Chef Yeshi Gyaitsen has travelled a complex route from Lhasa to Bordeaux. Stopping in Goa in southern India and then travelling back north to Nepal before making the journey, as a refugee to Normandy, where he worked as the head of a Chinese restaurant before making the move to Bordeaux. It was here in the spring of 2017 that he, along with a couple of friends, opened Le Shambhala where he’s since crafted a considerate and accessible menu of Tibetan staples that serves as a good introduction to Tibetan cuisine in the capital of French wine country.
The restaurant serves a bundle of breadsticks with a vegetable and turmeric dipping sauce as hors d’oeuvres, whose well balanced mix of tangy and spicy flavours does an excellent job of setting the tone for the rest of the menu. After a little wine, we moved on to a couple of starters of beef and celery Momo – divine, and a cucumber salad, which sat soaked in a bath of sesame and soy and is oddly rustic in both terms of flavour and presentation – with roughly sliced cucumber and tomatoes slipped on the side. The beef Momo is served with two dipping sauces: a moreish chilli oil and a gorgeous black bean oil, both of which are simplistic but act as perfect accompaniments to the heavier flavours of the Momo.
Le Shambhala’s mains offer a nice mix of dishes, generally centred around traditional cuts of meat (at the time of writing there’s only one vegetarian main: Shitaké Pak Choï) and big accompanying flavours derived from seasonal vegetables and lusciously fragrant spices. My favourite is the stunning Lhuk khang Thakma, a baked leg of exceptionally tender lamb that falls apart with even the slightest of touches. The lamb is marinated in a mouthwatering mix of cinnamon and Sichuan pepper that results in a well-balanced flavour that’s neither too salty or spicy and is served sat in an umami-rich sauce that helps to accentuate the melt in the mouth softness of the lamb.
The pork belly Phaktseb comes as a multitude of pork belly layers, topped with a large shiitake mushroom and finished with a decadent mushroom broth that reverberates with layers of intense flavours as one makes their way through layer after layer of delicious pork belly. Of the two beef dishes that I tried, The Lhanhsha Tsoma was the least interesting, serving as a pretty standard beef stew, and perhaps a little bland when compared to the rest of the menu, though the beef is slow cooked to perfection. The Phingsha Moro on the other hand offers an enticing medley of flavours that flirts between the rustic beef-filled broth and the lightness of the greens and vermicelli. Though I imagine that the Lhanhsha Tsoma is better in the colder months.
Each of Le Shambhala’s mains are served with a side of seasonal vegetables, which are presented naked and with little flare on a side plate, and a big fluffy Tingmo: a traditional Tibetan steamed bread which soaks up the salty broths and adds a creamy texture to every bite and steals the show from the almost unnecessary vegetables.
I finished with a Tibetan Butter Tea and took a moment to admire the interiors: the typical arched ceilings of Bordeaux’s old town and unremarkable contemporary furnishings, all improved somewhat by a wall of colourful Tibetan prayer flags by the door.
I foresee good things for Le Shambhala but it really depends on how well they fit into the (huge) Bordeaux dining scene. That being said, the food is good, the wine list is acceptable and the service is perfect … so we’ll see. Either way the restaurant is in good company on the stoney Rue Ausone, right across the road from the endlessly popular Mampuku and a few moments walk from the atmospheric Porte Cailhau.
Le Shambhala, 8 Rue Ausone, Bordeaux.