A POR­TION OF PARIS

David Bent­ley savours a taste of the City of Light at a new Bris­bane brasserie

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

RES­TAU­RA­TEURS Tony Harper and Tim Kelly have trans­ported a cor­ner of Paris to For­ti­tude Val­ley with their new bistro La Belle Epoque, and what a won­der­ful trans­plant it is. La Belle Epoque is fran­cophilia on a grand scale: chefs, wait­ers, menu and wines are French; there are french fries and French just about any­thing else you could imag­ine. To step inside this cav­ernous 200-seater is the next best thing to time travel: sus­pend dis­be­lief and you could be in Mont­par­nasse in the 1930s.

A long, sump­tu­ous bar in­vites leisurely con­ver­sa­tion, and slow-mov­ing fans are sus­pended from a pressed metal ceil­ing, which is art­fully dark­ened to cre­ate the im­pres­sion of decades of ac­cu­mu­lated ci­gar smoke.

In busy times, the room hums with a con­vivial hub­bub: drinkers lin­ing the bar, din­ers snug in their red leather booths.

La Belle Epoque owes part of its in­spi­ra­tion to Paris’s his­toric Left Bank brasserie La Coupole, first known for its bo­hemian clien­tele (Pablo Pi­casso and Sal­vador Dali lin­gered there), more fa­mous now for its ar­ro­gant wait­ers. French-speak­ing wait­ers out­num­ber lo­cals two to one at La Belle Epoque and they are charm it­self.

The mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar fit-out also closely re­flects the suc­cess­ful New York brasserie Balt­hazar, which opened in 1997 and took its cue from La Coupole’s time-hon­oured for­mula. The con­cept ap­pears to be work­ing well in Bris­bane. At­tempt­ing to book a ta­ble for Satur­day evening, I had to settle for lunch the fol­low­ing Tues­day.

Our waiter, splen­did in his long white apron, turns out to be a po­lite, unas­sum­ing young Aus­tralian who mag­i­cally ap­pears when needed, dis­ap­pear­ing when not.

The menu in­cludes the sal­ads, cold en­trees and seafood dishes ap­pro­pri­ate to Bris­bane’s sub­trop­i­cal cli­mate as well as tra­di­tional French meals such as onion and madeira soup ($13.50), casse­role de moules mariniere ($26.50) and ca­nard a l’orange ($31).

It’s a bistro rather than a tem­ple to haute cui­sine, but the dishes none­the­less re­spect the es­sen­tials of clas­sic French cook­ing.

They are de­cep­tively sim­ple, el­e­vated by tech­nique, sauces and dress­ings. Serv­ings, in the main, are sub­stan­tial. A side plate of frites fraiches ($8) amounts to al­most a meal.

We choose a mod­est beau­jo­lais, 2005 Louis Jadot Combe aux Jac­ques ($42), from the al­lFrench wine list cho­sen by Harper, a ded­i­cated wine man whose pre­vi­ous ven­tures in­clude the award-win­ning Grape wine bar in For­ti­tude Val­ley and Anise in New Farm.

For en­tree, Mrs B or­ders fric­as­see of lamb brains with mush­rooms ($16.50). The dish ar­rives in a tiny cop­per saucepan com­plete with lid, invit­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the flavours within. Mush­rooms tend not be a com­mon ac­com­pa­ni­ment for lamb brains but in this case it works a treat. Creamy mas­car­pone wine sauce lends pi­quancy to the softly tex­tured of­fal and the resid­ual juices taste de­li­cious when mopped up with a piece of baguette. I opt for ocean trout ril­lettes ($15), a cold paste of shred­ded trout topped with mar­i­nated crab meat and served with crou­tons. The flavours are rich with­out be­ing overly com­plex. It makes a fine be­gin­ning to the meal.

Be­tween cour­ses we savour a salade Belle Epoque ($22), a sym­phony in green, in which but­ter let­tuce, wit­lof, green beans, toasted wal­nuts, wal­nut vi­nai­grette and the mild, lightly veined cow’s milk cheese Fourme d’Am­bert all play a part. This salad tastes as good as it looks. The se­cret is in the wal­nuts, mar­i­nated in cit­rus juice with a lit­tle zest added, then roasted. The cheese con­trib­utes sharp­ness. The vi­nai­grette blends the flavours.

Mrs B has or­dered the fish of the day and when our mains ar­rive and she heaps praise on the fresh­ness of the pan-fried snap­per served on a bed of sweet potato and gar­nished with a lively salsa verde ($29), I re­gret not

Check­list

La Belle Epoque 1000 Ann St, For­ti­tude Val­ley, Bris­bane; (07) 3852 1500; www.la­belleep­oque.com.au. Open: Seven days for break­fast, lunch and din­ner; bar, noon-1am. Cost: About $50-$100 each for three cour­ses; chil­dren’s menu, two cour­ses, $12. Drink: Ex­ten­sive all-French wine list, from $30 to $2200 a bot­tle, with a good se­lec­tion from $40 to $140; wine by the glass $7-$12. Fifty aper­i­tifs in­clude pastis and ab­sinthe ($8-$45); lo­cal and im­ported beers from $6 to $12. Cock­tails $14.50. Rea­son to re­turn: Clas­sic bistro fare, backed by an in­formed wine list and at­ten­tive ser­vice.

Pic­tures: David Sproule

Breath of French air: La Belle Epoque, with a brasserie-style seafood counter, is caus­ing a stir in Bris­bane

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