Classic french fare is on the menu at Armadale's Cafe Amalia. Photo: Eddie Jim
Reviewer rating: 3 stars (out of five)
Why does a French cafe in a clutch of boutiques near Toorak station say as much about Melbourne eating as its more trendy, obviously ''Melbourne'', counterparts? It's because character is revealed in relief as well as in demonstration.
Cafe Amalia operates with the French culinary priorities of doing things correctly. In France, for the most part, people order omelet or salad nicoise or steamed mussels because they know exactly what they will get. There is no expectation that the chef will put a creative twist on things, because the success of the dish is in its proper rendering. Au contraire in Melbourne. Here, ambitious cafes strive to present dishes with an individual spin.
Pear and rocket salad. Photo: Eddie Jim
Cafe Amalia is owned by personnel from France-Soir, which has a similar, proudly conservative, approach. At this small, sweet cafe, service is attentive and unfussy. The food is presented as described on white crockery. Water and bread arrive without fanfare.
Lunch dishes include a simple puff-pastry square filled with white chicken meat and soft buttery leeks in classic white sauce. (There's no fear of butter or flour here, though the gluten intolerant do tolerably well.)
A generous lamb special stars beautifully cooked backstrap crowning a nicely dressed salad of rocket, green and black olives, crumbled chevre and sauteed shallots. A pear and rocket salad comes with good walnuts.
The lemon tart is sweet and savoury in pleasing proportions, with a bruleed top and crisp pastry - it's a good version of a classic. Desserts come with a squirt of cream, mint leaves and half a strawberry. I wouldn't say no to a bit of innovation here.
The premises have operated as a cafe in various guises for a considerable time. The long building has three dining rooms with the pluses (privacy, intimacy) and minuses (invisibility, a feeling of being out of the action) that come with separate zones. Unless I was meeting a secret lover, dealing in contraband, or was with a larger group, I'd go elsewhere - unless I found a seat in the front room, because that's where le buzz is. The window bay with street view is charming.
Seen through a Melbourne prism (three-quarter-latte glasses, perhaps), the Amalia experience can seem a little lacking in spark. Seen through a French prism (baguette binoculars?), things are just as they should be.
Hardware Societe, 120 Hardware Street, city, 9078 5992. Daily, breakfast and lunch.
Creative French cookery worth the wait. Sweet and savoury breakfasts are given loving care, as are the specials.
Bistro Vue, 430 Little Collins Street city, 9691 3838. Mon to Sat, lunch and dinner.
I can't say the words ''Bistro Vue'' without invoking a vision of its exceptional tarte tatin. Other attractions include the weekly rendering of a dish by Escoffier, the father of French cookery.
Bistro Gitan, 52 Toorak Road West, South Yarra, 9867 5853. Tues to Fri, lunch; Mon to Sat, dinner.
Jacques Reymond's children run this relaxed restaurant, with its jaunty menu and sparky wine list.
- 03 9822 7753
- Cuisine - French
- Prices - Breakfast, $4.50-$16; lunch, $12-$24; dinner, $20-$25.
- Features - Licensed
- Cards accepted - Mastercard, Visa, EFTPOS
- Opening Hours - Mon to Wed, 7am-4pm; Thurs to Fri, 7am-10pm; Sat, 8am-4pm
- Author - Dani Valent