Trends come and go but steak frites is forever. In this preview from the forthcoming national Good Food Guide we present our favourite spots in Australia for Burgundy, boeuf and brulee.
French Saloon - fresh French in the loft of your dreams. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen
A SoHo loft aesthetic provides a warm, gently minimalist stage for modern European cooking. Start with Port Douglas oysters, punched up with grated horseradish and boosted by bottarga. Kingfish takes a memorably verdant turn, on top of a base of salmon roe-dotted creme fraiche, fennel and spring onion oil, then layered with pickled cucumber, while thick-cut hanger tartare benefits from dollops of earthy truffle aioli. The wine list, leaning heavily on natural selections, offers much to reinforce the intoxicating air here.
Level 1, 46 Hardware Lane, Melbourne, 03 9600 2142, frenchsaloon.com
France-Soir's traditional dining room is narrow like a train carriage. Photo: Eddie Jim
'Monsieur, mademoiselle! You 'ave a booking? Bien sur, this way!' Follow your Gallic waiter through throngs of cashmere-clad locals, dating duos and late-night celebrities to a coveted table by the plate-glass window, or further along the crammed train-carriage dining room towards constantly swinging kitchen doors. Bentwood seats and white-clothed tables are as traditional as sliced baguette and onion soup but the menu occasionally nods to current trends, such as 'Basquaise' calamari tendrils with chorizo, jalapeno and coriander. It's the classics that have brought regulars back these past 30 years, however, like simply plated duck leg and breast a l'orange.
11-13 Toorak Road, South Yarra, 03 9866 8569, france-soir.com.au
The tart tray at Oter. Photo: Wayne Taylor
In a moody concrete CBD basement chef Jordan Clay strips back Gallic classics with casual panache. Dense, brick-red bisque naps Clarence River prawns butterflied over tiny, crunchy turned potatoes. Buttery brioche soaks up juices from earthy wild mushrooms and a gently cooked egg. An almost-melting orb of celeriac dusted with a powder of its own fragrant leaves accompanies just-cooked, blushing pork neck. To finish, your choice of three perfect tarts – hazelnut-lemon or Valrhona chocolate, say – remains an Oter signature.
Basement, 137 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, 03 9639 7073, oter.com.au
Classic: Pâté en croute at Philippe. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen
Customers still ask Philippe Mouchel for dishes he cooked 25 years ago, when he arrived in Melbourne to run fellow-Frenchman Paul Bocuse's antipodean outpost. But he's happy to serve greatest hits from his distinguished career at this elegant yet unstuffy basement restaurant. Amenable staff deliver classics such as duck cassoulet (confit leg, pork belly, Toulouse sausage, beans, duck egg) and fleeting treasures such as chestnut veloute from an autumnal windfall. Grill-branded leeks sport a frothy parmesan cloak and poached-egg crown and the rotisserie works magic on signature chicken and rolled, rosy-centred lamb shoulder.
Basement, 115 Collins Street (enter via George Parade), 03 8394 6625, philipperestaurant.com.au
Duck a l'orange at Petit Tracteur on the Mornington Peninsula. Photo: Josh Robenstone
This restaurant (down a rough-grown garden path, towards a barn-like cottage overlooking a verdant valley) does the French farmhouse bistro thing with an Antipodean twist. Stuart Bell's menu seems traditional at first glance – steak tartare, canard a l'orange, creme caramel – but look to prawns poached in vanilla set on fluffy brioche with avocado and a dill-tinged yoghurt sauce.The sense of Franco-reverie is enhanced by both the service and a French-leaning wine list. Desserts are excellent renditions of long-loved dishes.
1208 Mornington-Flinders Road, Main Ridge, 03 5989 2510, petittracteur.com.au
NEW SOUTH WALES
Half roasted chicken with Paris mash at Bistro Guillaume, Sydney. Photo: Christopher Pearce
Guillaume Brahimi may have shut up shop on his luxurious Paddington restaurant but that hasn't slowed him down. Earlier this year, the legendary French chef opened Bistro Guillaume in the city's financial district. An onion soup, rich with deep savour, is topped with rounds of baguette, toasted with gruyere. Roast chicken, juicy and fragrant with fresh thyme, the skin crisp and golden, rests on Brahimi's creamy Paris mash. If you're here for pleasure, cast your eyes towards the dessert trolley, where chocolate mousse, floating islands and other fancies are sweet distractions.
259 George Street, Sydney, 02 8622 9555, bistroguillaumesydney.com.au (also in Melbourne and Perth)
Roasted Murray cod grenobloise with plenty of parsley at Hubert, Sydney. Photo: Supplied
This bunker of post-war France filtered through the lens of a Tom Waits cabaret tune rewards arriving early and staying late, whether you're keen for an innings at the bar or a full bells-and-whistles banquet. This is food inspired by the silver platters of mid-century European cookbooks (savoury jellies, whole shellfish, lots of curly-leaf parsley), given a healthy dose of modern panache. Case in point: chubby roast snails punched up with XO sauce, or whole chicken fricassee that's golden-skinned and juicy. Later, it's V for vacherin, where chantilly-dappled meringue hides a honeycomb reward beneath sauternes ice-cream.
15 Bligh Street, Sydney, 02 9232 0881, restauranthubert.com
Despite the curved ceiling, Bistro Moncur is as straight French as it gets. Photo: Rachel Murdolo
Want a straight-edge French meal that won't leave you wondering? Here it is. You'll be guaranteed a hand-cut tartare, with pommes gaufrettes (that's waffle fries, for the players at home) and all the usual accompaniments. Twice-baked souffle, a mainstay on the Moncur menu, has the same lightness met with cheesy richness it always has, served bald on top, floating in a ring of molten cheese. Finish proceedings in the bar with a martini. Straight as it gets.
116A Queen Street, Woollahra, 02 9327 9713, bistromoncur.com.au
Chicken liver parfait with sweet-sour jelly at Bistro Rex. Photo: Edwina Pickles
With its honeycomb tiles, zinc bar, and copper-clad circular booths, Bistro Rex is an homage to the classic Parisian bistro, adding yet another dining dimension for the already spoiled-rotten diners of Potts Point. Put together by a handful of Sydney hospitality pros, Rex is as much a lively bar as a buzzy bistro. King prawn beignets are stuffed with a lush prawn mousse, confit and poached chicken in a pool of aromatic harissa broth is a crowd-pleaser, and – red alert rum-lovers – a baba with creme diplomat and caramelised pineapple allows upgrades to special rums.
Shop 1, 50–58 Macleay Street, Potts Point, 02 9332 2100, bistrorex.com.au
Felix's interior features French subway tiles. Photo: Christopher Pearce
Felix wants to take you to Paris. That much is unmistakeable. With the glistening chandeliers, glowing zinc bar and walls reportedly lined with tiles from actual Parisian subway lines, this is basically the restaurant equivalent of cycling around in a beret and striped black and white T-shirt while assaulting passers-by with a baguette. Felix excels at generous, rich meat dishes. Take a look at the twice-cooked pork belly with snow peas and garlic-sauteed oyster mushrooms separated by a wall of crackling that happily straddles the plate. Slow-roasted lamb shoulder falls obligingly off the bone and the fondant potatoes, onion and rosemary work overtime to evoke memories of a family roast.
2 Ash Street, Sydney, 02 9240 3000, merivale.com.au/felix
Tuna with baby herbs and olives at Bistro Molines. Photo: Phil Hearne
In the heart of the Hunter, this busy bistro offers a taste of the French countryside, sans airfare. The whole restaurant – including the busy chefs at the pass – is arranged to take in the views of the vineyards below, as staff navigate tables stacked with petit fours trays and fresh flowers. Offal lovers are well catered for with pig's trotter pie, house-made pâté and rillettes, and farmhouse-style breaded lamb's brains, swimming in garlic butter and a salsa of capers and tomato. The extensive menu, which changes daily, offers a little something for everyone, but the engaging hand-written specials page (and the by-the-glass list of cellar wines) is hard to ignore.
749 Mount View Road, Mount View, 02 4990 9553, bistromolines.com.au
The goat's cheese souffle at Madame Rouge. Photo: Supplied
Three cheers for coq au vin – there's finally great French food in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley. This solo venture from E'cco restaurant manager Mary Randles is a handsome joint with dark red drapes meeting dark red carpet, flickering candles, Toulouse-Lautrec prints and a soundtrack of post-war tunes. Randles' partner, E'cco owner-chef Philip Johnson, has designed a menu of bistro favourites where you can start with pudgy snails in garlic butter, share dry-aged beef rib char-grilled on the bone with gratin dauphinoise, and get cosy in a booth with creme brulee and a cognac. There's no boundary-pushing here and that's a good thing.
100 McLachlan Street, Fortitude Valley, 07 3252 8881, madamerougebistro.com.au
A chocolate and raspberry dessert at Montrachet. Photo: Robert Shakespeare
The black marble bar is the place to sit, a charming counter where you can drink Burgundy by the glass and surround yourself with Lillet bottles and vintage aperitif posters. The Frenchosity doesn't feel forced and it's not hard to pretend you're in a bistro on the outskirts of Paris when you spy steak frites with an eye fillet almost four fingers thick, oysters shucked to order and bouillabaisse rich with local seafood. But chef Shannon Kellam hasn't represented Australia twice at the Bocuse d'Or cooking contest finals in France just to twice-bake souffles. There's also nouvelle-style creations like a garland of poached coral prawns with fresh grapefruit and spring onion, sharpened by pickled elderflower.
224 Given Terrace Paddington, 07 3367 0030 montrachet.com.au
The Good Food Guide goes national this year with hats awarded across Australia. The Good Food Guide 2018 will be launched in October with our presenting partners Citi and Vittoria and will be on sale in newsagents and bookstores.
ALSO TRY: Precision pastries at Melbourne's cult Lune Crossanterie. Skip the queue by nabbing a seat at Lune Lab.