When I heard that there was a new French restaurant in town, I dropped everything and came for lunch.
Bistrot Gavroche is the new hotspot of Kensington Street (the street has its own website) where everything is happening in Sydney at the moment. First there is the gorgeous Old Clare Hotel, a cleverly renovated old pub turned into a posh hotel. Then a bit hidden, you will find Spice Alley: a cute lane-way bordered by a variety of Asian restaurants. There, you will be tempted by Singaporean dishes at Alex Lee Kitchen, Bang Luck Thai Street Food, Old Jim Kee’s Malaysian spices, Cantonese street food at Hong Kong Diner, Japanese delights at KYO-TO and Vietnamese flavours from Lower Mekong. Not far from there, if you feel in a creative dining mood, you could be seduced by Automata, Silvereye or Kensington Street Social (check out these 3 restaurants’ gorgeous websites and food photography). In case that list was not enough, there are a few other places which seem to deserve an urgent visit such as Koi Dessert Bar (those photos!), Bar Chinois, Glider KS, and coming soon: Upper Mekong.
OK, we’re moving to Chippendale…
But now back to Bistrot Gavroche. Lunch at this typically Parisian brasserie was a treat.
At the end of this delicious meal, I was lucky to meet with the duo behind this project: Chef Frederic Colin and sommelier Lionel Richard, best mates since they started working together a long while ago for a large hospitality group which took them around the world cooking and managing dreamy hotels with views on turquoise waters.
After years of this very particular life, they decided to launch a project together while Frederic was based in Singapore. They launched Brasserie Gavroche and another venue, then after a talk with the investor and brain behind the Kensington street new development. He persuaded them to give Sydney a go, and after a few months of intense preparation, they finally launched Bistrot Gavroche on the first floor of an old, but very well refurbished, brick building opposite The Old Clare Hotel.
Classic Parisian towels or serviettes as we say.
The staff was very helpful and friendly. Mostly French, they knew all about the menu they had tried entirely.
Bistrot Gavroche has a very decent cave (cellar) and a choice of French and Australian wines. We opted for a typical French beer which I love: la 3 Monts from the St Sylvestre brewery in Flandres. It is a very rich and strong beer (8.5°) which tastes like traditional wooden barrel beer and can be kept for a long while in a good cellar. It is called a bière de garde (beer to keep). It was a perfect match for our chosen menu.
At Bistrot Gavroche, you are welcomed by mini gougères, a savoury choux-pastry or profiterole made with cheese. This version was interesting, sprinkled with spices.
If you’re a francophile, you’ll feel at ease in the brasserie atmosphere, the wooden furniture and classic bentwood chairs.
The menu is presented in a heavy wooden frame, old style.
The wholemeal baguette was good.
I couldn’t resist the “Escargots de Bourgogne au beurre d’ail”: snails, Burgundy style with parsley and garlic butter. The parsley tasted particularly green and fresh. Even if I would have liked a little bit more salt, it was good and reminded me of my parent’s home in Burgundy.
It was funny to show Wendell how to use the snail tongs. They felt brand new, unlike those back at home, and were quite hard to squeeze. Using those is part of the dish, part of the fun and I wouldn’t have them any other way.
Sommelier Lionel Richard is from the Lyon region. His grand-parents used to live in an old house nestled within the famous vineyards of the Lyonnais. He remembers spending his holidays running amongst the grape vines.
Before launching the restaurant, he spent weeks at the Lyon flea markets to select objects and furniture to give the place an authentic feel. On the above picture for example, you can see a typical French bakery bread shelf. It looks as if it has always been fixed to that wall.
He bought the massive oak doors you will see at the entrance. It belonged to a famous old Brasserie Lyonnaise. As Lionel says “Objects have a soul” and he adds “I have brought a little bit of France with me”.
Seeing a beautiful wall feature in French faience (earthenware) on the wall of a famous local restaurant, he asked a craftsman to reproduce it from a simple photo he took with his phone. The very gifted faience maker made the feature wall you can see on the first picture with the quote “real happiness is the one you hope for”.
Chef Frederic Colin began to cook in his Grandpa’s restaurant at the age of 10. He took with him this precious knowledge of course but also a lot of family photos including one you will see on your right upon entering. It shows his proud Grandpa wearing his chef’s outfit and hat.
Our second entrée was “Crabe Royale façon Thermidor” or Mud crab on a bed of crunchy mushrooms in a mustard sauce. This is an old recipe and has all the panache of one. 10/10 for this dish you cannot give back to the waiter until you have wiped the slightest trace of sauce left. We both loved it and will go back to Bistrot Gavroche just to have the privilege to taste it again.
The restaurant is installed in a large room boasting very high ceiling with small but close together beams to carry the weight of the rum barrels this old rum warehouse used to store.
It is divided in two spaces, in good French Brasserie style: the bar area and the restaurant. Upon entry, you are asked if you would like to have an apéritif at the bar first.
A simple salad is actually very hard to make. This one was very fresh and had a citrusy flavour which was light and delicious.
Bistrot Gavroche is the ideal place to have a Champagne lunch.
First main, we chose “Quenelles de brochet sauce Nantua, recette de Grand-Père Henri” which means “Grandpa Henri’s Pike Fish quenelles with crayfish sauce”. This is totally to die for. It brings back memories of authentic and top notch French sauces which are rare to find even in France. Quenelles are a sort of French fish cake from the Lyon region. My grand-father used to tell us (his large mob of grand-kids), that during the war the only job he could find while in Lyon was a “quenelle-roller”. He made a gesture, rolling an invisible quenelle on his belly which we found utterly gross, but we knew that most of what Bi-Papa told us were fables… It didn’t turn me off this ridiculously good dish.
It must be Michelin star restaurant training or maybe simply Chef Frederic Colin’s Grandpa who taught him how to make quenelle and the famous sauce Nantua to perfection. I highly recommend this dish. It is probably a good idea not to couple it with the crab entrée which has a similar sauce if you want to sample different flavours.
More typically French objects gathered by Lionel made me feel perfectly at home.
And to finish this excellent lunch, we shared a “Caille rôtie et galette de foie, purée de maïs et raisins” which is a whole roasted quail on a chicken liver stuffing with sweet corn purée and grapes. Once again the sauce was splendid. I liked the corn purée which was very original. The quail, despite being fiddly to eat as all quails, was cooked to perfection.
Lionel couldn’t resist this piece of French history: a Solex. It is a motorised bicycle which was all the rage in Paris a number of decades ago. My dad had one to go out before he was married :) It used to be an essential piece of equipment for a Parisian night owl. Upon arrival on the Australian soil, the authorities required that it got a licence and a plaque. The French duo tried to explain that it was to be hanged in a French restaurant as a décor… no negotiation was possible…
Despite the fact that Bistro Gavroche was serving its second lunch only and was in its opening week, the room looked as if it had always been there and the relaxed patrons were looking like Parisian regulars.
Having had a very interesting and full lunch already we didn’t get to try the desserts but we will come back for sure. If the sweet part is as authentic and flavoursome as the savoury one, we will definitely have a try of the Crêpes Suzette flambées, one of Wendell’s favourite desserts.
Sit on the side and you will have a great view of the boasting Kensington street and its arty atmosphere.
Bistrot Gavroche offers a wide variety of French rums. The Heritage building in which the restaurant is installed, on the first floor, was a rum barrel stocking facility built in the 1800’s. As a homage to these old walls, the Gavroche team decided to create an exceptional rum menu.
When leaving I noticed this beautiful little stained glass art déco lamp.
We will certainly come back to try the other French traditional dishes including the Onglet à l’échalote: hanger steak, a rare cut to find in Sydney, which I love dearly. I want to try their charcuterie platter, the roasted goat cheese salad and the trout tartare among other things :)
NOTE: this post is not sponsored.
Dinner and lunch:
from Monday 21 March, 11.30am–2.30pm / 6.30pm–10pm
(note – no Sunday lunch or dinner service until Sunday 4 April)
From Sunday 4 April
Monday – Saturday: 11.30am–2.30pm / 6.30pm–10pm
Sunday: 11.30am-3pm / 6pm-9.30pm