26 Elouera St Braddon, ACT 2612
Well this is a bit Left Bank - dining in a little bistro amid a slight haze of smoke and the strains of chanson in the air. Except we're in Braddon and all that smoke isn't coming from diners puffing madly on Gauloises in between their carafes of wine as they talk about Olivier Sarkozy's wedding.
It's from the parade of ash-crusted ducks that come out of the kitchen, borne aloft on big platters, still glowing with ruby embers, or even flaming mildly on top. They're presented to diners for inspection before being taken back to the kitchen to be carved. When they're brought back, the duck is transformed into falling-off tender slices of meat with wedges of citrus.
It's a small touch of theatre here at Les Bistronomes, and a welcome one, even if it does mean the front door has to be left open for a couple of minutes until the fresh air can clear the smoke out. The ashed duck, like so many of the delights at Clement Chauvin and Abel Bariller's bistro, comes from the big plates section of the menu – properly big dishes to split among two people that have to be ordered a little ahead.
We're already digging into ours – veal en croute ($88 for two), a dome of golden brown puffy pastry wrapped around meat that's pink right through. It's luxurious, hearty, the gamey flavour of the veal kept perfectly clean. A witlof and grapefruit salad on the side is a refreshing contrast.
Bariller and Chauvin opened this paean to France in 2014, and it has slipped into a relaxed, casual bistro feel with fine technique on display in dishes like the veal en croute or the ash crusted duck.
It's on the less travelled side of Elouera Street, across from BentSpoke, and the simple fitout – plush chairs with a satiny red stripe, exposed brick, and floor to ceiling windows that can be opened out to the street – hint at France rather than pile on cheesy cliche.
Starters are fun. A boursin ($16) makes for a festive little entree, with a round of creamy goat's cheese filled with fresh herbs and big shards of bright red crackers made from sun-dried tomato. Feathery strands of dill are tucked through the crackers, which turn out to be light little scoops for the boursin.
The whitebait ($16) is suggested as "good to share" and that's true – a generous pile of deep-fried little fish with a bowl of garlic mayo that's a bit tart, like a good yoghurt. The fish are succulent, though not terrifically crisp, and a spritz of lemon makes the whole thing sing.
Bouillabaisse ($36) is seafood joy, a mix of mussels, scallops and prawns tumbled together in lovely rich, soft stock. All pretty light yet deeply flavoursome, not thickened or assisted any way, a dish that's a lesson in restraint. A glass of Petits Detours chardonnay does an adequate job of accompaniment. The wine list is a tour through France with a scattering of Canberra region drops, and quite a few of the wines are available as half bottle carafes.
To finish there's a standout dessert of unstructured white chocolate mousse ($16) dusted with a deep dark cocoa powder and softly tart rhubarb slivers tossed throughout. It even prompts a round of dessert fork dueling as we compete to get amongst it and pick up bits of creamy mousse and sweet potato crisp.
We don't even notice the latest fiery duck making the rounds of the dining room this time.