Chef Ben Russell from Rothwell’s recalls one perfect meal in Melbourne.
“I don’t think anyone else was wearing damp swimming trunks in the dining room that day but I feel certain it wasn’t a first. France-Soir has seen it all. The neon sign over the door has lit the way since 1986, the aesthetic going in and out of fashion, but Melbourne has never lost its taste for the very French brand of hospitality this restaurant is all about.
This visit was in the wilderness between Christmas and New Year in 2016. There was no particular occasion other than that I’d been swimming at St Kilda with friends and we were seeking refuge from scorching heat and a strong wind.
I had h istory with France-Soir. I grew up in a small town in Tasmania and moved to Melbourne in 1995 to get into restaurants. The first time I went there, I remember asking for bread with the cheese course and feeling very chuffed to have won some cred with the unimpressible floor staff. The last meal I shared with my father was in this restaurant. So I approached it with some nostalgia.
We sat outside. We ate oysters with lemon and mignonette dressing. There was marinated salmon with crème fraîche, onion, chive and dill; a Provençal salad with green bean, potato, egg and tomato; and duck rillettes with cornichon. We did all the hits: the steak tartare, dressed with a confident hand and plated up with potato chips; the brains, fried golden in crumbs and cut with a bitey caper mayonnaise and leaves of watercress. We kept lubricated with a few Kronenbourgs, a cool bottle of chablis and even a splash of pastis.
Years later, France-Soir was a key reference for me and Dan Clark when we were talking about what our restaurant, Rothwell’s, could be. If we’ve captured even a little of the magic, we’ve done something right. Long may it reign.”
Image credit: Jamie Alexander