French Saloon – Melbourne, City – Monday 10 April 2017 – Lunch

It is not every day a collection of restaurants has such an impact on a diverse range of dining and drinking experiences. The European, City Wine Shop, and most importantly The Supper Club (and Siglo), are three places that captured my imagination many years ago, and have held it to this day. It seems without even knowing it, the people behind these stunning establishments, have grabbed me in the opposite end of town.

Kirk’s Wine Bar is not a place that grabs your immediate attention. In fact, it looks like a lot of wine bars I’ve been to overseas. It is the feeling here that is special. Somehow many of those I’ve been with there, feel the same way too. The fascinating part is why I feel drawn to it whenever I’m in that part of town, whether shopping, after lunch, for pre-dinner drinks, or pretty much any other time.

Naturally, upstairs was always going to end up capturing my attention. It’s not the same, but the walk up the stairs is a bit like going up to the Supper Club. What is upstairs though is a tribute to the casual dining of France. Not that the French do anything that is actually that casual. The French Saloon is put together in this manner.

There is not a prestigious fitout, and the tables are not overdone, but there is a sense of bistro luxury and a feeling of belonging, even if it is just any other Monday in Autumn. From the greeting to the goodbye, there is an ease about this place. If only the menu were as easy. There was no debate, but after a fair bit of catching up, we really needed to order something.

Chris had his eye on the kingfish which I was happy to share. I like the sound of the spanner crab toast and we ordered one each. It was a great start.

The kingfish is served with delicate presentation, surrounded by thinly sliced cucumber. However, the staff direct you to mix it all up, allowing the sauce to combine with the oil and creating a smart combination. The spanner crab is curiously presented half adorned with avocado, and the other half with salmon roe. The toast works well initially, holding together, until it all falls apart in the last few bites. As you can imagine, using a knife and fork does not inhibit the delicate flavour.

For mains, we had decided to share the Cote de Boeuf, along with a side of fries and of the gem lettuce with anchovy sauce. Having ordered medium rare, the steak seems on the medium side, but was still beautifully tender and well seasoned. The strong jus was absolutely superb, lifting the steak to greater heights. The chips were excellent, while the gem lettuce could have been a touch too powerful with its anchovy dressing, to refresh and dull the impact of the steak and jus.

The Pinot Noir we were drinking from Gippsland was at the suggestion of our waitperson, as the bottle Chris selected was off the list. It was an excellent choice, not necessarily matching our choices perfectly, but versatile enough to enjoy with, or without food. In fact, the service on a reasonably busy Monday lunch was great.

As we finished lunch, I asked Chris about his phone call into 3AW, where he had shared with the breakfast presenters his insights from his experiences at Eleven Madison Park, which had very recently won the title of “world’s best restaurant”. When we walked downstairs Chris saw one of his friends at Kirk’s and he too got asked about the same conversation! Like so many meals, ending it with conversations about other meals seems fitting.

The French Saloon is different to the other offerings of this group, but it has the same hospitable feel and warmth. I’m sold on everything they do, though I almost wish I didn’t know they were all connected.

French Saloon Bar & Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Saint Urban – Richmond – Saturday 30 January 2016 – Dinner

Smoked pork hock terrine and lentils with lemon cream

Smoked pork hock terrine and lentils with lemon cream

I was having lunch at Reunion recently when the owner came up to the table next to me and applauded the lady sitting there for her restaurant. Overhearing a little more I realised her restaurant is Saint Urban, one that I’ve pondered going to enough for this conversation to promote it towards the top of my list.

This particular Saturday night we were actually looking for a cheaper option but the first place we walked into was not enticing (had a smell) and I took the leap to suggest Saint Urban which is a bistro slash wine bar. As we walked in we quickly realised that there was a chance it was already booked out given the number of tables already full. Luckily we got seated on the bar which is quite comfortable.

Confit duck leg, parsnip puree, honeyed pear, sorrel

Confit duck leg, parsnip puree, honeyed pear, sorrel

On the way there we had been for a drink at “Richmond Yard” which is a grungy, post apocalyptic themed trailer park with a few food van options and a bar open on Saturday nights in summer. This meant we could launch straight into the menu, ordering a pork hock terrine, the half chicken roasted in Calabrian spices, and the confit duck (all to share).

The terrine was a delicious start, and more and more this was feeling like the Richmond equivalent of Fitzroy’s Gertrude Street Enoteca. Next came the chicken and duck dishes to share. The spice rub made it for the chicken, but along with that it was perfectly roasted. The duck was almost as perfectly prepared. Both were generous serves with smart accompaniments.

Half chicken roasted in Calabrian spices with roasted bell pepper

Half chicken roasted in Calabrian spices

With some cakes from Beatrix waiting at home we will need to come back for the carrot cake or one of the other appealing desserts. It may not have been the cheap meal we initially set out for, but it was certainly not expensive, and given the quality of the venue and service, the price makes it entirely reasonable to dine here regularly.

Saint.Urban Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Noir – Richmond – Saturday 5 September 2015 – Dinner

Caramelised Atlantic scallop, cauliflower veloute, black truffle and pecorino

Caramelised Atlantic scallop, cauliflower veloute, black truffle and pecorino

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.

thyme gnochetti with king brown mushroom fondue, nettle and black truffle pesto

thyme gnochetti, king brown mushroom fondue, nettle and black truffle pesto

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.

Duck

Crisp breast of duck with licorice, fennel and orange

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.

Lamb

Roasted rack of lamb with pumpkin, pumpkin seed praline and parmesan

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.

Chocolate marquise, blood orange macaron, pistachio and hibiscus

Chocolate marquise, blood orange macaron, pistachio and hibiscus

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.

Noir Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Luxembourg – St Kilda – Sunday 2 November 2014 – Lunch

Prawn special

Prawn special

My friends and I have a tradition on the Sunday after Derby Day to go for lunch together to recover from the highs and lows of what is always a great day. Each year there is a good amount of banter on where to go, who gets to choose, and then on the day whether the current lunch is up there with the best.

It is a group lunch, often only with the guys, and normally follows the same script. We get there quite hungover, tough it out through the first drink and first taste of food, and then get back to celebrating one of the great weeks of the year anywhere in the world. Following a successful day the talk is all about the horses who won, who had the most successful bet, and the near misses.

This year we wanted to go to Stokehouse – a restaurant I am very familiar with, but my friends have not tried. However, the temporary city venue was booked for a function so in quick time we decided to try Andrew McConnell’s latest and greatest, Luxembourg. From what I had heard, Luxembourg is a reasonably priced European bistro that has honest classical dishes that are good to share, perfect for a group of close friends.

1kg dry aged O'Connor T-bone, béarnaise, onion rings

1kg dry aged O’Connor T-bone, béarnaise, onion rings

We were seated on the front left window looking in, which is a great spot to watch the world go by, and in a way, a little bit separated from the rest of the restaurant. As the seven of us settled in to our first beverage, talk turned to the meal ahead. I’d heard the roast chicken was amazing so that was locked in, and the waitperson described the roast t-bone as one of the feature dishes which would be our main. Pigs ear scratchings, beef carpaccio, whole prawns, oysters and some salad and chips to go with the steak were all ordered too. We were excited!

Pigs ear scratchings

Pigs ear scratchings

We also ordered a very reasonably priced Soave to go with the seafood, and a 2010 Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley to go with the steak which was opened immediately. The bread was excellent like you expect from a good bistro, especially one overseen by Andrew McConnell. The oysters were all beautiful; Sydney Rock and Pacific oysters are all incredible at the moment. The beef carpaccio was a bit too generously sliced for my taste, but was good nonetheless.

Roast chicken, bay leaf cream, broad beans and gizzards

Roast chicken, bay leaf cream, broad beans and gizzards

Next came the whole prawns which were more the size of langoustines. Really juicy meat still sweet and flavoursome – easily one of the highlights of the meal. On the other hand, the squid salad, whilst cooked perfectly, lacked flavour. The tentacles were nicely chargrilled and had good seasoning, but the main tube of the squid had almost no flavour. The end of the entree was my favourite dish of the day. The half roast chicken is immaculate. You will not taste better roast chicken. Glistening crisp skin giving way for juicy, just-cooked meat, touched by an angel.

To finish the savoury courses, the dry aged O’Connor T-bone is a classic bistro dish. Beautifully cooked steak, smothered in béarnaise (I have a heavy hand when it comes to béarnaise), golden onion rings and frites, some leafy salad on the side. Seven of us shared two of them and were very fulfilled. There is a Tuesday night BYO policy and I have it on my list to bring a good bottle of red and just order the steak and a couple of sides for an indulgent midweek meal!

Chocolate tart with creme Chantilly

Chocolate tart with creme Chantilly

The service had been good throughout, though I think by the end our group was pretty boisterous and were left to our own devices a bit. It is noteworthy that the restaurant was not very busy, which may have been because of the extended long weekend for Melbourne Cup Day. We ordered dessert and most either had the mille-feuille with cultured cream and strawberries, or the chocolate tart baked to order with creme Chantilly.

Mille-feuille, cultured cream and strawberries

Mille-feuille, cultured cream and strawberries

The mille-feuille was delightful. It is a technically challenging dessert that looks simple on the plate, but was nicely executed and packed with freshness. The chocolate tart was delicious, the creme Chantilly really adding some balance to the richness. Oozing chocolate is always a good look and that softness on top of a perfectly baked tart never gets old. Another winner for the weekend!

We’ve had some great lunches to recover. The old Circa comes to mind, Cafe Di Stasio, The Graham, The Grand Hotel have all been terrific, but this was definitely up there challenging the best of them.

Luxembourg on Urbanspoon