French food not your thing? Not really mine either. When I think French food, I think rich food in exasperatingly small portions. I think of Croissants so flaky you loose half the pastry to flakes, soggy crepes, sickeningly rich cheese fondue, gamey duck confit, utterly inhumane foie gras and …certain rude Parisians I encountered in my adult life.
Yes I am exaggerating a little, but…not really. French food is definitely low on my type of cuisine list. But it was a Friday night and I had been dreaming of sipping on the wine/magaritas at Los Hermanos ever since my close friend suggested going there the day before. Unsurprisingly, it was a 50 minute wait. I know right! Isn’t there something inherently hypocritical about long waiting lines at hipster places like that?
Anyway, we weren’t prepared to wait 50 minutes and this hummingbird was looking for some honey suckle. My friend suggested the Small French Bar, a cute little French place tucked away in Footscray which she has always wanted to try and was guaranteed to serve a good red.
We arrived at about 815 and the place was still buzzin. We put on our best puppy dog look and asked if they had a table for two. To our relief, they sent us to the bar and said they would have a table cleared in a couple of minutes. The (not too shabby lookin) wait staff promptly served us a couple of glasses of grenache (well actually one and a half glasses since my friend was the designated driver) which really hit the spot and two sips in we were seated at the bar.
The bar in our opinion, was the best seat in the house! We had a good view of the quaint little casual dining area which was refreshingly not white-table-cloth-stuffy, and the open kitchen, which impressively didn’t consist of much other than a good oven, a very powerful blow torch (for the Creme Brulee) and a fantastically boisterous head chef (who is both full of life and full in figure).
We ordered the Charcuterie and Fromage (Mixte), a board of cured meats, cheese, duck liver pate, gerkins, crackers and warm bread on the side. Though not usually fans of duck liver pate, we both dipped into that earthy perfectly chilled, silky smooth pate like no tomorrow and the wait staff were right there to meet our bread bowl needs (i.e. refilling). Also, though not particularly a fan of cheese, I did really enjoy one of the hard cheeses, and my dear friend took care off the rest. The portions were very generous – good value for a Mixte board and I would highly recommend it.
Our mains slid across the bar counter just as we finished the Mixte board and when I had finished my first glass of red. I had ordered the Tartare (Raw beef, lemon juice, pickles, spices, raw egg yolk and salad) and my friend ordered the Fillet Roossignol (eye fillet, duck liver parfait, roasted potatoes, salad). The dishes looked like homey, no frills, country style French cooking – definitely food I could get on board with. I had watched the head chef lovingly prepare my steak tartare just minutes ago, skillfully chopping the meat up by hand and sprinkling a generous amount of pickle pieces over the dish. He really brought out the cannibal in me and as I broke the yolk, I thought to myself the dish couldn’t get any fresher, and it tasted so – Fresh, textured, with the right amount of spice and acidity. Definitely one of the best steak tartares I’ve had, including the ones I had in France. I looked over at my friend’s plate and it had been polished off, even the duck liver pate which she initially wanted my help with. Second glass down.
The Fondant Au Chocolat had been teasing my friend over the course of the night. From what we could tell, many had been ordered, served and enjoyed and despite how full we were, we weren’t about to miss out. We both let out simultaneous ‘Mmmmmm’s the first spoonful in and licked our spoons clean before going in for another bite. Not a typical molten cake (which has a delicate thin casing and a runny lava centre), the cake gave sufficient resistance but still gave a generous chocolate sauce. Not overly dark or sweet, just good quality chocolate done right. My only criticism would be that although I know it is well accepted technique to refrigerate the batter in the ramekins for a few hours before baking, the center of the chocolate cake was still a little cold when served to us.
We had barely broken into the Fondant Au Chocolat when the head chef, with a straight face (in true French humor) told us they had accidentally made one Creme Brulee too many and pleaded for us to help solve his predicament. We could have played along a bit better but we couldn’t put on a hesitant expression and hide our enthusiasm – it just looked too good! And it turned out to be one of the creamiest Creme Brulees I’ve ever had. Again, not too sweet and without even a hint of gelatin. Trust me, when my friend delves enthusiastically into a dessert, you know it’s good since she doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth.
We ended the night with me taking one for the team and finishing off the final piece of the puzzle (the last half glass of wine). We rolled all the way home in blissful contentment, ready for a great weekend ahead!
Would definitely go back. A must try if you like no frills country French food.