Well, I've finally gotten around to my first post for 2016 so I should start by wishing you all a HAPPY NEW YEAR! Hopefully you had the chance to spend some downtime with friends and family over the last few weeks (I certainly have and now I'm due for a detox in every sense of the word!), and for those who have been reading my blog for a while - thanks for all of your support in 2015 and I'm looking forward to sharing more with you this year.
So a few big events that happened for me over the break - I hosted my first Christmas Day lunch for 13 hungry guests (and yes, the trout gravlax made a special appearance), I received an Anova sous vide 'immersion circulator' (which will no doubt be the subject of a future blog post once I've given it a good test drive), and after talking about it for the last few months, we finally made the move from Canberra to Sydney (during which time I discovered that manoeuvring a 4.2m pantech truck through the streets of the inner city isn't my idea of a party - but then again, I wasn't prepared to pay good money just to watch two other men do it and miss out on a great workout session!).
So with all that going on I haven't had much time to blog - let alone see Star Wars or wolf down some Belles Hot Chicken - but I'll be getting back into a routine soon!
Before leaving Canberra, one of the restaurants I was intent on visiting was Les Bistronomes, a French bistro that opened in late 2014 on Braddon's Elouera Street (in the space that Delissio occupied for a long time). We haven't been blessed with many French restaurants in Canberra over the years so there was definitely room for a good bistro to open up, and from what I'd heard they've been doing a great job in delivering simple, classic dishes.
After enjoying a pre-dinner drink across the road at Bentspoke, Miss T and I wandered in for our 8:30pm booking and are greeted by a hearty 'Bonsoir!' from the staff behind the counter. Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kan-berra anymore! I immediately conjure up repressed memories of high school French class (does anyone remember the 'Ça alors!' textbook?) and manage a meek reply of 'bonsoir', after which we're shown our table.
There's a real warmth about the restaurant - partly from the orange hues of the lighting (which you can see in the photos, even though I've adjusted some of them for white balance), and partly from the gentle murmur of other people's conversations. Coupled with the simple, unpretentious decor, it sets the tone for a homely night out. And even though the table of 2 next to us is quite close, the acoustics of the room don't seem to carry conversations too far so you still have a sense of privacy and don't feel like you're eavesdropping on someone else (which you know I'm prone to doing!).
The table settings are also a great reflection of the restaurant's character. The large postcard sitting under the cutlery adds to the sense of wanderlust, and it cleverly reveals the menu once flipped over. Having worked both in hospitality and as a process improvement consultant, I'm a big fan of this purely from an efficiency perspective - but it also complements the less formal, bistro style of dining here. The charm of the imperfectly-shaped porcelain plates, complete with 'un coq' in the middle, takes me straight to a quaint riverside village in Provence. Add in a waft of cigarette smoke and a man wandering around the roses selling roses, and I'd be convinced that I was in France!
The menu at Les Bistronomes is relatively small (by today's standards) but focussed - much like a classic Parisian bistro. Many of the entrees are charcuterie items, such as the terrine, pork rillette, salmon gravlax, and the charcuterie platter itself; while the highlight of the mains are the 'meals for two', which include a whole duck a l'orange, veal en croute with foie gras, and a Cape Grim rib eye with bone marrow and bearnaise sauce. I'm salivating already!
I'm tempted to start with the steak tartare (which is on the blackboard menu), but in the end we decide to order a couple of snails and the charcuterie platter for entrees, followed by a protein extravaganza with the monster 800g rib eye.
The wine list here is quite extensive, with a good selection of Australian and French (of course) labels to choose from. The wines by the glass are also available in 375mL carafes, which is perfect for when one of you has drawn the short straw and is responsible for getting both of you (and your car) home safely.
The snails with garlic butter ($3 each) arrive first, each with a handy toothpick to scoop out the snail meat and all of the velvety, caramelised butter sitting in and around the shell. I haven't had snail before, so I was expecting it to be similar to whelk and other nameless 'things in shells' that we had in Japan last year, but the snail has a more enjoyable, less chewy texture, and a milder flavour. The accompanying butter is full of sweet garlicky aroma and flavour, and I could easily eat 10 of these if we weren't having any other entrees.
The charcuterie platter ($24) has a generous spread of prosciutto, salami, saucisson sec and pork rillette, served with fresh and toasted bread and a few cornichons. The meats are delectably rich and salty, with good flavour coming from both the fat and the peppers and spices used in the curing process.
After a short wait, t's finally time for the big show - and it doesn't disappoint. The meat is well cooked - medium rare in the centre and medium towards the edges, with a flavoursome crust on the outside and plenty of moisture in the middle. The only downside is that the bone marrow is actually a jus (with only a small piece of marrow sitting in it), but the jus has a pronounced beef flavour and I can appreciate the time and effort that's gone into making it. It's also good for alternating with the bearnaise, which itself is impressively light and airy considering it's mostly butter! With a bowl of crunchy fries to mop the rest of the sauce, it's a thoroughly enjoyable dish.
At $96 it's a bit above your average price range for two mains, but I'd also say it's on par with most steakhouses when you consider that Cape Grim produces some of Australia's best beef, it's a generous serving size (I don't think the bone would have weighed more than 100g), and it comes with sauces and sides. Maybe best saved for a special occasion - like moving away from the city!
For me, Les Bistronomes have made some good choices around the experience they want to give their diners, as well as the food on offer. By sticking with time-honoured French classics, they're actually offering something unique in a market where so many chefs are fusing French technique with exotic flavours, and they deliver a high quality experience without feeling like they need to be flashy. As the evening winds up and we sip on the last of the wine, we slowly bring ourselves back to the reality of being in Canberra, while dreaming of the next European getaway.
But for now, there's enough of Sydney to explore. And farewell Canberra, hope to see you soon.
Cnr Elouera and Mort St, Braddon ACT 2612
(02) 6248 8119
Online bookings available via Dimmi