231 Brunswick St
On a rather glum wintery day with the heavens opening up over Melbourne (sympathies to all the race-goers), driving through the down pour was slightly unnerving given the terrible visibility and the state of my tyres… Lucky for me, I was heading to Madame Sousou for Ms ET’s birthday. The warm French décor and attentive ‘French’ service (note for the gals – the waiter had a strong French accent), offered a homely insulation from the pattering rain outside. Walking past the early diners (it was only 6.40pm) digging into their mains, I was eagerly anticipating a dose of cosy French fare.
As I watched the entrees that others had ordered, my rumbling stomach almost made me regret for opting out, but I stood strong remembering I needed to leave room for dessert. Well at least I had the lovely bread and butter to quell my dismay. P.S. I sneaked in a taste of virtually everything… so bear with me as this will be a rather EPIC post.
First up on the table was the Soupe a l’oignon (French onion soup). This was a rich, hearty broth of sweet caramelised onions and strong beef’y stock, with a thick crouton of gruyere cheese on top. I realised beef’y turned out to be a nice pun alluding to both its strong beef umami but also being extremely heavy on the stomach – very filling.
Caramelization “…is the procedure in which the onions are cooked slowly until the melting sugars approach burning temperature, becoming brown. This can be accomplished within half an hour, but many chefs and cooks allow for hours of cooking to bring out the complex flavors of the onions sugars”.
Umami (aka savouriness), taken from the Japanese language, is essentially the 5th element to your classic salt, sweet, sour and bitter tastes. It is found in savoury products such as meat, seafood, cheese and mushrooms. Asian communities also have an abundance of it naturally in their soy sauce and fish sauce. An interesting fact is that MSG’s acts to intensify this “savoriness”, though now generally shun upon as being an artificial shortcut to producing an intense umami.
Next up: Plateau de charcuterie, which was a selection of house made items including: terrine du jour (du jour: of the day); duck rillettes; and a chicken liver parfait that was a rich, smooth and almost mayonnaise consistency parfait, though salty, was an appetising spread with the bread. Apologies no photo. P.S. I like my liver more in a pate texture.
… then for the mains …
Starting with what I ordered: Cassoulet de canard (French casserole of duck). Arriving in what looked like a flat-based-wok of a pan, below the golden crispy crumbs lay hidden pieces of confit duck and a nicely sautéed boudin blanc (French sausage). The duck was not so much succulent, but was falling-off-the-bone tender and flavoursome. The boudin blanc was filled with smooth and velvety pork that had a slight milky creaminess to it. Both meats paired magnificently with the crispy crumbs, juicy broad beans and mash-like potato cubes. Delightful treat.
Traditionally, boudin blanc is made with white haricot beans. But me being a ‘noob’ eater of French cuisine, it didn’t bother me that they had replaced this with those little green pouches of broad beans. They were fresh, sweet and moist!
Sitting across from me, Ms BL had the Blanquett de Veau (translation: ragout of veal in a white sauce). The stewed veal girello (topside) was succulent with the meat strands easily falling apart. The colourful baby vegetables (which I didn’t get a taste of) were apparently very nice. And what seemed like a small portion for a main turned out to be quite satisfying with the milk and butter enriched velouté sauce – creamy!!! Ms BL loved it so much that each bite of meat / veg was generously lathered with the sauce.
A velouté sauce – is considered one of the “mother sauces” of French cuisine, prepared using meat stock, butter and flour, producing a white and velvety sauce. Sourced: wikipedia.
The birthday girl Ms ET shared the Tenderloin 600g with Mr TT – this along with the duck a l’orange were the specials offered on the day. I can’t remember the exact name given to the dish, but this was a HUGE serving of tenderloin (for sharing between 2) that was cooked to a succulent pink. The slightly salty pesto-like sauce offered a nice balance to the juicy slices of meat.
The other suggested option – Canard à l’Orange – was an equally commanding portion even for 2 people. It had a crispy skin overlying a sliver of duck fat and a thick tender layer of meat below, and no bones – bOO YAH! The accompanying sauce was a thick citrusy blend of caramelised sweetness, alcohol and herbs, which was essential to give that needed zest to the duck. Biting into it seemed to really remind me of Cantonese roast duck, albeit vastly more expensive, it certainly had noticeable differences in texture and flavour; not sure I’d pay $75 for it though. In response to my friend’s repeated offerings, my stomach replied “yes” but my head said “no” – the dilemmas of over-eating! Somehow, despite much declining I still ended up having multiple pieces plopped onto my plate.
And I forgot to mention the bottle of French red we shared – Pierre Amadieu Roulepierre 2008 (Cotes du Rhone) – though not an expensive wine ($42), the cherry-sweet bouquet and mellow palate was delightful with both the red and the whiter meats.
… time for dessert …
Given it is a birthday, cake is a must. What cake you may ask? – It was a Ganache Chocolate’s cake version of a ferrero rocher with nutty bits, a rich-smooth chocolate mousse interior and a crunchy biscuit-base. Ok, I admit I don’t know what sort of cake it was, but you get the gist.
245 Collins St
At this stage, everyone was already ready to sprawl out and digest (oops, I mean rest). But happy people do crazy things…
After reading reviews like this: “…oozy centes of the fondants were so decadently addictive. It wasn’t too bitter and I just kept going back for more…” I was set on getting the Chocolate fondant well before setting foot at the place. *cross fingers it is available since it isn’t on the day-to-day menu*. When it arrived I was not disappointed AT ALL. The fondant was oh so oozy in the middle, and super airy and fluffy. Rich and decadent yes, but OH MY GOD, it was so indulgingly good. There was also a slight hint of bitterness with an alcoholic edge to it (no doubt from the Armagnac – a kind of brandy). The prune ice-cream plopped in the middle, though nice on its own and did offer a cold contrast to the hot steaming fondant, it didn’t offer any extra flavour elements – it was just too subtle. But who cares, the fondant was awesome!
Ms BL, despite feeling rather sick (i.e. full) from too much eating, could not resist getting the Beignets de pommes, which was apple fritters with ice cream and golden syrup. I unfortunately didn’t get to try this. =(
Rating: yummy+1 a mouth watering experience from start to end. If the ice cream was better matched I would’ve given the chocolate fondant a yummy +2, it was that good.
Just one small negative: A few items particularly the 2-person-sharing ones were quite pricey, but they certainly weren’t stingy with portions. I find from experience, that if you’re visiting a place you haven’t been before try avoid opting for these so called “house specials”, and stick with what the restaurant does well. We as customers tend to lay prey to good waiters (aka sales person), who are very capable at selling what are arguably the more profitable options on the menu. No doubt, these dishes could still be amazing and nor does this rule apply to all places. But many do suffer from this affliction – they are businesses after all.
Overall though, this place offers a simple, comforting and unpretentious French fare. And all 8 of us were in a food induced coma at the end of the night, very much delirious from the over-satiety & sugar-overload – in a good way of course. The thought of lying down flat with a full stomach made me feel short of breath… SERIOUSLY!