It’s funny how sometimes the simplest of concepts have the greatest impact. Like Entrecôte, which was hailed in its Domain Road heyday for the audacious vision of serving steak frites and little else. It was a flamboyant beret-tip to Paris’ Le Releaise de Venise, which has single-mindedly celebrated the bistro stalwart since 1959, but food history demands acknowledgment that steak frites were never the sole focus of Entrecôte. It made for a good story but there has always been plenty of additional culinary frou-frou rounding out the menu, just as there is at the reboot of Jason M Jones’ South Yarra partygirl-slash-Francophilic beast on Greville Street.
At the rather enormous site of the former Fog nightclub (if you’re like us, you struggle to remember the memories) the good times continue to roll. Jones’ partner in design, Brahman Perera, has conjured a space flirting with the Belle Époque via royal blue velvet banquettes, glittering chandeliers, random arty chotchkes and the eager deployment of white linen. Out front, there’s a phalanx of blue and white wicker chairs on the pavement, the perfect spot for posing with your Bichon Frise; a few steps above it sits the restaurant proper with a covered conservatory jutting off to the side. If you want to keep things casual, the street or conservatory are the scene for drinks and a lengthy bar menu; the bistro and restaurant demand the buy-in of a two or three course menu at $80 and $95 respectively.
Ned’s sourdough baguette and salted French butter arrive with these menus gourmand, all the better to sop up the mild “spiced citrus butter” lapping at four small Queensland prawns perched on an island of flageolet bean puree. Playing to the South Yarra `hood, pan-fried pork croquettes go the composed salad route with gooey-centred quail eggs and sauce gribiche electrifying a tumble of apple and frisée, with a couple of bacon rashers adding their own porky heft to the everyday-food-versus-sometimes-food battle.
Heralding the change of season there’s duck à l’orange, an earth-hued tableau of whole radicchio leaves, braised mushrooms and a buttery wodge of pommes Anna, marred only by the sinewy meat.
And the steak frites, you ask? It’s a decently flavoured hunk of pasture fed Cape Grim Angus porterhouse, hidden by a thicket of best-in-show frites. Blanketed in a “secret” herb butter sauce - green, tangy and mustardy in all the right places – it justifies the Entrecôte name. For its other claim to fame, it’s the only dish that doesn’t require seasoning (talking point: should lack of salt be a criminal offence in a French restaurant?).
But onto desserts: a rollcall of Gallic swoon from crème brulee to chocolate-filled profiteroles. Our pick is the tart au citron, exemplary in its playoff of the buttery crust against the sour lemon guts, with crème fraiche making a successful ménage à trois.
So what’s the take-home about Entrecôte, ma petits? It isn’t fine dining. Better French food can be found at France Soir and Bistro Thierry, and the menu’s definition of value requires a forgiving lens. But for those in thrall to restaurant classicism it’s hard to resist. If you’re looking to inject a touch of glamour into your dining life, for the tried and true served with a hefty dose of theatre – and a touch of smoke and mirrors – then this one’s for you.