22 Challis Ave Elizabeth Bay, NSW 2011
|Opening hours||Lunch Fri-Sun noon-4pm; dinner daily from 5.30pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9167 6667|
There's something very Ratatouille about Bistrot 916. I don't mean there is a rat called Remy in the basement; I mean it has a larger-than-life, Pixar-animated quality that immediately transports you to your own fantasy of a Parisian bistro.
It's not just the bentwood chairs, milk glass pendants, steak frites and walls of wine that create the romance; nor the folding glass doors imprinted with "Poisson" and "Service Rapide". Not even the sturdy, short-stemmed wine glasses, or the staff in loose white waiters' jackets.
You know what it is? It's the cheesy salmon-coloured tablecloths, something still proudly worn as badges of honour in old-school Paris bistros such as La Poule au Pot and L'Ami Louis. The latter was the inspiration, according to the owners, who coyly call the colour "blush".
"A. A. Gill once called L'Ami Louis the worst restaurant in the world," says one. "Please don't compare us!"
I won't, because we're in Potts Point, not Paris. This much anticipated new incarnation on the old Lotus site may be their first restaurant, but all three partners have made their names in some of the best restaurants in town.
Dan Pepperell was the subversive, award-winning chef behind Hubert and Alberto's Lounge; Andy Tyson the charming, Loire-loving head sommelier of the same Swillhouse Group, and chef Michael Clift, an eight-year graduate of the Rockpool school. Now they're doing it for themselves, just like Remy the rat.
The menu has of course been Pepperelled, so things aren't always what they seem.
Yes, there is that bistro staple boudin noir ($24), but here, the blood sausage comes inside a long, thin, cigar of crisp brik pastry, ready to wrap in cos leaves and mint, Vietnamese-style. The French-Viet connection has charm, but it's clever, too, reframing the richness.
Then things get really meta when they take that mossy, herby, shallotty, garlicky butter the Burgundians serve with escargots and turn it into a pasta sauce for soft little snails. But wait – the pasta is the snail-shell lumache, so it's snail-on-snail. And it's fabulous, even while it's doing your head in.
What Pepperell did for tripe at Alberto's Lounge, he does here for brains. Lamb's brains ($18) – crumbed, fried, not a whiff of membrane or blood – come with a shreddy smoked eel mayonnaise studded with diced cornichon, a very come-hither combination. "How is offal going to go down in Potts Point?" one local restaurateur was heard to say.
Ask former "public stomach" Leo Schofield, who's going back to 916 to order the brains again, this time as a main course. I'm less keen on an heirloom tomato salad in which a cabbage gel loses its way, and nor am I convinced that butter needs to be made fishy with a dusting of bottarga (dried mullet roe).
But ou est le steak frites, you ask? At the beating heart of the menu, of course, under Plats Principaux, along with duck frites, a pricy lobster frites and a vegetarian mushroom frites (that's cute).
A Rangers Valley entrecote ($56) is crustily seared, the sauce peppery and the nori-flecked frites crisp, skinny and salty. It's the duck frites ($44) that will be my regular order, though, the juicy fingers of crisp-skinned, pink-tinged, dry-aged duck breast needing just the same golden fries and a little bowl of glossy bearnaise.
Tyson wears his wine knowledge lightly, able to weave in a back-story that illuminates every wine from Ballarat to Beaujolais. Even so, wine-lovers will be torn.
A little cup of rich baked custard made with the Loire Valley's aged Quarts de Chaume ($16), topped with a rich, toasty caramel? Or a platter of chevre, creamy blue and triple creme ($36) with an elegant, organic 2018 Attwoods Old Hog Geelong Pinot Noir ($99)?
All this has, of course, come at a time we can't get to the boulevards and brasseries of Paris ourselves. Ah, but with Bistrot 916, we'll always have Potts Point.
Vegetarian: Limited to two entrees, three sides, and mushroom and pasta main courses.
Drinks: Aperitifs, classic cocktails and a French-forward list strong on muscadet, Chablis, rosé and grenache, with informed wine service.