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