Rouge Cafe

Kylie Northover
Salute to Paris: Rouge Cafe's courtyard.
Salute to Paris: Rouge Cafe's courtyard. Photo: Angela Wylie

14 Beatty Avenue Armadale, Victoria 3143

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03 9822 3310
Opening hours Tues-Fri 7am-5pm; Sat 8am-4pm.
Chef Sue Ellen Hope

Dieting types and those afraid of full-fat dairy might not find much to satisfy them on Rouge's menu (or, arguably, anywhere). However, lovers of French food who have not yet discovered this Melbourne gem, tucked away down a side street next to Toorak station, are advised to head south immediately.

Owner and confessed Francophile Sarah Webster opened Rouge in 2007 and it quickly found a legion of local and French ex-pat regulars. With it's dimly lit, lush interior and cute courtyard, Rouge has the atmosphere to match the menu.

The menu does include house-made muesli (served with banana, passionfruit coulis and vanilla yoghurt, $13.50), but really, you can't come to a French-style bistro and not at least have the Parisian Breakfast - a bowl of coffee or hot chocolate with a fresh croissant or baguette and house-made jam ($9.50) - or a Croque Monsieur done properly, with emmenthal, raclette, ham and bechamel sauce (that's right, two cheeses and bechamel) on lightly toasted brioche ($13.50/$14.50 with egg).

Good and proper: Croque-monsieur at Rouge Cafe.
Good and proper: Croque-monsieur at Rouge Cafe. Photo: Angela Wylie

Apart from bread from Noisette, French-trained head chef Sue Ellen Hope makes everything in-house, right down to the jams and relishes.

"The trend these days is very cafe-oriented, but we're a little more upmarket than your average cafe," says Webster, who fell into hospitality after a career in childcare. With a European background and her aunt Jane Webster the author of French cookbook At My French Table, she knows and loves French cuisine.

"Our breakfast is a-la-carte and everything is made on the premises with seasonal ingredients - we have a real commitment to what we do."

And that means proper French ingredients.

"We don't pretend - all our ingredients are real," says Webster. "Lots of cream, real butter, never margarine."

Even at breakfast. The current winter breakfast menu swiftly moves from five-grain porridge (admittedly served with poached quince and vanilla cream, $13.50), to their omelette de saison - creamed spinach, slow-roasted tomatoes and goats feta ($16.50) and fellow winter warmers like slow cooked baked beans with ham hock and smoked continental sausage ($16.50) and the cocotte of creamed spinach, smoked German bacon, slow braised mushrooms, confit cherry tomatoes and free-range baked eggs, $18.50. Even the corn fritters are fancied up here - served with candied roma tomatoes, crispy pancetta and onion jam ($16.50 - and can be adapted to a vegie option). Of course, there's French toast - chocolate and hazelnut, no less - with vanilla cream and Canadian maple syrup ($15.50).

"The Rouge Breakfast, our version of a 'big breakfast' is probably the most popular," says Webster. "Followed closely by the omelette. And we're famous for our house-made pain au chocolate."

You can get these to take away, along with a range of cakes, biscuits and pastries. There are Rouge's specialty take-home meals, a hit with the locals, who ensure this place is bustling all day.

"We're always busy but I love that," says Webster. "And I love my clever staff and all our beautiful patrons." So not entirely authentically French then - try getting that kind of enthusiasm in Paris.