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It seems like only yesterday the Reymond kids got out from under Papa Jacques’ wings and opened South Yarra’s Bistro Gitan. Now it’s gone and spawned a diffusion label
Housed in Prahran’s former Hotel Max, the schmicko, Art Deco L’Hotel Gitan is a similar beast to its older sibling. It’s less formal, as befitting any family newcomer, but the similarities are unmistakable. This is pub food done Reymond-style: an ongoing French revolution of an Australian institution.
Like most of the clientele, L’Hotel Gitan’s food is smart casual. The remit is broad enough not to make a mockery of the name (‘gitan’ means gypsy), so France and her North African and Indochinese colonial excursions colour the menu.
Sliced-to-order charcuterie is a good bet. Go the whole hog (OK, call it an ‘assiette’, if you must): chewy, dense saucisson, soft nutty curls of San Daniele jamon, lightly smoky bresaola, soft pork rillette and a rough-hewn, liver-happy country terrine. Also check out the steak tartare: a good reimagining with bold slivers of soft meat cradled in baby cos lettuce cups with celeriac remoulade.
Some things are French only if you use your imagination. And that’s OK. Deboned chicken wings are pan-fried and dolloped with chilli yoghurt. Lurking underneath is a barley tabouleh that doesn’t add too much to essential pub fare. A pub-luxe tempura marron is a paean to the art of frying, but its harissa-spiked jam made of eggplant and zucchini seems better suited to a colder season. Ditto the king prawns, slightly overcooked on the plancha, with curried pumpkin. It’s just not the company prawns ought to be keeping right now.
And it’s not like a French kitchen to be afraid of salt but most things were screaming for sodium. It’s a little head-scratchy but put it down to the chefs – including Jacques Reymond, who’s overseeing the menu, and former JR chef Adam Smith – finding their feet going more casual than ever before.
Reymond progeny Antoine and Edouard (the floor managers) and Nathalie (the business brains) have obviously digested the lessons of their father’s erstwhile fine-dining institution. L’Hotel Gitan is a gorgeous-looking space, all Roaring Twenties design smarts, complete with a proper, grown-up front bar. And when was the last time you saw beautiful, sound-squelching carpet installed in a dining room?
The radically reinvented hotel has been rejigged around a broad new central kitchen with a fire engine red rotisserie as the pièce de resistance. It’s a pity the gas wasn’t connected when we visited just before the new year – this is the hardware that had us swooning at Philippe Mouchel’s PM24. Bring on the roast chicken.