There was a time when Braddon was filled with car yards, when Canberra had less than a handful of hatted restaurants, when new dining experiences were few and far between. Enter Les Bistronomes circa 2014, fiery ash-crusted ducks and all. The charming bistro brought a touch of sophistication to the inner north, serving classic French food with a twist.
Over the years Les Bistronomes has relaxed into a neighbourhood restaurant, neither bistro nor fine dining – perhaps somewhere a little bit in between. The otherwise understated dining room is peppered with slightly clichéd odes to the motherland – a bright canvas of the Eiffel tower, a poster of Gerard Depardieu drinking wine. There are no specials tonight but swirls of chalk dusk linger on the large wall-mounted blackboard; a reminder of the attention to detail that is occasionally lacking.
Wines are largely French and the selection of half bottles provide a nice way to quaff your way through the some of the world’s most famous wine regions. The food is consistent and well executed – not the most innovative or seasonal, but true to the classics with a little added twist.
The oysters ($4 each) sing of the sea, are shucked to order and served with a side of mignonette dressing; the condiment in perfect balance with the briny, salty molluscs. The French onion soup ($18) arrives nestled under a perfectly scored lid of golden brown puff pastry. Alas, the topping of Comté mousse, which I was especially looking forward to, has melted by the time it reaches me.
The saucisson brioche ($18) is distinctively French, but here in Braddon could almost be an upmarket twist on the classic Australian sausage sandwich. Buttery brioche envelops the sausage filling and is served with pickled onions, sweet onion jam and mustard. The array of flavours all gently build on each other in very comforting manner – mustard, pickle and meat with the satisfying crunch of pickled vegetables.
The duck a l’orange ($60 for half) is paraded out still smouldering in its ash crust, a wisp of smoke trailing through the restaurant. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a flaming crème brulee being brought to another diner’s table. It’s food theatre in the best possible style – flamboyant, French and oh so fiery. The duck is tender throughout, wedges of citrus add a zing and the sweet but sour sauce pulls it all together in a modern take on a classic.
Beef cheek ($36) is a saucier’s triumph, the glaze deep, rich and glistening with butter. Fried turnip chips add a satisfying crunch and textural contrast to the slow cooked meat. The sides - frites and French peas ($10 each) are a disappointing and seem to be a bit of an afterthought, the shoestring fries oversalted and the peas wrinkled and chalky in the middle.
The passionfruit soufflé ($16) arrives lofty and proud, with a coconut sorbet and a white chocolate dubbed "chilli explosion" on the side. It looks impressive but is just a little off kilter tonight, with a persistent egginess coming though and the flavours competing rather than complementing each other.
Service is friendly but a little slapdash for a restaurant of this calibre. Water glasses are left unfilled, share plates forgotten and an extra dessert added to the bill. All forgivable, but there is a genuineness that is lacking combined with the fact that the waiter, who can’t be much older than I am, keeps referring to me as “young lady” throughout the course of the meal.
Over the years, this neighbourhood restaurant seems to have gotten very comfortable doing what it does. The crux of the menu has remained much the same; for some this may be a negative but Les Bistronomes tried and true formula works for its clientele, who return time and again for the relaxed service and upmarket bistro food. For newcomers, there’s a reliable foundation of French technique in the kitchen but the overall dining experience could do with a bit more polish.
Address: Corner of Elouera & Mort Street, Braddon
Phone: (02) 6248 8119
Owner: Abel Bariller and Clement Chauvin
Chef: Clement Chauvin
Hours: 12-2pm, 6-9pm Tuesday to Saturday
Wheelchair access: Wheelchair and disabled toilet
Noise: Not a problem
Vegetarian: Limited options