La Cachette review

La Cachette's charming room features a cornflower blue bar.
La Cachette's charming room features a cornflower blue bar. Photo: Bonnie Savage

Steam Packet Pl Geelong, VIC 3220

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Opening hours Lunch Fri-Mon; dinner Thu-Sun
Features Licensed, Long lunch, Accepts bookings
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 0478 522 996

The French bistro, in Australia and also in much of France, is a concept trapped in time. There's an upside to this: I find almost nothing as cheering as a white tablecloth, a glass of middling Sancerre, a grumpy French waiter and a plate of fussy and familiar food. Call me old fashioned, but there's a sweet comfort to that plate of pâté, the rich butter sauces, the duck a l'orange.

This was pretty much what I was expecting from La Cachette, a tiny restaurant just off the waterfront in Geelong that opened last June.

Geelong-born chef Matt Podbury advertises his place as a French bistro, but it turns out he knows much more about the trajectory of the modern bistro than most operators.

Go-to dish: Filet of blue mackerel with horseradish cream.
Go-to dish: Filet of blue mackerel with horseradish cream. Photo: Bonnie Savage

At 29 years old, Podbury has an impressive resume. With stints in Melbourne, Italy, France and London – working under James Lowe at Michelin-starred Lyle's – he has cooked everything from the highly conceptual and modern to strict, classical fine dining.

When he returned to Australia from Europe and found himself working 90 hours a week for a restaurant group where he wasn't learning much, he pondered why he wasn't working that hard for himself.

La Cachette is a family business. Podbury shares the tiny open kitchen with his partner, chef Joanna Karlin, and his front-of-house team consists of his sister and his father, neither of whom had a restaurant background prior to La Cachette.

There's an attention here to balance that is rare in such an informal setting. This dude knows how to cook.

The small room, fitted out in clean white and classic French cornflower blue, is intimate as can be, but the personal feel is underpinned by a sense of calm professionalism.

Podbury and Karlin work studiously under bright lights in the back of the kitchen, turning out the evening's three-course meal ($85) with concentration and exactitude.

Each of those courses offer a choice for diners: perhaps a pressed oxtail with chicory to start or, alternatively, a fillet of blue mackerel with horseradish cream and dill oil. Podbury has given the oily-fleshed fish a light pickle, thanks to a vinegar he's made using pink elderflower from a local farm, and paired it with roasted cucumber.

Roast chicken with parsley puree and whey mashed potato.
Roast chicken with parsley puree and whey mashed potato. Photo: Bonnie Savage

There's an attention here to balance that is rare in such an informal setting. This dude knows how to cook.

It shows in the roast chicken paired with parsley puree, a mashed potato made with whey rather than milk in order to lighten its texture, and a classic jus.

You might marvel that the fillet of hapuka is so perfectly cooked, its skin dotted exactingly with tiny salty capers, but the real glory of the dish is in the subtle and labour-intensive extra touches, like the lightly pickled julienned swiss chard stems that lie over the fish.

Podbury is responsible for the wine list as well as the food, and it's a reflection of his affection for a certain kind of French winemaking: small production, low-intervention, quirky and delicious. There was so much to love about the list that I had a hard time choosing, but Podbury was happy to help, his tableside descriptions enthusiastic (and expletive-filled).

This is a bistro in the modern sense, influenced more by a younger generation of French and European chefs who are dedicated to freshness above stuffiness, and who are schooled in tradition but not bound by it.

Podbury and his family don't have illusions of grandeur: he told me he wants guests to feel as though they are having dinner in his home, and he is keeping the set price point intentionally reasonable.

"I want to nourish people," he said. "I don't want people to have any reason not to come once a week."

If I lived closer to this small, charming room, I would do just that.

Vibe: Intimate but not stuffy

Go-to dish: Fillet of blue mackerel with horseradish cream

Drinks: Fantastic wine list, mainly showcasing small French producers. Shortlist of classic cocktails.

Cost: $85 three-course tasting menu, excluding drinks

This review was originally published in Good Weekend magazine

https://cachette.com.au/