RUS­TIC RE­VIVAL

Ge­orge Me­ga­lo­ge­nis makes up for lost time at a French bistro in Melbourne that val­ues the ba­sics

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

Pop­u­lar haunt: A le­gion of fans ap­pre­ci­ate sim­ple food served with a dash of French flair at Bistro Thierry in Hawks­burn

AGEN­TLE reader’s re­buke from a year ago pops into my head as B and I are strate­gis­ing for the fi­nal re­view meal of 2007. B wants steak, and this re­minds me that last year I was ac­cused of dis­miss­ing one of Melbourne’s bet­ter restau­rants by de­fault. How, the reader in ques­tion won­dered, could I write that a par­tic­u­lar shop­ping strip in Toorak had just one well-re­garded es­tab­lish­ment when I hadn’t tried the other? Fair point.

At is­sue was my put­down of Hawks­burn Vil­lage, which ran in this space on April 8, 2006. I’d given the lo­cale’s Cafe Latte de­served ap­plause but had been mis­led by word of mouth from one name­less politi­cian who lives in the area that that’s all there was.

The reader begged to dif­fer and ad­vised me that the other must-eat venue was Bistro Thierry, a cou­ple of doors down from Cafe Latte and next to the cor­ner pub.

I re­call that con­ver­sa­tion as B men­tions steak bear­naise. She says Bistro Thierry ap­par­ently does one as good as her rus­tic gold stan­dard, France-Soir, in neigh­bour­ing South Yarra. So it’s back to Hawks­burn Vil­lage for a pos­si­ble mea culpa.

We meet at the front of the restau­rant and I gulp. Bistro Thierry looks de­cid­edly stuffy from the kerb­side. The door opens to a Tardis­like glass-and-grilled en­trance that re­minds me of an old de­part­ment store el­e­va­tor.

I spot a walk­ing frame and a clutch of um­brel­las rest­ing in the cor­ner, even though it’s still 20-odd de­grees out­side. I guess, cor­rectly, that the de­mo­graphic seated inside is on the grey end of the spec­trum. It’s Mon­day night, the place is full and we, hes­i­tant 40-some­things, are at least a decade younger than our fel­low din­ers. And that’s where the mis­giv­ings end.

We are struck by the din. Ev­ery ta­ble is in an­i­mated con­ver­sa­tion. Wait­ers are buzzing through the restau­rant like spin­ning tops. This has the feel of a very pop­u­lar haunt.

A mid­dle-aged waiter greets us in French, en­gages the Fran­cophile B in his mother tongue, then switches to ocker to take my drinks or­der. It sounds as if he has been raised in the bush, and re­minds me of the Greek im­mi­grants of my fa­ther’s gen­er­a­tion who spoke the broad­est Aus­tralian I have heard.

The wine list strikes the senses like a cof­fee ta­ble book: too big to take in. I flick to the French sauvi­gnon blancs and punt on a glass of the Roger Cham­pault ($13). I’m told it’s a good choice. B asks for the same, and a bas­ket of sliced baguette is placed on the ta­ble. The bread is de­li­cious and we are on our sec­ond bas­ket be­fore the en­trees ar­rive.

I’m hav­ing a dozen freshly shucked oys­ters ($33), while B goes for the pan-fried cala­mari with mixed leaves and a spicy Proven­cale sauce ($19). The oys­ters are very good, but B’s cala­mari has me en­vi­ous. The rings are thin and tiny, no wider than a 50c coin. I try one and am im­pressed by the soft­ness.

B talks me into the steak bear­naise for main ($34.50). She pleads for medium to well done and is dis­missed by the waiter’s eye­brow, which shoots to the ceil­ing in ex­as­per­a­tion. He mocks her, of course, and prom­ises there won’t be too much blood.

I ask for the eye fil­let to be done medium rare, and a side serve of mixed leaf salad with blue cheese ($10). We tell our­selves to stop eat­ing the bread be­cause there won’t be room for our mains.

The steaks ar­rive in rea­son­able time. They are pre­sented with­out fan­fare, with the sauce and a small plate of fries. We greet the fries the same way as the bread: with a gob­ble.

Our steaks are ter­rific. The tangy bear­naise does them jus­tice in sum­mer. A richer sauce, say pep­per or red wine with shal­lot, might have to wait un­til the footy sea­son.

B rates this steak a lit­tle above her favourite at France-Soir. I place it on a par with Lib­er­tine in North Melbourne be­cause the cut here is equally gen­er­ous.

We squeeze in a shared tarte tatin ($14.50) for dessert. I have an un­event­ful spoon­ful and leave the rest to B. She says it is OK, which makes it the only so-so dish of the evening.

Too many newer restau­rants are hung up on the hy­brid, the plate with more gen­res than in­gre­di­ents. While it would be an over­re­ac­tion for ev­ery venue to swing back to ba­sics, Bistro Thierry should be a model for those who as­pire to do the sim­ple stuff well.

As we call for the bill, I no­tice the venue is fill­ing up with younger peo­ple. Two sit­tings on a Mon­day night. That’s not bad go­ing for a restau­rant I was once told by an un­re­li­able source to ig­nore. All Ta­bles vis­its are unan­nounced and meals paid for. Bistro Thierry 511 Malvern Rd, Hawks­burn, Melbourne. (03) 9824 0888; www.bistrothierry.com. Open: Lunch and din­ner, seven days, from noon. Cost: About $150-$200 for two, for three cour­ses and drinks. Rea­son to re­turn: To try a sec­ond sit­ting when the me­dian age falls. Oh, and to try the lamb cut­lets.

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Pic­ture: Michael Pot­ter

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