As I reminisced last year’s birthday dinner the flavours were and continue to be fresh in my memory and are probably indelible forevermore. But more than the extravagantly perfect meal in itself it was the friends (Cari and Amy) that were back in the America’s in the other side of the world that made me long for another extraordinary French meal fabricated by their own hands. With this in mind I dismissed the long list of suggestions given to me by gastro-gals Marion and Jackie, (the list included Concubine on Gouger Street, Panacea on Hutt Street and The Wine Underground) and went with a suggestion from a waiter at Vincenzo’s (will be posting this review soon) – The Corner Bistrot on Leigh Street.
Quaint, cute, cosy and charming all at the same time, The Corner Bistrot is utterly and completely drenched with romanticism. The place loves up to its name since from the moment you walk in you feel like you’ve been transported to a Parisian sidewalk ‘corner bistro’.
The setting is intimate, with just a handful of tables sprinkled over two floors, faint yellow lighting giving a warm welcoming hue, little wooden tables and petite salon style chairs completing the old world European feel. For a mid-week meal the first floor was running almost completely full, with a good mix of local Australian couples, French speaking couples and a single French gentleman dining alone – seeking out flavours of his home come hell or high water – the true mark of a good French establishment in my opinion!
The wine list is a compact, comprehensive mix of French and domestic Aussie wines. To kick-start birthday celebrations we had to of course slurp down a customary glass of French bubbles.
We enjoyed an appetiser of classic escargot (French snails) done with a contemporary modern twist – out of the shell, pan-fried in butter and garlic with bacon, walnuts, parsley and served with sautéed spinach. My grouse with the escargot was the fact that the spinach seemed to be leaching out a lot of water that thus watered down the richness of the garlic-butter sauce for one, and the bacon was not crisp enough, lacking the justified crunch and textural contrast it could have otherwise brought to the dish. The walnuts however worked in perfect unison, creamy, nutty and complimentary allowing the snails to dominate the dish’s flavour, merely propping it up with an added taste profile.
I had been eying the Bavette avec Vin Rouge – skirt steak with shallots and red wine sauce from the day before, (I looked over the menu over the internet) and opted for a bottle of the Elderton Shiraz. By the time the steak came out my expectations and eagerness had soared high along with my appetite, however unfortunately I was far from ecstatic about my plat principal. While skirt steak is known to be a flavourful cut that is rather tough, if cooked properly it can be tender and delicious. This can be achieved much like the cooking of squid or octopus, by quickly grilling or slow cooking – stuffed, rolled and braised. Devoid of its characteristic juicy flavour the steak failed to impress, sinking further because of the disappointing lacklustre red wine sauce that was runny and diluted, lacking substance and characteristic shine, gloss, viscosity of a French glaze. This I say with the expertise having had several weeks of hands on practice making demi-glace and several of its derivative sauces, including vin rouge.
My partner wisely opted for the fillet of pork with prunes and brandy – a symphony of flavours that melded together effortlessly. The meat yielded to the fork with ease, tender and sweet thanks to the fruit and alcohol.
The Tarte de la Maison sounded intriguing and caught my fancy, especially after having made my first tarte tatin at cooking school that very week. Lemon tart was the special of the day and came out as a single slice on a crumbled cheesecake like biscuit base instead of the luxurious puff pastry base I was anticipating.
All in all it was an experience to cherish on the grounds of the fantastic ambience, the feeling of jetting off to Paris for the evening, even if the food wasn’t spot on. The service is tip-top and the prices mild on the whole, serving up set menus at $30, $35, $48 and $60.