Australia’s new wave of French restaurants are bringing a certain je ne sais quoi to the table.
Reviews by Larissa Dubecki
Here’s the restaurant that puts the ooh into ooh là là, the swagger into the soufflé. Guillaume Brahimi’s casino-dwelling bistro is a hefty dose of Parisian nostalgia wrapped up in a wicked green trim; a fantasy of Frenchness complete with puffy brocade lights. Brahimi has other fish to fry with his Sydney interests but he’s left the right people in charge to ensure this is no neglected outpost. Onion soup, rich and silken, is topped with Gruyère-lavished croutons; a piquant steak tartare comes with lattice crisps; and proper, guilt-inducing Paris mash is used with gay abandon on several of the plats du jour. And then there’s that soufflé (vital statistics: twice-baked, Roquefort), a rare creature of levitating beauty. Mais oui.
Crown Entertainment Complex, Southbank; (03) 9292 4751
Thirty years in the business, France-Soir is Melbourne’s undisputed standard-bearer for French food, wine and waiters. The latter, clad in classic black-and-white, are from central casting; the room, their stage, will transport you to mid-century France with closely packed tables, specials scrawled on mirrors and a wine list begging you to try something from Burgundy (you can also BYO). The food is almost secondary, although it’s the city’s go-to for steak frites with deliciously artery-clogging béarnaise. Also worth ordering: leek tart, a thing of simple farmhouse beauty; salmon marinated in dill; and snails drenched in garlic butter. Less a restaurant, more a salon, long may France-Soir reign.￼
11-13 Toorak Road, South Yarra; (03) 9866 8569
Few restaurants set the scene as effectively as this newcomer. As you descend into the sexy basement space, one of the first things you’ll spy is a selection of sweet tarts on the kitchen pass – each more extravagantly jewel-like than the last – alongside a board of oozing cheeses. But don’t press the fast-forward button to the meal’s end, for there’s plenty more joy on Florent Gerardin’s menu. A crêpe, enveloping Kurobuta ham and funky Cantal cheese, rolled and fried, is the perfect iteration of a simple idea. A single prawn, “char-licked”, on an emulsion made from the heads, might see you ordering another two. And Wagyu ribs, off the grill, with Espelette pepper may well induce an indecent bout of finger-licking. A welcome addition, Ôter knows how to rip a cliché from its moorings and make it new again.
137 Flinders Lane, Melbourne; (03) 9639 7073￼
This venue is now permanently closed.
Reviews by Anthony Huckstep
This is the opening of the year. Spiral down two floors into postwar France and discover a restaurant Sydney has long yearned for. A raucous bar to the right. To the left, a dining room housing a baby grand piano, slow-spinning ceiling fans, mismatched period art and wine bottles placed on shelves during the build to gather dust as if they’ve been there forever. This is the fairground of gun chef Dan Pepperell, who’s giving French bistro classics a punch. Nardin anchovies and cultured butter ride toasted sourdough, while blushing flank steak gets a slap of Bordelaise butter. Hubert captures the heart of hospitality and the very purpose of restaurants. Très bon.
15 Bligh Street, Sydney
Few things in life are more pleasing than a reliable local. This honest French restaurant is housed on the site of what was arguably Australia’s most influential French restaurant for more than 30 years, Claude’s. In a nod to the past, they’ve kept part of the name but none of the baggage of expectation. This is no temple of fine dining. Yellow cushions dot grey banquettes opposite Scandi bistro chairs in what is essentially a solid drop-in bistro. Sea-urchin butter adds luxury to poached chicken breast; miso and egg yolk smother pretty pink strips of flank steak; and lime cream disappears into a delicate rhubarb and ginger soufflé. St Claude’s isn’t trying to reach the nose-bleeding heights of haute cuisine but it’ll do very nicely, thank you.
10 Oxford Street, Woollahra; (02) 9331 3222
Reviews by Jo Cook
Hubert & Dan
After completing her apprenticeship at France-Soir in South Yarra and living in France for two years, Danielle Lefrancois returned to Tasmania with her family to set up this café and bespoke catering venture in the country town of Longford, 21 kilometres south of Launceston. One look at Hubert & Dan’s beautiful 1880s Victorian red-brick building and you can understand why. Here she serves French sourdough toast with rhubarb and apple for breakfast and du Puy lentil salad with roasted winter vegetables for lunch. Either way, you’ll need to be quick to nab one of her éclairs (lemon meringue or pistachio, perhaps?), which are rightly famous. Book in advance for the weekly dinner, which is something truly special.
59 Wellington Street, Longford; 0458 822 308
Point Revolving Restaurant
Yes, there’s a rule about never eating in a revolving restaurant. But Point Revolving Restaurant, on the 17th floor of Australia’s first casino, is lots of fun. Step back in time to a temple of soft furnishings, dim lighting and organza curtains that frame the stunning view of Hobart’s Sandy Bay, Mount Wellington and the city surrounds. The waiters wear tuxedos, the English bone china is gold-plated and the playlist includes Earth, Wind & Fire. Give in to the ’70s theme, stick to the classics and enjoy the theatre of food cooked at your table. The flambé prawns, steak Diane (order the pommes frites as a side) and crêpes Suzette are a must. It’s that kind of place.
Wrest Point, 410 Sandy Bay Road, Sandy Bay; (03) 6221 1888
Reviews by Nigel Hopkins
Alain Ducasse-trained chef Tarik Marco had big shoes to fill when he took over the premises of the much-acclaimed Fino but he has flourished, thanks to cooking that has even his French customers feeling like they’re at home. Little else has changed in this simple and spare cottage restaurant strategically located next to one of the country’s best farmers’ markets. That said, the menu now starts with old faithfuls such as duck rillettes or foie gras with house-made brioche and a very fine, buttery rough tart piled with crème fraîche, pickled onions and lardons. The house specialty, bouillabaisse, revels in the wealth of seafood from the nearby gulf, while the beef fillet served with duck-fat potatoes and a slice of seared foie gras is utterly indulgent. Go to lemistral.com.au￼
8 Hill Street, Willunga; (08) 8556 4488
With a menu that features dishes such as Post-Modern Duck à l’Orange and Coquilles Colour-Field, it’s clear that Cliché has a rather tongue-in-cheek take on French food. Serial restaurateur Walter Ventura knows how to create establishments with instant appeal and lots of fun – and where the cooking is good. Little on the menu would be found in a traditional French restaurant, apart from a classic beef tartare, but French-style dishes like crêpes filled with lobster and prawn, Cheeky Beef (slow-braised beef cheek with burnt onion aïoli and crisp kale) and Bardot’s Rack (lamb rack with a herb crust) work very well. The prices are good, the service is fast and friendly and if you can get past the cocktail called Frog in Your Throat, the wine list isn’t bad, either.￼
26 O’Connell Street, North Adelaide; (08) 8267 4083
Reviews by Lucy Barbour
Le Tres Bon￼
For an idyllic country lunch amid a medley of French accents, look no further than this quaint, homely restaurant in regional Bungendore, a 30-minute drive east from Canberra. Chef Christophe Gregoire is known for robust provincial cooking – and the cassoulet with plump haricot beans and smoky Toulouse sausage doesn’t disappoint. Decadent beef bourguignon is served with creamy pomme purée and truffle, while earthy slow-cooked venison packs a perfectly sweet punch when partnered with red-wine-poached pear. French wines are plentiful but the crêpes Suzette drizzled with heavenly Grand Marnier and glazed-orange syrup is even more of a must.
40 Malbon Street, Bungendore; (02) 6238 0662
From breakfast to dinner, this European brasserie delights with its French influences. Start the day with a lazy brunch of raclette with bacon and potatoes or lacy crêpes with creamy mascarpone and pear. Wash it down with coffee served in a bowl and you’ll be sprightly until dinner – the ideal time to return to try the duck liver pâté with morsels of port gel, followed by hearty coq au vin studded with salty speck and mushrooms. The staff are attentive and friendly and the low-key vibe, enhanced by the bistro-style wooden décor and glass windows, feels welcoming. There’s an abundance of Australian, French and Spanish varietals but the local botrytis paired with profiteroles is hard to beat.
Shop 1, Wakefield Gardens, Ainslie; (02) 6257 4334
Reviews by Max Veenhuyzen
Yes, Guillaume Brahimi gets two guernseys here because his restaurants are that good. And his western outpost has no shortage of razzle-dazzle. From the oversized harlequin floor tiles to the conspicuous use of lime-green throughout the spacious dining room, this restaurant is well positioned for occasion dining. Although the carte reads like a French-cooking best-of, thoughtful touches help ensure the standards are anything but. A fat quenelle of steak tartare is presented alongside golden pommes gaufrettes; the featherweight pistachio soufflé is dusted with chocolate; and the wine list features by-the-glass drops poured out of magnums. The kitchen is equally at ease when tackling the non-traditional: witness the gloriously supple likes of jamón Ibérico, poached leeks and a soft-cooked egg. Visit bistroguillaumeperth.com.au
Crown Perth, Great Eastern Highway, Burswood; 1800 556 688
Maylands is an inner-city suburb with much to offer bons vivants, thanks in no small part to fun, singular venues like Swallow bar. If the tightly packed marble bistro tables and giant tabac sign in the window didn’t give the game away, Swallow’s blood runs red, white and blue, as evinced by a healthy scattering of Gallic standards on the menu. Yes, you should order the steak frites and you’ll want to indulge in a lush Cognac and chicken liver parfait and the charcuterie plate. In a sweet touch, food-writing doyenne Elizabeth David is name-checked in the Gruyère cheese omelette. Cheery service and a squeezy dining room add to the cosy neighbourhood vibe.
￼198 Whatley Crescent, Maylands; (08) 9272 4428
Reviews by Morag Kobez
This bustling, brightly lit Paddington favourite exudes all the charm of a Parisian bistro, courtesy of the polish that comes from a hospitality power couple overseeing both kitchen and front of house. Clare Wallace ensures everything runs like clockwork on the floor while chef Shannon Kellam turns out beautiful staples such as duck and Cognac parfait with tiny brioche loaves; crab and Gruyère soufflé; steak frites; and the city’s favourite bouillabaisse. The menu also ventures into more contemporary territory: confit lobster and prawn with citrus and garlic marmalade, celeriac ravioli and petits pois in a clove-butter broth. The weekly supper club on Friday evenings is when the kitchen really amps up the creativity with a five-course dégustation that changes fortnightly and comes at the very reasonable price of $99 per person. Go to montrachet.com.au
224 Given Terrace, Paddington; (07) 3367 0030
Flickering candles and chic chandeliers set a très enchanting scene. There’s an unmistakably French elegance about everything here, from the food to the wine list and the silver service. But don’t expect to find tried-and-true dishes – the menu takes a more nuanced and modern approach that’s best experienced via the six- or eight-course dégustation. Highlights include a forest mushroom consommé that comes together with truffle and egg yolk to form a silky, umami-rich starter. Perfectly pink lamb backstrap is flanked by pearl barley and beetroot, with smoked goat’s curd dotted around the plate. Perhaps most tempting of all is the fresh dessert of fromage blanc, mandarin curd and brown butter. Dramatic views of Brisbane City Hall and the bright lights of the CBD skyline add to the sense of occasion. ￼
Sofitel Brisbane, 249 Turbot Street, Brisbane; (07) 3835 3535