15/20

Le Tres Bon

40 Malbon Street, Bungendore, NSW

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The crepe suzette at Le Tres Bon.
Le Tres Bon's crepe suzette. Photo: karleen minney

Bryan Martin

If you had to choose the food from just one culture or country to live on which would it be? I'm not saying you must do this, and if you wish to take on the food of, say, Iceland, feel free. I hear fermented basking shark is quite a treat once you get used to it.

In Canberra, you can pick and choose each night, from Mexican to Indian, Italian to Japanese all in a week, without having to change supermarkets. But if it had to be one, I'd still, after all the years, say French food.

I challenge my son to order the snails. 

You never get over your first love and for me it was braised poussin with muscatels and frontignac. So when I sit down at a little lace-curtained restaurant in regional Bungendore and have a beautiful cassoulet, I reflect that this is what I cannot do without.

Atmospheric ... Le Tres Bon.
Atmospheric ... Le Tres Bon. Photo: Karleen Minney

It's a treat to have the real deal, a proper French cook, close to Canberra. I'm not sure whether he wears a beret, rides a bike or dons a striped shirt, but I do know Christophe Gregoire can cook the food of his homeland very well indeed.

This cassoulet de Christophe ($39) is everything you'd want in a one-pot meal, with a rich, brothy gravy filled with plump white haricot beans that are perfectly cooked, still holding their shape but needing just a suggestion of pressure to release all their pungent flavour. A tense Toulouse sausage, surely the marquis of the sausage kingdom, lurks in here, partly submerged and tempting you to take to it with a dagger and reveal its smoky interior. Pride of place is given to the duck confit, which lives in its own little world, somewhere between a solid and a liquid. Plus you get little surprises such as lamb shoulder and pork. This dish really sums up regional French cooking: so complete, flavourful and complex, if it wasn't the main street in Bungendore, I'd swear we were in Castelnaudary.

Burgundy, the jewel of the wine industry, also contributes with a gelatinous beef dish of beef cheeks, red wine and mushrooms ($35). A resplendent dish, the mother of all stews, the cheeks adding texture, velvety and concentrated in flavour, a dish that sits very high up in the comfort food pyramid.

Skilled ... Christope Gregoire of  Le Tres Bon.
Skilled ... Christope Gregoire of Le Tres Bon. Photo: Gary Schafer

Then over to the Loire region and lentils from Puy, little green gems that work beautifully with braised pork ($36).

As it is winter, the local truffieres are bursting with black gems. Gregoire was weaned straight to truffles, so he knows what to do with them and there's a truffle menu tonight.

You can add truffle to an entree of creme brulee with foie gras and ginger with spice bread ($25, or $39 with truffle), which of course I do; life is far too short to skimp on this offer. It's a very, very smooth, silky pate or parfait, with truffle added to the caramel glaze burnt into the top. You get that lift in aromatics that truffles do so well and a heightened impression of flavour, a rich little morsel of yumminess.

Bastille Day luncheon at Le Tres Bon.
Bastille Day luncheon at Le Tres Bon. Photo: Graham Tidy

I challenge my son to order the snails ($18). We have this very competitive thing going - he would be the one to eat hakari if we were in a regional Icelandic restaurant. Snails are so impregnated with strong flavours such as garlic, parsley and, here, an anisette-laced pastis and then grilled that they really are just a texture. There is no, ''Oh, I can taste the snail here, mmm, it's slippery,'' which is as it should be, because I've raised snails for the table and you really don't want them to have a taste.

Chestnut veloute ($18) is another dish to which you can add truffle. We have it unadorned and it's a lovely, nutty broth, very rich and so wintry, with an island of meringue floating in it which I don't get. Maybe there's some tradition to this, but for me it's just in the way of a good soup.

Not sure who the queen of Sheba was, but the cake that carries her name must be the earliest chocolate mud cake. It's simple and a cake that the reality cake-making shows could learn from - a lesson in restraint.

The kids really like their Saturday morning pancakes so leap at offer of crepes Suzette (all desserts $16 without truffle). This is all about richness and excess, haute cuisine in an Old World Parisian sense. Very well done, paper-thin, lots of orangey flavours and a delightful vanilla bean ice-cream; all it is missing is a guy in a suit flaming it for us.

The entire menu at Le Tres Bon is just so French, and I applaud the Gregoires for resisting the temptation to embellish the menu with trends. The prices are quite high, even more so if you have a fungus addiction, but the serves are generous and flavours good.

The wine list has lots of inexpensive French imports that don't excite as much as the food but certainly add to the French feel.

I could do without all the French paraphernalia in the room here, but perhaps that's just me. It certainly fits the French country theme, making you feel like you're part of a Peter Mayle anecdote.

The main problem, though, if there is one, is the distance from where I live. It would be great to have a little place closer by that creates provincial French food as well as this.

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40 Malbon Street, Bungendore, NSW

  • Cuisine - French
  • Features - Vegetarian friendly, Licensed
  • Chef(s) - Christophe Gregoire
  • Owners - Christophe and Josephine Gregoire
  • Cards accepted - Mastercard, Visa, EFTPOS
  • Opening Hours - Lunch Wednesday to Sunday noon-2pm, dinner Wednesday to Saturday from 6pm
  • Seats - 70 inside, 20 outside on verandah
  • Author - Bryan Martin
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