The Little French Deli

The Little French Deli has blossomed into a bistro.
The Little French Deli has blossomed into a bistro. Photo: Eddie Jim

524 Nepean Highway Bonbeach, Victoria 3196

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Opening hours Tues-Fri 7am-5pm; Sat-Sun 10am-5pm
Features Licensed
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Mastercard, Visa

This is the story of Romain, an engineering student, and Aurelia, a young architect, who are spending their first Christmas together. They are looking for the smoked salmon they love to eat at Christmas, the one that melts in your mouth. Later they are joined by Gaspard, a patissier from Lyon, his apprentice Susie, and Francois, a chef …

Our young French equipe could be the cast of a film by Eric Rohmer, the director of a long series of art-housey flicks from My Night at Maud's to a quartet of gentle morality tales - Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter - that are described as either absorbing or tedious, depending on your taste. For the record: absorbing.

Romain and Aurelia can't find the smoked salmon, so they decide to make it themselves. That becomes the French Smokehouse, which in 2012 becomes an actual Little French Deli on a humble stretch of Nepean Highway, near a lawnmower shop, a laundromat and a defunct video store. Last October, the deli expanded into a cafe and bistro next door, with a daytime menu of breakfasts and salads that use fresh, mostly local ingredients and plenty of traditional French kitchen know-how.

Toasted brioche with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon.
Toasted brioche with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. Photo: Eddie Jim

The smoked salmon is curled and draped generously over scrambled eggs. It's fresh and delicate, pinky-orange and sweet, and it does melt in your mouth. The secret? ''Savoir faire,'' says Romain Riesi. ''It really depends on the weather and the season. We do it all by hand, and it takes about a week.''

The scrambled eggs are deliciously loose, moist curds piled on a slice of not-too-sweet brioche toast. Francois Thomas knows his eggs. The accompanying tomato and sliced avocado are simple and fresh.

Croque monsieur and his femme, croque madame, are cafe staples in Melbourne. Madame appears solo here, a sandwich of toasted brioche, Serrano ham and gruyere in a light bechamel, with a roughly fried egg. On the side sit some nicely sauteed mushrooms and half a tomato provencal topped with crunchy, garlicky breadcrumbs, making LFD's croque more than a snack.

Assorted pastries at the Little French Deli.
Assorted pastries at the Little French Deli. Photo: Eddie Jim

The rest of the daytime menu consists of salads - the Auvergnate of fourme d'Ambert (pasteurised cow's milk blue cheese from Auvergne), walnuts and Serrano ham looks tempting - and a long list of sweets by pastry chef Gaspard Toulouse and his apprentice Susie Hugues (a local), from a raspberry and pistachio croissant to a tangy-sweet tart of lemon curd. And just as we've got our heads around the difference between a macaroon and a macaron (of which the Little French Deli offers several flavours), Gaspard delivers the congolais, a dry, coconutty biscuit that is remarkably like a coconut macaroon and is presumably named after the former French territory in central Africa.

Dinner, Wednesday to Saturday, features French bistro classics: cassoulet, filet mignon, bouef bourgignon, with a tidy blackboard list of French and local wine and beer.

But mains nudging $30 would bust this production's budget; they'll have to wait for the director's cut.

Do … try the smoked salmon

Don't … expect French gastronomy; this is simple cafe and bistro-style fare

Dish … toasted brioche with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon

Vibe … friendly, Frenchy local