Les Bistronomes is a refuge of calm. In the madding crush that accompanies the lead-up to Christmas, with everyone back into frantic socialising underwritten by an anxiety that we suppressed but could never quite quell, the serenity in this corner of the Campbell shops is just what the doctor ordered.
Tables are spaced, staff are evidently harmonious, the pace is gentle. When owner Clement Chauvin comes to chat, he tells us that has learned a new way of operating from COVID - haven't we all - and is sticking with it for now.
Occupancy is below what's allowed, helping everyone feel relaxed. Parking is easy, so you're not arriving after a frantic search and a dash along the streets of Braddon, as when Les Bistronomes was in Elouera Street.
And Chauvin says he's employing only full-time staff, which is surely very unusual in this business. He is not taking a loss from the arrangement, since while there are fewer people, they've got time and inclination to order more, he tells us. Ah the shared epiphanies of COVID! A gentler life is better, we can agree. A locally connected, secure life is better. Tick. Third COVID epiphany, if you can live by the ocean you really should because imagining the buzz of electron ionised air and salty hair is just not the same as living it. That box we cannot tick in Campbell, some hours from the ocean, but the others we can.
Plus, the food gets a big tick tonight. It's upmarket French, a little fancy in parts, more relaxed in others.
Like many, Bistronomes is offering a three-course menu ($85), with choices in each course.
After a number of visits, I remain convinced that the shared dishes are by far the best way to eat here. Beef Wellington for two, if you can deal with that much meat. Or in our case, canard a l'orange, a whole roasted duck with pickled red cabbage. The skin is luscious, crisp but soft to eat with that layer of fat. Duck fat is the best, so tasty and non-greasy. The citrus glaze is lovely and the cabbage sharp with vinegar and slightly crunchy. I like the sharing aspect to this dish, very inclusive.
Somehow we have ordered duck also in the entrees, in a "terrine de cou de canard", a terrine of duck neck which is pretty funky, presumably from the foie gras, but it is also delicate, wrapped neatly in duck skin and sliced. There's slices of nectarine to cut the richness and fat, cured meat, which I guess is duck also, and pistachios.
Boursin ($16) with beetroot crackers is dramatic and pretty, the goat's cheese mixed through with herbs, and served with a beetroot salsa which is fresh and crunchy. This is simple and likeable.
The service is warm and personable.
We're taken aback when the guy offering us wine tells us we liked the Bordeaux blanc on our last visit, which is a recollection from maybe two years ago. Exceedingly efficient memory! Except now I think about it, restaurants keep notes of that kind of thing so perhaps just a decent database.
Since we clearly like full-bodied whites, tonight we're offered a blend from Les Cascades, described (enticingly) as a mongrel mix of vermentino, marsanne, rousanne and muscat. And then a natural wine from Bordeaux, a blend of merlot, syrah and cabernet sauvignon from Advinam.
We really like this super drinkable tasty red, although the bill suggests $29 a glass, which, well, is just a little first world.
The feel is a little bit luxe, with red velvet drapery, gold rope, a long dark-red woven runner on wooden floorboards, and those big wooden fans overhead.
The extra touches are also welcome, like the lovely crusty sourdough with smoked butter, and the pretty apple sorbet palate cleanser. And the desserts, well, they are a triomphe.
Le citron is fashioned as a lemon, with rosemary and white chocolate mousse, covered over by a lemon gel, with a leaf at the top, and a white "geranium granita" which tastes of rosemary. This is luxurious and beautiful and is like eating our garden.
Likewise, "le chocolat" is served as a "cigar", the tube filled with an excellent mousse, sitting, I don't want to say like an ashtray, but on the edge of a dish, with peanut crumble and salted caramel semifreddo, and rosemary at the end which is smoking as it arrives at the table. OK, in the retelling it sounds overly theatrical but in the moment, it's just kind of cool, especially alongside the music that makes us think of Diego Reinhardt.
All in all, we are really happy with our evening at Les Bistronomes and inclined to vigorously recommend it as a great place for a special meal out.
Address: 18 Blamey Place, Campbell
Hours: Open Tuesday to Saturday, for lunch and dinner.
Owner: Clement Chauvin
Chef: Clement Chauvin
Vegetarian: Limited, I'd call ahead
Noise: No problem
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