Level 1, 2-10 Kensington Street Chippendale, New South Wales 2008
|Opening hours||Lunch and dinner daily|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Licensed|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Phone||02 9281 6668|
The French are great travellers, and great survivors. Wherever they land, be it Dubai or Dubbo, they remain resolutely French; and so does their cuisine. It's this stubbornness that built the enduring charm of the bistro.
So now we have a couple of Frenchmen who have travelled the world as chef and sommelier since their apprenticeships with the great chefs of Paris. Chef Frederic Colin's grandfather Henri, who once ran a bistro in Les Halles, was the inspiration behind Colin's Brasserie Gavroche in Singapore, and now Bistrot Gavroche in Sydney.
With co-owner and sommelier Lionel Richard, he has left no bistro reference unturned in its creation.
With its imposing oakwood entrance from Lyon's venerable Brasserie Georges, brass-railed banquette seating, oversized carved wooden bar, hand-painted tiled walls, four-metre antique French silk weaver's table, and 1950 Parisian VeloSoleX motorised bicycle suspended overhead, it is an homage to the great age of bistrodom, inserted into the first floor of an old Kensington Street rum warehouse.
It's a film-set pastiche, but then, every bistro is a film-set pastiche of every other bistro. And the menu? Even I'm too old to remember Quenelles de Brochet Sauce Nantua, Crabe Royale facon Thermidor and Crepe Suzettes flambees. Tellingly, the menu is encased in glass, like the museum relic it is.
But this is Bistroland, The Happiest Kingdom Of Them All. And while it may not be the best French food in the world, here's the thing. It does actually taste French.
Take the big slab of pate en croute ($18) with its fresh, sweet, upfront flavour. The marbled, herb-flecked pork terrine is just the right sort of chunky, ringed with a glistening savoury jelly and fringed with shortcrust. It's bistro heartland stuff, and it's laughing its head off about your inventive modern scraps of hydrocolloid foams and gels.
A charcuterie platter of perfectly acceptable saucisson sec, jambon cru and terrific, shreddy, fatty pork rillettes, comes with pots of help-yourself cornichons and tiny pickled onions ($18); hearty and generous.
Sole meuniere ($42) sees snowy-white-fleshed New Zealand flounder, beheaded and be-tailed, fried with meticulous timing until sunny and golden; its lemony, buttery, parsley-strewn sauce to one side in a jug. And that heart and soul of bistro cookery, the steak, a richly flavoured O'Connor grass-fed entrecote ($45), has that satisfyingly, ferociously charry crust that comes from being cooked in a heavy cast-iron pan. To finish, tarte tatin ($15) leaves me cold with its slow-cooked, almost-jellied apples on a too-dark, too-brittle pastry base.
But oh, the French and their condiments. At one point, my very small round table holds a jug of lemony butter sauce for the fish, half a lemon, a separate bowl of steamed potatoes for the fish, a bowl of thin, crisp frites for the steak, a pot of mayonnaise for the frites, a jug of decent bearnaise for the steak, a pot of seeded mustard, a pot of dijon mustard, bread, and butter. Bless.
Lionel Richard has that smooth French service thing down pat, although the young floor team has yet to learn the tricks. The wine list is a work in progress, a highlight being the full page of Peter Graham's wines from Beechworth, where you'll find an earthy, ripe, steak-frites-friendly 2013 Domenica Shiraz ($13/$95), and an intriguing trolley of premium rums from French territories.
Gavroche is a little surreal, it must be said. The surroundings – so familiar. The cooking – so loyal. Whether you're up for such a faithful rendition of the bistro or not, such stubbornness has to be admired.
Best bit: The rum trolley
Worst bit: Awkward framed menus
Go-to dish: Grandpa Henri's pate en croute, $18
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.