All bow to the internet: equaliser of the dining world. Look to the Instagram of Paris right now and you're unlikely to see cassoulets.
It's a familiar vision to home: activated almonds, ferments and smoked offal adorning plates, and fast food jamming with natural wines. The future has come to the promised land.
But here in Melbourne, we're holding out as the great romantic city that won't let the dream of classic French die. Buttered steaks, foie gras, and big house Champagnes have had an unexpected boom in the past year. You want to go big, rich and cheesy? Here are the places doing it best.
52 Toorak Road West, South Yarra, 03 9867 5853 bistrogitan.com.au
Among South Yarra's leafy terraces, this smart little bistro with bar and fireside dining is packed most nights. The menu takes you on a trip to the Reymond's ancestral home in Burgundy, then off-piste to Spain and Italy. This mix of influences, clever cooking and a blackboard chalked edge-to-edge with ever-changing specials including excellent vins du jour give regulars good reason to keep coming back. Brothers Edouard and Antoine swing between here and their new venture, L'Hotel Gitan in Prahran, where you might spy papa Jacques on the pans.
Riverside, Crown Complex, Southbank, 03 9292 4751 bistro-guillaume
Sure, the Yarra's not the Seine, but riverside on Bistro Guillaume's sun-drenched terrace is just the setting to share charcuterie and chateaubriand during a lazy midweek lunch. In the light-filled dining room, under flouncy pendant lights, corporate types tuck into rib-sticking cassoulet and man-sized serves of roast chicken on Paris mash – butter, cream and potato in equal measure. French comfort food at its best.
511 Malvern Road, Toorak, 03 9824 0888 bistrothierry.com
There's no shortage of Frenchness behind Bistro Thierry's black-and-white striped awning. Close-set linen-clad tables, vintage posters and collectibles channel the charm of old Montmartre. Fifteen years on, playing to a full house every night, waist-coated waiters seduce local Francophiles with bags of bonhomie and generous plates of Gallic favourites – good steak-frites among them.
430 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, 03 9691 3838 bistrovue.com.au
Bistro Vue brings the romance of La Belle Epoque to the city's legal district. Drop in for champagne and Moonlight Flat oysters by the zinc-topped bar, plan a date night or swipe that corporate card. Whether you go for foie gras baked in brioche, Blackmore wagyu with pommes pont-neuf or one of the best tarte tatins south of Paris, Shannon Bennett's uncompromising commitment to high-quality ingredients is evident in every dish. Skilled cooking, polished service and a stellar cellar round out the offering. Faux Frenchy, tres chic.
22 Beatty Avenue, Armadale, 03 9824 8022 chezbob.com.au
With its petite L-shaped dining room and rear courtyard, this charming village bistro, abuzz with contented diners relishing French favourites, is more cosy than cluttered or cliched. Honest food, simply plated – think rabbit terrine, poussin with sage butter and ile flottante. Bon. Bring your own special bottle midweek to make the bill even more appealing. Tres bon.
401 St Kilda Road, Melbourne, 03 9866 8055 dejavue.com.au
Lights are on and the rotisserie's fired as waiters swerve round the lofty queen's corset – an imaginative take on Marie Antoinette in a modern-day Versailles. A revived Cafe Vue is now Deja Vue – Philippe Mouchel's new pop-up, open for eggs benedict, cauliflower veloute, beef cheek bourguignon and roast chicken, all crisp-skinned, juicy and tender. Expect Mouchel's signature dishes and bistro classics crafted from top-notch ingredients, executed with meticulous care. Good drinking, too. A concise wine list tips the beret to France. On the run? Grab a take-away croque monsieur or rotissoire boeuf baguette.
131-133 Domain Road, South Yarra, 03 9804 5468 entrecote.com.au
There's a lot to love at this lively open-all-hours "South Ra-Ra" take on Paris' Le Relais de l'Entrecôte. Good protein pedigree, for one. A decent slab of grilled Hopkins River Black Angus porterhouse comes smothered in zingy, buttery, tarragon-loaded sauce with salty shoestring fries and a side salad for $39.90. Bonus points for happy hour 4-6pm daily, offering Mumm at $12 a glass and $2 oysters.
11 Toorak Road, South Yarra, 03 9866 8569 france-soir.com.au
This Melbourne icon beats with the heart of a bustling Parisienne brasserie. Nab a coveted window table – best seats in the house – and settle in for charming French-accented service and honest Gallic classics while you flick through the leather-bound wine carte. Daily specials scrawled across mirrored walls might pique your interest but most people come here for steak-frites. The piece de resistance, though, is Jean-Paul Prunetti's cellar of fine and rare French wines collected over almost three decades. Last count, more than 3000 bottles.
Hell of the North
135 Greeves Street, Fitzroy, 03 9417 6660 hellofthenorth.com.au
Feels like bistronomy, folks – all technique, good looks and hellishly good grazing – in a maze of low-lit bluestone and timber interiors hidden down a side street behind a yellow door. So will that be a French 75, Pommeau de Normandie or Sutton Grange Viognier with your pulled pork and gruyere doughnut? Or what about a cast-iron skillet of Parisienne-style gnocchi, peas and glossy sauce vin jaune?
175 Swan Street, Richmond, 03 9428 3585 noirrestaurant.com.au
The charcoal walls in Noir's minimalist split-level dining room were designed to set off the kitchen's intricate, colourful and often playful takes on regional French food. Add good glassware, linen napkins and a smart wine list, and it's well worth settling into those high-backs for the four- and six-course tasting menus. Otherwise, the go-to dish – rabbit pie.