IN AN article a few years ago titled ‘‘ Perfect Plates – the 50 best dishes in Australia’’, compiled by restaurant reviewers around the country, almost half the dishes chosen were what might be called retro comfort- food, the sorts of dishes found in sauce- stained, dog- eared cookbooks as those from the likes of Neil Perry, Ferran Adria, Tetsuya Wakuda and David Thompson.
The list was a timely reminder that good food remains good food whatever the moment’s fashion.
It also explains why, 20 years after opening, Julie and Jean- Claude Rival’s Le Provencal in South Hobart is as popular today as it has ever been.
‘‘ We’ve never tried to be fashionable or the cutting- edge best. We just want to provide reliable and consistently good food that pleases people,’’ Julie said.
What has pleased countless diners over the years are exemplary renditions of the French classics. Nothing flashy, no superfluous garnishes, just quality, consistency and a simplicity of preparation and presentation that a chef can only get away with if given expert technique and refined taste.
As much as such current- menu items as soupe a l’oignon, subtly flavoured with lovage champignons a la grecque, lightas- air chicken quenelles, terrine de campagne, magret de canard and filet de porc au poivre vert might conjure up memories of Paris’ Latin Quarter, it’s the sauces that define the restaurant – a deliciously rich grape and brandy sauce with the chicken livers, an impeccable basil cream sauce with the quenelles and, of course, the real- deal bearnaise sauce with grilled fillet steak that patrons won’t allow to be taken off.
They’re a well- worn litany from the French culinary repertoire, seldom seen today and rarely done better than here.
And if, like a foodie couple dismissively said recently ‘‘ We no longer do sauces, they are soooo yesterday’’, then it’s good to remember Le Procope in Paris. Open since 1686, it fed the French revolutionaries and has catered to France’s cultural, artistic, political and demimonde notables since. It still serves bearnaise sauce with its brochette de boeuf.
I don’t know how long a restaurant has to be around in Tasmania before it qualifies to be called an institution. But, for its many loyal diners, Le Provencal must come close.
TRADITIONAL TASTES: Julie and Jean- Claude Rival provide consistently good food. Picture: RICHARD JUPE