Neighbourhood restaurant as a tag seems a limiting, not to mention obvious, way to describe a place. Put in a positive light it merely means somewhere that is accessible to regular visits by locals, that has a comfort in belonging. It is rarely used in a negative sense the way “suburban” often can be.
In Richmond, only a couple of kilometres outside the CBD, there is a growing population of diverse restaurant offerings. One staple that felt missing for many years was a bistro the likes of France-Soir, or Thierry’s, but Noir swept in and filled that void. Naturally it is not as traditional, but the feeling here as you walk in is akin to those friendly convivial environments.
In a sense we have missed out in participating in the establishment of Noir’s reputation. For one reason or another, the eight minute walk down Swan Street ended up taking a couple of years to convert into a visit, but now we are here. As you would expect, the original cheap ($15!) entree, and almost equally reasonable ($35) main have been replaced with higher price tags, but the tasting menu listing five enticing courses, is still value at $100, and there is also a very reasonable menu du jour for around $65.
When I go to a bistro and look down on the menu to see duck, lamb, gnocchi and chocolate on a tasting menu you can stop the presses on the rest of the offerings. With one tweak, care of Catherine’s early menu reading habit, we chose the tasting menu without hesitation. That tweak was to replace the kingfish (which sounded excellent too) with a scallop dish that had taken her eye in a big way.
That was our first course and what an entry into the meal to come. A beautifully pan fried caremelised Atlantic scallop surrounded by a cauliflower veloute that dreams are made of, black truffle and pecorino providing further elevation. Next came the thyme gnochetti with king brown mushroom fondue, nettle and black truffle pesto. A terrific follow up, with a huge amount of gnochetti for a tasting menu, and another banging sauce.
There is really only a small list of savouries that a bistro needs to do well for me to be back. The biggest test is duck. Noir’s crisp breast of duck with licorice, fennel and orange ticked all the boxes. While the classic flavours pairing with the duck are very important, the way the duck is cooked is by far the most important aspect of this dish. It was cooked perfectly, and the way it looked on the plate, juicy and inviting, was the way it tasted.
Our last savoury course was the roasted rack of lamb, with pumpkin, pumpkin seed praline and parmesan. Again the chefs showed great touch with the lamb, but in this case the pumpkin took an equally starring role.
Service, while quirky (which we liked), was utterly professional. I had to ask where our waitperson had come from previously and learned he had worked at many fine establishments across Melbourne for a long time. Good signs for Noir if it can attract this calibre of talent. The wine list is good without being unforgettable, and could even be viewed as a little pricey for a bistro, but we found some nice options starting with champagne, into chardonnay and then a pinot noir. When in Noir.
For dessert that was where the wine list became limited as I would love to see a Pedro, Muscat or Tokay to match with the chocolate marquise, served with blood orange macaron, pistachio and hibiscus. Dessert was good, but we couldn’t help noticing how much better the soufflés looked, coming out around the same time, so we will be going after one of those next time. When will deconstructed desserts have finished their time?
The biggest surprise for me is that Noir is not covered in Australian Gourmet Traveller’s restaurant guide. While it might be a tiny “neighbourhood” restaurant, it is much more than that, and is hopefully not far off being noticed more broadly. I’m equally hopeful that it keeps doing what it is doing, providing an offering that is right up my alley.