Tucked away near the base of the Harbour Bridge in Milsons Point is Loulou, a staunchly French bistro with a few timely twists. Yes, of course, there are the classics of steak frites, mille-feuille, and charcuterie made in-house, Champagne in long-stemmed glasses and the ubiquitous baguette. However, where Loulou stands apart from the cliches is a strong line of freshness. It’s French, yes, but French-Lite.
This bright, contemporary freshness doesn’t end at the plate, with architectural touches of clean banquettes, booth seating fringing and marble fixed tables, all lit up under a skylight that runs the length of the restaurant.
But, back to the plate. The menu is clean and simple, and is largely dictated by the traiteur/delicatessen that adjoins the main bistro area, with charcuterie of fatty saucisson sec and chicken liver parfait, served with an individual warmed brioche bun, and impressively, a pâté en croûte that changes daily. It is unsurprising that the offerings are as visually beautiful as they are delicious, considering the traiteur is headed up by French born and trained butcher/chef Cyprien Picard, formerly of Victor Churchill.
Head chef Billy Hannigan (Bistro Guillaume, the Ledbury London) leads the bistro, serving up delicate and sprite versions of the familiar, such as the shockingly pretty and equally petite summer tart of crisp shortcrust pastry with pillows of fromage blanc, towered high with asparagus, green beans and tarragon. A simple salad of raw zucchini flowers secret away plump fillets of white anchovy, the sharp vinegar keeping the flavours clean, while a dish of shaved veal tongue splayed sparingly across the plate proves that if you give something a French twist, paying $22 for a couple of paper-thin slices of cured meat seems altogether reasonable.
If you’ve come hungry (and you’re in a restaurant, so it’s assumed you have) either order far more than you think you need from the casse-croutes and hors d'oeuvres, or stick to a main (plats) of le grande Loulou burger, a mix of grass-fed brisket and chuck creating an interesting and pleasant mouthfeel. Dessert comes by way of a cherry souffle with a pleasing wobble or a deeply bitter chocolate tart in a crisp pastry shell, dusted with more bitter cocoa. Where you might expect a dollop of cream, instead you’ll find a small pop of orange marmalade, yet another French-but-light touch.
Perhaps it’s early days teething pains, however portion sizes matter, and when a whisper of Brillat Savarin cheese arrives among a sea of crackers, it is enough to elicit a shocked giggle from the table as it is rationed and smeared in pixie sized amounts onto poppyseed and caraway crackers. A little more generosity would surely be appreciated. Redemption comes by way of versatility however. While the portion sizes mean this may be the place to come if you’re watching your waistline, the convenience of truly delicious cafeteria style shopping at the traiteur does fill a hole in the Milson’s Point market.
There’s nothing wrong with a hot chook out of a plastic bag for sandwiches, but if you can kick things up a notch with an umami packed, brined then rotisseried bird then why wouldn’t you? Freshly baked bread still warm from the oven (they bake four times a day, so you know it’s going to be good), outstanding pain au raisin, or a salad of charred broccoli with pistachio is a welcome change to the usual takeaway lunch fare of the working week. And a picnic of pâté, roasted potatoes and smooth and creamy St. Ali coffee by the sea sure beats a cold pasta salad. Sheer geography alone does Loulou’s a great service.
Painstakingly designed to survive anything the world throws at it, this versatile all-day triple threat spells coffee with a crab omelette for breakfast, pastry and a salad to go for your lunch break, dinner with bottles of Burgundy and friends, or sausage rolls to feed the hungry hordes at home. This timely take on the French bistro is a smart reflection of the world around us, and the lines around the block say it’s a much needed addition to the neighbourhood.