the phrase "un lit, on dort" became "un lion d'or." Hence the preponderance of thusly named inns and restaurants today.

This Le Lion D'Or, however, is where the chateau owners, winemakers and townspeople all go for a nice meal out, and you can find some of the most famous names in Bordeaux wines among the many private wine collection cabinets they have set aside, and that line the main dining room. For us mere visitors, the restaurant has a no corkage fee policy if you bring your own bottle of wine...it's just got to be a Medoc.

Don't be put off by some of the fancy pretensions, though. The menu also features prix fixes that start at about 14 euros for dinner for four courses, so it is a real bargain as long as you're willing to eat whatever is on order that day. The B.Y.O. policy also has an interesting socializing effect since you can check out what your neighbors have brought to drink, and then make friends with them by offering to exchange a glass of yours for a glass of theirs. For instance, I brought a nice bottle with me, and ended up tasting two others thanks to the other nearby diners who wanted to try mine.

And if you're lucky, you just might get to watch the chef prepare his special duck dish out in the dining room, where he manually presses the remaining blood out of the duck "leftovers" and uses it to prepare a flash-sauteed sauce over an open flame for the main course. Slightly gruesome. Totally awesome.

All in all, a real French dining experience.

The chef in his kitchen.


cybersaint74 said…
Unfortunately we had a terrible and harrowing time at Le Lion d’Or » in Arcins . It is unfortunate that despite your recommendation and booking they were unable to provide both my guests with any vegetarian food. They served them boiled vegetables only and were not even marinated or with any sauce. It was really sad. I will never recommend the food or restaurant to any Indians visiting France/Bordeaux.

As you may be aware, Indians are slowly increasing in tourism and Wine consumption and I strongly recommend discouraging any vegetarian from visiting the restaurant. The Chef was rude and abnoxious. He came and challenged us about our booking stating that only , but when he saw his diary and that he had noted veg consumers, he quickly changed his tune and became rude instead of angry. He started shouting at his people for taking our reservation. It was very very embarrassing in front of my guest. He them proceeded to whistle each time he passed our table (he gave us a table close to the kitchen and their was a drainage pipe there so it smelt of urine all over). Also when I requested for some one to explain the menu, they refused and they threw the menu at us. I finally persuaded the waiter to explain the French menu to us but alas, no veg food. I believe a good chef is not known only for his main specialities but the versitality and capability to invent. This chef is a failure. And given that the world is flat and people from around the world are coming to bordeaux to buy and taste wine, he better shut down his restaurant or retire and allow a new generation to cook.
Sorry for the harrowing experience but France is not a vegan country.
You will hardly find vegan menus outside Paris or you must do some serious research beforehand.
I went to India and didn't find any food close to what I am used to but managed and loved it. I even drank indian Grover for two weeks leaving my Bordeaux taste behind. C'est la vie!
I don't imagine a restaurant in India starting to make "Lapin a la moutarde" or "cop au vin" and I will never expect it.
Let's keep our differences.
When you travel, you just adapt. We don't want a uniform flat world.

I LOVED the Lion d'Or in Arcins and hope the oger will live long.
Thanks Eric, great blog.
cybersaint74 said…
we had excellent cusine allover bordeaux. I didnt expect India food nor crave it. The only horrible experience was lion d'or. the cusine comes later, the attitude first. The place is racist and the arrogance abounds. I doubt any place in India gave you plentiful of these. Indian wine sucks, and I am sure the french have their own crap - one of which is Lion d'or. I love bordeaux, hate this single restaurant.
Dear I am just a french people and moreover living in Bordeaux..
So perhaps we are just some crazy people to love some food that I assume a lot of travellers find "strange"...
I could not explain (and won't try) why MR BARBIER, owner and chef ate LE LION DO'R is sometimes loved and sometimes hated. The Medoc countryside is full of people with a lot of character and sometimes too much.
That's part of his character ; I am confused that you weren't warned about his specificities and so badly welcomed (it's a really the wrong place for vegans...)
If everything is going well, this is a wonderful place with some of the best old french recipes I have ever tasted.
I came there more than a dozen times and all the people (american, asiatic, english, australian, indian,..) I was with were really happy.
If you want one day to come back to Bordeaux and try a new restaurant closer to your expectations in the Medoc, you can contact the restaurant La Gare Gourmande (a new one) in LABARDE (the village just before MARGAUX) and taste the cuisine of Olivier ROSA (La Gare Gourmande 3 rte chateaux 33460 LABARDE
05 56 35 92 38), I am quite sure that this one will please you.
I wish at least !
Frédéric, wine guide in Bordeaux
Lone Rider said…
I would have advised a careful perusal of the menu before venturing to the Lion d'Or, a famously red-blooded enterprise. I don't think they speak much English there so I suppose it might have been difficult to make your requirements clear when you booked. But it seems a little unfair to blame them. I have eaten there several times and have never noticed a smell of urine in the pristine restaurant (or indeed, in the lavatory). I recently spent 4 days in Bordeaux and the meal at the Lion d'Or was the culinary highlight. Indeed, I am about to describe the trip for the travel pages of the Daily Mail.
Mark Porter
Anonymous said…
The Lion d'Or is the best restaurant in the Medoc! They serve local specialties and can't be expected to accommodate picky Indian vegetarians. If you want to eat vegetables then buy them and cook them yourself. It's not the chef's fault that you can't eat like everyone else. Sorry that they only speak their native language and can't accommodate every culture and language they come across. As for the urine comments I've never had that problem. Maybe one of your friends brought his own dish and popped it open during lunch.