601 King St Newtown, NSW 2042
|Opening hours||Tue-Fri noon-late; Sat 10am-late; Sun 10am-5pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
Once upon a time, restaurants were easy to classify by cuisine, style or genre. It's a French bistro. An Italian pizzeria. A fine diner. A German hofbrauhaus.
Now? Now I'm lucky if I can describe their multi-tasking ways in less than 10 minutes. Take Pistou – not the French pesto, but the, um, wine bar, deli, cheese shop, sandwich bar, neighbourhood restaurant, and all of the above.
If you were a local, you'd just drop in and order a plate of jamon and a glass of wine. An hour later, you'd order some fougasse and dips and a glass of wine.
Then you'd start chatting to the people at the next table, and have another look at the cheese counter, and decide the only sensible thing to do would be to finish on a triple-cream Cremeux de Bourgogne and a glass of wine.
"We're not a fancy place," says hospo veteran Jules Bouillon, who worked with head chef Katie Morris at Glorietta in North Sydney. Maybe not, but the high-ceilinged, glass-fronted warehouse-style space, down the vegan end of King Street, has its own earthy charm.
Walls are tiled with pink terracotta or lined with wines, the marble-topped tables have a few chunks knocked out of them, and the open kitchen has a lo-fi, almost domestic air.
Restaurant manager Tilly Sawrey's cocktail list extends to just three cocktails: "short and strong"; "tall and refreshing"; and the third, a sprightly Franco-Australian spritz of Bizzaro bitters, Lillet Blanc, Palloncino prosecco and lemon ($17).
A square of pissaladiere ($15) is sweet with cooked-down onions without being overly rich with butter. It makes a good side hustle for a plate of cold meats, mostly sourced from producers such as La Boqueria, Pino's Dolce Vita, LP's Quality Meats and Queensland's Borgo.
What's cute is how the kitchen turns your selection into a picnic, complete with crackers, cornichon pickles and a fruity membrillo-like paste. There's sourdough, too, flavoured and coloured with beetroot, from Marrickville's Tonton Bread.
My feelings towards flavoured bread are the same as those towards flavoured cheese – a deep suspicion that they are only there for people who don't understand how good unflavoured breads and cheeses are in the first place – but never mind.
There are conversations going on around me in French about the "caractere" and "saison" of the wines being poured. My 2019 Fleurie Gamay from Beaujolais ($88) chips in with its own bright, fleshy accent.
The cold meats have "caractere" as well. Coppa, an air-dried pork neck salumi from Borgo ($15.50), is thick, feral and sweetly spiced, and butifarra sausage ($10) is chunky with pork fat. If you're hungry, go for a (very) generous cheese or charcuterie platter ($28 or $53) that comes with all the trimmings.
And really, that's enough. There are a handful of specials, and a perfectly nice, thick beef stew with a pile of chat potatoes ($30) that you could share, but the magic is what happens with the pick-and-mix.
Or pop in for lunch, and grab a Provencal pan bagnat ($16) that will whisk you back to Nice in one big, two-handed, bite of olive-oiled roll, tuna, radish, tomato, basil, cucumber, olives, onion, garlic, boiled egg and some ripper anchovy fillets.
Pistou feels a bit prepper, with its hanging bouquets of dried chillies, and jars of pickles and preserves; a good place to be in case of apocalypse. It also moves fast, pivots nimbly.
That chicken, leek and mushroom terrine or orange and almond cake on which you had your eye will sell out, but something else will calmly take its place.
I like Pistou's lightly worn Frenchness, its casual air, capable cooking, sturdy self-sufficiency and the fact that it doesn't fit neatly into a box. Who wants a box for dinner?
It isn't, perhaps, the sort of place you cross town for, but it's definitely the sort of place you wish you didn't have to cross town to get to.
Vegetarian Lots of cheese and nibbles, plus deli plates and fruit tarts.
Drinks Strong selection of aperitifs and digestifs, and a dynamic list of organic, low-intervention wines.
Pro tip Check out the cheese and charcuterie cabinet before you order.