Low-key glamour: Luxembourg's interior. Photo: Luis Ascui
Let's hear it for the old-fashioned things. Penmanship and whisky highballs; thank-you notes and flounder meuniere, a dish relegated to a dusty footnote while the hordes go crashing after the latest fad. On that note I'm just as guilty as anyone, your honour, but it's nice to come across a place that reminds anyone crossing its threshold about the happiness of well-met certainties.
If Le Grand Cirque feels like a pulseless facsimile of a French bistro, Luxembourg feels like the real, red-blooded deal. It's professional and solid, not averse to the occasional thrill - the fried potato skins harbouring whipped cod roe and Avruga, like updated vol-au-vents, are pretty exciting - but utterly at home with its sensible brief. It's the sort of place you might take your elders as a gesture of goodwill.
You'll find dishes here of ridiculously sturdy reliability. The flounder meuniere, as unflinchingly evocative of the 1950s as Call the Midwife, was sold out the night I visited. Quelle disappointment. By way of compensation there was roast chicken on its comeback tour with bacon-wrapped thigh meat, chestnuts and bread sauce, and spongy slices of the house-made mortadella that came off the grill trailing the scent of cinnamon in their wake. But I've forgotten the introductions.
Go-to dish: Potato skins, whipped cod roe and Avruga is just $11. Photo: Luis Ascui
Luxembourg - named for the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris, not the grand duchy - is another Andrew McConnell production, housed on the spot that was Golden Fields until it upped stumps to the city whence it turned into Supernormal. Keeping up? Chris Watson was plucked from his head chef role at Cutler & Co to be co-captain. McConnell likes to keep things in-house, although Luxembourg is a significant shift away from his long suit of modern, spare, Asian-leaning food.
The aesthetic is low-key glamour. Actually, it's borderline posh when you compare it to all the hard-edged industrial identikit fitouts crowding the market. They've taken away the chicken-foot coat hooks but added some impressively masculine antlers; kept the long marble bar and covetable Serge Mouille wall lamps (I felt compelled to Google them: $5000 each - yowza), and covered the previously bare tables with paper and linen.
The lights are low, the mood crisply professional, the noise levels not particularly troubling. It's positively ancien regime.
The innate conservatism is justified with ingredients of a nature you or I would have a hard time sourcing. It's the time of year for oysters, and the Clair de Lunes from Moonlight Flat are pristine examples of bivalve beauty, with or without the fresh horseradish. Meaty raw scallops anchor a dish of smooth suaveness, with crisp discs of radish and a syrupy ginger dressing. Things head in a rustic provencale direction with pine mushrooms and a duck egg oozing into a dark-red barigoule sauce, although chewy shavings of celeriac provides more roughage than is strictly necessary in a meal of gentle indulgence.
McConnell and Watson have cooked up some more modern pleasures as well. Golden Fields' lobster roll has departed for the city, but in its place there's another glorified sandwich of fried soft-shell crab, its legs poking forlornly out the sides of a soft roll with shredded iceberg lettuce and tartare. The net effect is of a luxe Filet-O-Fish. There's grilled squid lolling about masochistically in an emulsion of its own ink, with cos heart and mysterious beach herbs, a composed thing that quivers on the border marked ''salad'' but musters enough grunt to save itself.
Dessert is a shattery mille-feuille of a gazillion buttery layers. Perched on top are little curls of ruby-red poached quince, each filled with a tan splodge of brown sugar cream. It's classic, but don't go thinking you have to sign up for the whole three-course bonanza here. Luxembourg has an eye on the ''glass of wine and a snack'' crowd; there's a truffled cheese toastie that's bound to find a pleasant mate on a wine list with a significant low-intervention theme without being too scary about it.
But all things considered, it's a place that will feed the pathological fondness many Melburnians harbour for France. How different life in Australia could have been if the French had stuck around instead of leaving us to the Brits. C'est la vie.
The best bit Low-lit sophistication
The worst bit They need more bar stools
Go-to dish Potato skins, whipped cod roe & Avruga, $11
- 03 9525 4488
- Cuisine - French
- Prices - Typical small dish, $17; large dish, $31; dessert, $14
- Features - Licensed, Accepts bookings, Wheelchair access
- Cards accepted - AMEX, Mastercard, Visa, EFTPOS
- Opening Hours - Tues-Thurs, 5-11pm; Fri-Sat, noon-midnight; Sun, noon-11pm
- Author - Larissa Dubecki