Make Potts Point’s modern French bistro your go to for a mid-week steak
In Paris, where day drinking is encouraged and a tote bag is incomplete without a fresh baguette sticking out of it, you take the availability of an everyday, local bistro for granted. But here in Sydney, finding a good, mid-week steak frites is much harder work, with French food generally falling into the ‘special occasion’ basket.
Potts Point’s Bistro Rex is setting out to change this. Occupying the old Commonwealth Bank site on MacLeay Street, this copper-clad, honeycomb-tiled 120-seater is more ambitious than your average local, but no less neighbourly.
Chefs Jo Ward (ex-Bloodwood, Vincent) and Michelle Powell (Folonomo) have taken a solid line-up of bistro classics and given them a lighter, more Mediterranean spin. At Rex, butter and cream-based sauces are often swapped for olive oil and citrusy dressings. You’ll see things like cauliflower rice and plenty of leafy vegetarian sides on the single-page menu — a move that caters to the palate of Inner East regulars, some of whom return as many as five nights a week, we’re told. But old school bistro fans can still get their steak tartare fix accompanied by dark malt crackers or a slice of porcelain smooth chicken liver parfait topped with sweet and sour jelly cubes, instead of the usual sauternes jelly.
An entree of pissaladiere will carry you to Nice on a rustic, caramelised onion tart. It’s traditionally made with a pizza dough, but recreated here with a housemade puff pastry. The result is a crisp, buttery ode to the everyday magic of slow-cooked onion, brought to life by the intense saltiness of black olives and anchovy. From further along the Mediterranean is the spanner crab raviolo. Served in a tangy sorrel butter, the single, oversized al dente parcel is plump with scallop mousse and freshly picked crab meat and the subtle sweetness from the seafood shines through, thanks to the perfect pasta to filling ratio.
Ward delivers on the veggo front, too. Her training with Adelaide’s legendary chef Cheong Liew (The Grange) means a main of crispy turnip cake has the DNA of something you’d find at yum cha, but the rice flour-battered dough is served on a bed of earthy onion soubise (puree), lifted by a medley of mushrooms in a pickled ginger dressing.
No bistro meal is complete, however, without the classic steak frites. At $39, you get a well-seasoned Angus blend sirloin, served straight from the grill with a dollop of Cafe de Paris butter. We order ours rare, which is exactly how it arrives. The steak comes blushing and pre-sliced — a good idea, since you’ll want as much of that golden, zesty sauce to coat it on all sides. Dip your (slightly blond) chips into the pool of butter and meat juices and you’ll see why the kitchen goes through 300 of these bad boys a week.
The mid-week crowd at Rex has a slightly older, pre-theatre vibe. You get a sense that the slick, knowledgeable team has amassed the kind of return customers that make the caviar de Neuvic on buckwheat blinis ($75) and the 1983 Guigal LaLas ($1200) on the menu seem like reasonable inclusions rather than mere menu braggadocio.
But don’t let these outliers alarm you. General manager and sommelier Josh Dunne has put together a 240-strong, French-focused wine list that has some excellent by the glass and carafe options. A glass of crisp Picpoul from Languedoc start at $11, while a medium weight, smoky Yves Cuilleron syrah from the Rhone Valley is highly drinkable at $13 a pop. Both are what Dunne calls good ‘bistro wine’ — the kind that won’t cost you an arm and a leg after a quiet night out with an very good steak.
|Venue name:||Bistro Rex|
50-58 Macleay St
|Opening hours:||Mon-Thu noon-10pm, Fri-Sat noon-11pm, Sun noon-9pm|