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Monday, May 8, 2017

France-Soir

11-13 Toorak Rd, South Yarra
france-soir.com.au

I had the unusual pleasure on Sunday night of going out for dinner with not only the owner of a restaurant, but one of the most iconic restaurants in Melbourne: i.e. with Jean-Paul Prunetti at France-Soir. Established in 1986, here are just some of this establishment’s more recent accolades:




Legend Award - Jean Paul Prunetti and Geraud Fabre 
The Age Good Food Guide Awards 2017

Yellow Rose Award
Gault & Millau 2016

Financial Review Australia's Top 100 Restaurants 2016 
voted 53 / 100

But what is France-Soir really like, and what advice or tips did I get from Jean-Paul, whom even the awards have labeled a dead set “Legend”?

Jean-Paul is an enigmatic man; he weighs you up, very French and formal with his language, his eyes with a twinkle of mischief, like some kind of cook-y French Picasso.

He's also friends with the Rolling Stones.
It can be a bit intimidating.
Instead of becoming star-struck, I focussed on the business, probing the secrets of the restaurant’s success.

FRENCH FRENCH FRENCH

France-Soir is, as the name implies, a French bistrot of the highest order; you probably wouldn’t find anything more French outside France, and even then you’d have the French locals saying “sacre bleu, but it is too French”.

While it has the kind of informality of a café style restaurant – so it’s not all quiet, stuffy and formal – the food is still very exacting and French.

The bread, par example, is French bread; part baked in France, frozen, then brought here and baked/finished in the ovens. The butter is French. Even the white paper tablecloths are French, with little indentations on them.

‘We’re the only restaurant in Australia with these’.

One might think “you could have used butcher’s paper and nobody would have known the difference”, but it’s this kind of attention to detail that runs through the entire establishment, making it authentic to the point where a French person, in France, would be gob-smacked.

THE FOOD

Jean-Paul and his charming and glamorous partner Joh also have a farm, where they have been breeding animals; some special line in beef, and poultry too. It’s all very traditional and respectful of food, from the ground up.

‘It is simple, but it is hard,’ as Jean-Paul said, indicating our food.

I had the scallops on the specials board – with a carrot purree, very delicate, with a slight sweetness, followed by a fillet of fish (blue grenadier) with fries (pommes frites), and a green salad. Others ate a leek tart with mescalin salad leaves, an Alsace sausicon with sauerkraut (on the cusp of being German food, but I suppose French enough), and steak tartare.

Steak tartare? Bien sur.

Crème brûlée? Naturalment.

Jean-Paul confessed to me that they used to make their crème brûlée from triple cream, but that for two months every year they couldn't buy any triple cream in Australia, so their chef developed a new technique that involved baking to replace the double boiling stage, and now he makes it with pure single or double cream. Nobody notices the difference.

‘He is a genius; it is so very complicated the way that he makes it, I could not tell you all the stages.’

And don’t forget the lemon tart (made from lemons they grew).

THE WINE

The wine menu is like a telephone book with worn leather bindings.  Jean-Paul and his co-investors also have a wine importation business and online store (francesoirwineselections.com.au).

While there we enjoyed a Chablis, Beujolais, a Burgundy (Borgogne, a pinot noir) and finally a “funky” Burgundy which was an organic one which had used no sulfur on the grapes, etc. meaning that the control of the wine wasn’t as regimented but made for interesting characters and depth.

THE STAFF AND HARD WORK

The next secret is the staff. France-Soir has been around for over thirty years, and in that time has had only two chefs, a thing almost unheard of in restaurant circles. One of the waiters I met has been there for all thirty plus years, but they also have good looking young French waiting staff there who look like they’ve walked straight off the Champs.

They all work like mad. ‘See these people? They have worked all day and have not had a break because there is always something to do.’ Not that you’d know. They were all professional and laughing, enjoying themselves.

SEAMLESS SERVICE

The restaurant is open seven days a week, 365 days a year, from midday to midnight. ‘The one exception is Christmas, when we do not do dinner, but then the customers stay on… I think we got out by nine or ten o’clock last year.’

Any refits or refurbs they have had done happen overnight. The back room has a special sound baffling ceiling in gold; a material with tiny holes (you can’t see the holes) to absorb noise, and which gently wobbles like gelatine when the door opens – installed over two nights.

'I have never been closed.  Never closed for renovations.  You remember the gas crisis? (*1998) When everyone else was closed, I had LPG cylinders brought in and plumbed into the kitchen. We were almost the only restaurant open in the whole city.’

THE EVALUATION

Could this restaurant be the James Brown of French cuisine? The hardest working restaurant in French-food entertainment? I think so. I give France-Soir a rare eight out of eight tentacles (my highest award).

"I know, it's only Frenchy food, but I like it."

Une recommendation superb. But no “news” to Melbourne diners. Avante!

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