Jun 2 2010
A SUN-DRENCHED SPRING MORNING IN FRANCE
Tubbymistress is standing in Monet’s Garden in Giverny, France, shoulder-to-shoulder with an American couple. It’s a warm morning but, despite the influx of tourists to this small, floral oasis, it’s surprisingly serene and calm.
Inspired by the works of impressionist painter Claude Monet, the gardens are immaculately conceived and maintained. Weeping willows lean casually over the pond; beds of tulips (vivid reds, yellows, pinks and mauves) stretch toward the sky as if competing for the attention of the sun; dainty roses climb and twirl around iron arches that frame the central walkway. It’s living artwork, enchanting fodder for the many camera lenses working hard for their money.
A world away, a restaurant called Bistro Vue springs to life, imbued with the kind of charm and appeal found by the tulip-bed in Giverny. This carefully constructed slither of old-world Paris immediately piques the curiosity and appetite of Tubbymistress, a twenty-something with an unfortunate penchant for killing plants.Bistro Vue
Normanby Chambers, 430 Lt Collins St, Melbourne VIC
(entrance on New Chancery Lane)
Bistro Vue is truly beautiful. Unlike its minimalist elder sibling, Vue de Monde, whose sense of theatre is derived from the artistry of its food and the mirror that illuminates the artists at work, the bistro is a character-filled salon that dishes up charming, robust food with flourishes of French flair. I always feel like wearing a dress when dining here, so lovely is the bistro’s Parisian aesthetic with its moulded timber paneling, wooden tables, red velvet upholstery and dainty floral crockery. Instead of giving thought to whether the aesthetic is contrived, I’d much prefer to sit back, rip open a piece of crusty bread and enjoy a glass of wine.*
When I arrived with Tubbymaster for my birthday dinner last month, there was a noticeable change. The menu, now separate from the wine list, is arguably more inclusive, with a handful of entrées, risottos and pastas that give vegetarians some semblance of chance in what is really a meat-lover’s paradise. The service was exactly the same as I remembered: classy and knowledgeable with a dash of French panache.
We began the night with a quail and foie gras pithivier, having inadvertently shared this information with the kitchen as we perused the menu. (Chef #1: Did you hear that? Chef #2: Yes.) The pithivier was petite and looked pretty on the plate, but it was densely meaty on the palate, the magnificent pastry almost stealing the attention from those big, manly flavours. The portion was small but it tasted rich; sliced in half, it was perfect to share.
For the main, Tubbymaster chose the ‘slow-cooked secondary cut’ – an oxtail parmentier (slowly cooked oxtail topped with creamy mash) served in a little pot alongside a much larger bowl of salade. Although advertised as a secondary cut, its taste was first-grade: sweet, robust and perfect for a cold Saturday night, the kind of dish your grandmother said would stick to your ribs or put hairs on your chest. (Thankfully, it didn’t.)
On the other side of the table lay the boeuf ‘special of the week’, a surprisingly flavoursome oyster blade cooked medium-rare, served with sauce diane. It certainly wasn’t as droolworthy as the 500g rib-eye I devoured at Rockpool, but it was better than the last steak I ordered at Bistro Vue, recalled as pleasant but nothing special. I liked the accompanying Jenga of obese chips, as well as the two side dishes we’d chosen for the table. Of the green beans and curried spinach, the latter pleased my tastebuds that bit more, this wonderful spin on spinach so easy to eat.**
If you’ve read my post about the quaint La Petanque in the Mornington Peninsula, you’d know dessert is a fait accompli at Bistro Vue, for I adore the tarte tatin – a dish that turns the humble apple into a complete superstar. Seeing as though Tubbymaster and I were various shades of full on this night, we instead opted for the reliable, not-too-sweet soufflé au chocolat. It arrived at the table light and airy; after a hole was punched in the middle and a generous stream of dark chocolate poured in, the soufflé slowly sank to an inevitable demise toward the glossy pool of chocolate forming at the bottom of the copper saucepan. We decide to put it out of its misery, pronto.
I love this place. It’s a little bit romantic, a little bit feminine, a little bit classy and so magnificently French. As we were about to leave, we overheard the young man seated next to us utter, ‘Maybe we should have gone with that Spanish place’, as he perused the menu. I didn’t hear the response of his date but, in my opinion, as wonderful as the Movidas of the world are, this pretty little piece of faux Parisian paradise should charm the pants off any young lady you’re keen to impress. Really. And you don’t have to wait three months to get a table on a Saturday night.
The feel: Romantic
Tastes like: Bistro Guillaume
What’s not to like? Some tables are a smidge too close. If you’re unlucky, you might find yourself competing with your neighbouring table for conversation.
* In this case, it was a bottle of 2006 Gilles Robin Crozes Hermitage ‘Alberic Bouvet’, which caused our French-accented sommelier to burst into a fabulous soliloquy about the winemaker and the region of this excellent, medium-bodied French wine.
** If you do order boeuf, check to see if it comes with any sides. Mine was accompanied by those fat pommes frites, Tubbymaster’s with the salade. This was not stated on the menu.