Manon Brasserie review

Manon fits like a glove inside the
Town Hall end of the Queen Victoria Building.
Manon fits like a glove inside the Town Hall end of the Queen Victoria Building. Photo: Edwina Pickles

shop 55 455 George St Sydney, NSW 2000

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Opening hours Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily from 6am
Features Licensed, Accepts bookings, Bar, Breakfast-brunch, Business lunch, Gluten-free options, Groups, Long lunch, Lunch specials, Outdoor seating, Pre-post-theatre, Romance-first date, Wheelchair access
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Phone 02 9051 2008

There is only one beer, and it's Kronenbourg. There is only one mineral water, and it's Perrier. There is only one soup of the day, and it's "du jour". (And of course, it's pumpkin. All soups of the day are pumpkin, according to some unwritten law.)

Manon, as you have gathered, is French. Emphatically, eccentrically, and charmingly so.

It is the second collaboration for co-owners Marco Ambrosino and Manny Spinola, after Lola's Level 1 in Bondi. H&E Architects took the French brasserie brief and ran with it, installing generous red leather and velvet banquettes, a couple of snug booths, bentwood chairs, brass inlaid wooden tables, opaque glass dividers, and bulbous hanging lights.

Pan-fried coral trout in beurre blanc.
Pan-fried coral trout in beurre blanc. Photo: Edwina Pickles

It fits like a glove inside the Town Hall end of the QVB, looking out towards historic sandstone buildings and the rather broad back (beg pardon, Ma'am) of Queen Victoria herself, carved in stone.

The head chef, too, is French. Thomas Boisselier trained in France, and cooked at Hotel and Spa du Castellet in Provence before moving to Brisbane's Gambaro and Blackhide. The menu is – quelle surprise – French, from beef tartare and steak au poivre to canard a l'orange.

There are invitations to throw money to the wind, with beluga caviar, 1kg cotes de boeuf and live whole lobsters, and simple viennoiseries for a drop-in business breakfast.

Snail meurette - snails in red wine and bacon sauce.
Snail meurette - snails in red wine and bacon sauce. Photo: Edwina Pickles

It doesn't all make sense, mind. A bowl of beef consomme studded with foie gras and topped with a pastry dome is listed as a main course for $49. It's an homage to the great French chef Paul Bocuse, who originally cooked it for French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing in 1975. His version was stuffed with truffles, which the chef plans to include now we're in truffle season. Still not sure I get it, though.

It's deeply pleasing that real sauces are coming back into fashion after the endless squishiness of The Mayo Years, and Boisselier is a good saucier. Snail meurette ($27) references the classic red wine and bacon sauce of Burgundy often served with eggs, but it turns out to be ideal for fresh, fat snails from Tasmania's La Perouse Escargot, flecked with herbs and served with garlic-brushed toast.

Another well-nailed sauce comes with steak frites ($39). Shallot jus pools around a rare cut of bavette (flank), and is just the thing in which to squash your crisp, golden frites.

Steak frites with shallot jus and crisp, golden frites.
Steak frites with shallot jus and crisp, golden frites.  Photo: Edwina Pickles

There is beurre blanc, too, of course, coating a fine fillet of coral trout ($39) in a mingling of cauliflower florets and nicely cooked mussels.

The wine list is navigable and interesting, from a vibrant, flamboyant gamay, the 2020 Chateau Cambon La Cuvee de Chat Beaujolais ($95), to a 2018 Domaine Ponsot Griotte-Chambertin ($1850).

At lunch, the menu is a little tighter, but offers a rich, well-balanced tartare of hand-chopped beef ($29), offset by crisply latticed pommes gaufrettes. House-smoked salmon ($28) is ho-hum, thickly sliced and sweetly glazed with balsamic, and a croque-monsieur is bland ($17).

Hand-chopped beef tartare is available at lunch.
Hand-chopped beef tartare is available at lunch. Photo: Edwina Pickles

I can't remember the last time I ordered ile flottante – wait, yes, I can, it was 15 years ago at France-Soir in Melbourne, and prior to that, La Mere Vittet in Lyons, 30 years back. This one is small but cloud-like ($19), its island of meringue floating in a sea of pale creme anglaise, spiked with darkly toasted flaked almonds.

Manon is still a work in progress, with stools and a fruits-de-mer counter on their way for the marble bar. More seating on the open terraces at the front and side of the restaurant will make for some excellent people-watching panoramas by spring.

But what it has already is a bucketload of joie de vivre, with Ambrosino, the ebullient Thomas Iakhlef and sommelier Harry Hunter determined to set a chatty, relaxed, there-are-no-rules mood.

The cloud-like ile flottante.
The cloud-like ile flottante. Photo: Edwina Pickles

In a city that likes to mash up culinary genres and modernise everything, Manon comes in as surprisingly classic – a little old-fashioned, in a good way. It seems there's only one way they want to play this, and that's French.

The low-down

Vibe Slightly eccentric Burgundian brasserie, filled with joie de vivre

Go-to-dish Snail meurette, $27

Drinks French beer, digestifs, and a solid French-led wine list

Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide.

https://www.manonbrasserie.com.au/