81 MacLeay St Potts Point, NSW 2011
|Opening hours||Mon-Thu 5.30pm-midnight; Fri-Sat noon-midnight; Sun noon-10pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9167 2921|
A 20-year lease. A spend of $2.5 million. That's quite a commitment that Andrew Becher of Double Bay's Pelicano is making to Potts Point, and you can see and feel almost every dollar as you walk into Franca Brasserie.
Banish all those hazy Barbaresco memories of Cafe Sopra and Fratelli Fresh, with their warehouse floor, boxes of fresh produce and refrigerated displays of cheeses and meats.
In their place is a smart makeover by Josh Clapp of Steel + Stitch that runs to marble, cabinetry, brass rails, glowing lights, half-moon leather booths, velvet chairs, and bright, boppy, modern art; prints reworked from original art bought by Becher on overseas trips.
Franca is not your classic French brasserie – it's more the kind that might spring up in London, say, or New York. Nor does it have your classic French brasserie menu.
Former Bathers Pavilion head chef Alexis Besseau may serve up French onion soup and fruits de mer but generally tends to the more modern and Mediterranean, with dishes such as spanner crab tagliatelle, duck breast with eggplant and freekeh, and smoked swordfish with brandade and witlof.
Over two dinners and a lunch, I've had both strong dishes and weak. A share platter of roasted Riverina lamb rack ($85) is enormous; a festival of beautifully, bravely rare, long-flavoured cutlets carved from the rack and served with bigger bunches of rosemary and thyme than you can get at Woolworths in the basement below. Accompanying bowls of fluffy cous cous, a warm red pepper piperade and eggplant puree bring it home for the Mediterranean.
In contrast, a ramekin of brown onion soup ($18) lacks the cheesy celebratory joy that French onion soup should have. Deconstructed, with a soft little croque-monsieur on the side, it has no glorious crust, no lava of melting cheese, no steamy excitement.
A tuna sashimi nicoise ($28) sees peeled (peeled!) heirloom cherry tomatoes with olive tapenade, radish and sliced tuna, in a formless composition that lacks presence. And I'm not convinced that a fine fillet of Murray cod ($40) needs to be cooked sous-vide with its blue swimmer crab sauce; it all feels a bit thin.
All hail, however, the mighty pomme puree ($12); we bow before you, in humble supplication for more. With added truffles (for another $10).
Restaurant manager Sean Royle (Bennelong, Canberra's eightysix) is a maverick spirit in the grand tradition of the benevolently eccentric maitre d', and general manager Alex Cameron plays good cop.
Some dishes need reworking – the onion soup and tuna nicoise spring to mind – and the gaps between courses can try your patience, but such things are fixable.
An upside-down apple tarte tatin is caramelised and fruity ($32 to share) and a passionfruit souffle is textbook light and almost foamy, playfully topped with popcorn ice-cream and crisp, caramelised popcorn ($17). The weekend brunch is another strength, designed to pull the Double Bay crowd.
Speaking of eastern suburbs, Potts Point hasn't seen quite this number of stilettos and Bottega Veneta bags since, ooh, ever, and it makes for a loud-but-not-too-loud chatty, buzzy space that bubbles like a bottle of Cristal. Clearly, they're here for a good time, and not just a long time.
Vegetarian Dedicated a la carte vegan menu is available
Drinks Classy cocktails such as the Trocadero (Beefeater 24, Earl Grey, Campari, Italicus bergamot); a walk-in wine cellar, and a 200-bottle list from Oz, NZ and France that rises to Cristal Champagne and DRC Echezeaux.
Go-to dish: Passionfruit souffle, $17.
Pro tip: Hit the crab sandwiches and salmon coulibiac on the brunchy lunch menu Friday to Sunday.