11-13 Toorak Rd, South Yarra
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:
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.
FRENCH FRENCH FRENCHFrance-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 FOODJean-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 WINEThe 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).
THE STAFF AND HARD WORKThe 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 SERVICEThe 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.’
Une recommendation superb. But no “news” to Melbourne diners. Avante!