Lutece is a welcome bit of sophistication in an otherwise unremarkable suburban strip. Photo: Supplied
According to Galignani's New Paris Guide: Or, Stranger's Companion Through the French Metropolis (circa 1827), the area that is now Paris was once named Lutece and inhabited by tribes called the Parisi. Then the Romans invaded, "civilised" them and re-named their home "Paris".
Centuries later Lutece was reborn, albeit as a restaurant in New York; an expensive French joint that in its heyday was patronised by the bold and beautiful, and feted worldwide.
It closed in 2004 after 34 years, when business nosedived after the new owners updated the traditional menu, while simultaneously the expense account lunch was wheezing its last laboured breath.
The expansive views are best enjoyed during the day.
Bardon is certainly no New York, nor is it Paris, but for that, Lutece, which opened in July, is a welcome bit of French-accented sophistication in an otherwise unremarkable suburban shopping strip.
Lutece's owner is Romain Bapst, who hails from Alsace. He's probably best remembered for his long tenure at Il Centro in the CBD, which he followed up with a much more brief stay at Drift, the restaurant that spawned a hundred newspaper puns when it floated off down the river in the 2011 floods. He then moved to Drift Brookwater, out in the golf-playing greenbelt suburbs for a bit, before popping up here.
This site on Macgregor Terrace has long been a restaurant but it's gone though a heap of different incarnations over the years; the most recent of which was of a seemingly blink-and-you'll-miss-it duration. Why, I'm not entirely sure – there's a good upwardly mobile demographic with plenty of local businesses and lots of free parking.
Inside, it's a good-sized space, the decor pared back and contemporary with dark floor tiles, French cafe chairs and tables with crisp white nappery overlaid with paper.
There's a substantial bar area and a panoramic city view that is best appreciated during the day when light doesn't bounce off the windows quite as much as it does at night. The menu is French – naturellement – traditional with some consideration given to contemporary mores.
There's a choice of tasting menu or a la carte and a wallet-friendly, fairly familiar drinks list that includes wine by the carafe.
Escargot are present and correct, served a gratin with a tomato, garlic and parsley puree. Flammekueche, a tart from Bapst's home region of Alsace, is slathered with cream fraiche, onion and pieces of smoky speck. It's pizza-like but lusher with a thinner, crisper base.
Duck rillettes, a rough pate of shredded duck cooked and sealed beneath a thick layer of fat, suffers from fridge-chill and is also found wanting in both the seasoning and baguette-to-rillettes ratio.
Served as tradition dictates with cornichons, crunchy mini-pickled cucumbers whose acid swashbuckles through the duck fattiness, here it also comes with the more modern and incomprehensible inclusion of sun-dried tomatoes, too sweet and limply ineffectual to do anything but add a bit of colour.
Other entrees include a mousseline of scampi with scampi jus and Barigoule artichoke; oysters with a choice of Champagne sabayon or shallots and red wine vinegar and a seafood platter a deux, as well as the classic terrine with a pressee of calves tongue, ham and duck foie gras.
The menu is seasonal and it's still pleasantly cool enough to appreciate the idea of a hearty main course cooked and served en cocotte (in a cast-iron pot).
A generous portion of 24-hour braised mushroom and truffle stuffed oxtail which would be falling off the bone if it still had one – was moist and rich, well-sauced and accompanied by a perfectly smooth, earthy celeriac mash.
Another slow-cooked dish of lamb shoulder was reduced to tender fall-apart-stage with cannellini beans and peas. Robust, uncomplicated and comforting, like a nanna (or grand-maman) hug, but perhaps a little too simple for the price.
Also on the mains list is "Romain's famous Cea's spanner crab lasagne, crustacean sauce" that has travelled with him from his days at Il Centro. If you haven't tried it there or elsewhere, it's worth it but don't plan on dessert afterwards; it's very, very rich.
There are also lighter main options such as a Petuna ocean trout with a Riesling butter sauce.
Desserts sound worryingly sickly after such a hearty main but have a surprisingly light touch, accomplished enough to cause us to suspect a dedicated pastry chef or someone with a particular interest in sweets is in the kitchen.
Profiteroles are perfect airy puffs, sandwiched with Lick pistachio ice-cream, a silky and luscious chocolate sauce poured over them with a little flourish at the table, while a dark chocolate tart has the ideal bitter-sweet balance and an excellent orange ice-cream and light caramel sauce.
Service throughout is city-serious; professional but warm and charmingly accented. Bapst runs a drum-tight ship; working the cash desk himself as well as keeping an eye on the kitchen and walking the floor and enquiring after customers and their satisfaction levels.
Everything seems to be pretty much in place for success at Lutece.
I can only hope Bapst employed a feng shui expert, new age "smudger" or old-fashioned exorcist to remove whatever bad ju-ju has haunted the place before he set up shop.
- 07 3161 1858
- Cuisine - French
- Prices - About $110 for two plus drinks
- Features - Views, Bar, Licensed
- Chef(s) - Romain Bapst
- Owners - Romain Bapst
- Opening Hours - Mon-Sat 11.30-2.30; 6pm-10pm; Sun 9.30-3pm
- Author - Natascha Mirosch