Melbourne's best French restaurants
The most recent addition to Con Christopoulos’ thoroughbred stable is typically fabulous but also untypically French (at least for a Greek guy who nominally leans Italian). Chefs Ian Curley and Todd Moses nail the smart-casual brief with dishes such as kingfish crudo, confit yolk and gravlax-style dressing, anchovy toasts with lardo and a smoosh of red pepper, or duck with cherries and wilted raddichio. Add a flexible wine list that runs the gamut of new and old world, natural and messed-with, and you’ve got yourself a venue that’s already dear to our hearts.
Breathing new life into the troubled notion of Frenchness, Ôter starts with the sharp basement space recently vacated by Yu-u, adds savvy backers Kate and Mykal Bartholomew and chef Florent Gerardin, lately of Pei Modern. It’s very much Flo’s restaurant - the jewel-centered tarts glistening on the pass accompanied by a board of quietly melting cheese make it look like you’ve stumbled across his farmhouse - which makes it a good thing indeed he’s both classical (fried crepes filled with ham and punchy Cantal cheese) and adventurous (chicken offal, barely-set egg, dashi and black truffle, otherwise known as comfort in a jar.)
Last seen at PM24, the great Philippe Mouchel is back, accompanied by a triumphant blast of 'La Marseillaise', and it’s good to see he’s brought his friends with him. Roast chicken, skin bewitched to a dark gold on the rotisserie – we’re looking at you. Welcome back old pal, welcome back. Mouchel has taken over the off-Collins basement space previously home to the debonair Brooks. Look no further than Mouchel's beer-braised beef cheek with a lardy emulsion, glazed carrots and cumin and a modern flutter of spice-infused sugary disc so the brain registers crunch-sweet-cinnamon-clove, in that order.
There are many ersatz French bistros in the world but France-Soir feels like the real smoky-mirrored deal, transplanted from the 4th arrondissement to well-heeled South Yarra with a support cast of smooth-talking, French-accented black and white clad waiters in tow. They’re not reinventing the envelope but after 30 years, who should they? This is your go-to joint for steak frites, for freshly opened oysters, for pork terrine and leek tart. As for the blast-from-the-past BYO policy – for that France-Soir shall be truly blessed.
From the family Reymond (papa Jacques needs no introductions), Bistro Gitan takes one smart corner pub opposite Fawkner Park and makes a smarter French bistro with a sub-major in Spanish. It’s French jazzed up for the south of the river set, so steak tartare is served cutely in cos lettuce cups, there’s a Mooloolaba prawn cocktail to spark reminiscences of that last Noosa holiday, and the world’s ultimate Croque Monsieur is made with the addition of smoked sausage.
Australia’s favourite Frenchman, Guillaume Brahimi, leaves a good crew in charge of his southern outpost when he’s off looking after his Sydney flagship. Bistro Guillaume hums like a freshly tuned Citroen, from the staff (cheery) to the bread (fabulous – and it’s served with cultured butter) and that delectable shade of mid-green serving as the restaurant’s signature colour. All the classics are accounted for but we recommend bee-lining for the Roquefort soufflé, the octopus salad and the roast chicken with take-no-prisoners Paris mash. Live today, diet tomorrow.