11 Toorak Rd, South Yarra
phone: (03) 9866 8569
prices: entrees high teens, mains low to mid 30s
Last week our neighbour-Denis-who-is-moving-to-Hong-Kong said he would take us out for dinner to say thanks for the highly embellished reference I wrote him (we used to work together) and told me I could pick the place...
Last night, we headed off for a slap-up feast a la Mr Creosote at France Soir, home of lovely French waiters (who in my experience are NOT snooty if you ask for condiments), and French-bistroiness. It's one of my fave places to eat, even though they once felt it necessary to point out to me that steak tartare is in fact raw (admittedly I was pretty young at the time, I guess it's possible I might not have known and therefore freaked out at being served a plate of raw mince with a raw egg yolk on top...). To start with, they bring you delicious French bread and unsalted butter. No wanky dishes of oil here. And they offer you more once you guts the first lot, rather than glare at you balefully should you dare to ask, as Oliver did, for more. We followed the silver baskets of bready goodness by sharing a dozen oysters (freshly shucked when you order them), which came on a large dish of crushed ice and were accompanied by a niftily-carved lemon and a small dish of some sort of sauce (it was delicious and I think it had garlic in it, and maybe a bit of soy. Hard to say). Very good oysters. I had a fillet steak with bernaise sauce, which was utterly delicious. My dining companions had veal (poor baby cows) and minute steak. We accompanied the lot with a very nice bottle of red (it was French but I don't have a clue what it was - I will say that the wine list was in length comparable to an Umberto Eco novel) and some shared vegetables - peas & carrots with bacon lardons (which it turns out are lovely fatty cubes of bacon) and mash, and they brought pomme frites (as the French call French fries) to the table which we hadn't even ordered, which was a bonus. Although actually it's possible Denis ordered them sneakily to avoid my disapproval of the ordering of two different sorts of potato. Most of the mains don't come with veg or salad, so you do have to order them seperately.
The veal, which came in a mushroom and white wine sauce was pronounced "exotic" by Denis (although exactly how veal in a mushroom sauce could possibly be exotic I am left wondering), and also "delicious". And the minute steak disappeared (fittingly) in about a minute, accompanied by a red wine sauce, so there didn't seem to be any complaints about that, either. The pomme frites were eaten with the remainder of my bernaise sauce, so there was no need to ask for mayonnaise.
The steak tartare on a previous occasion was delicious - they prepared it "to taste" meaning you can ask for the requisite amount of spiciness and make sure it's not too full of capers (do ask about this as the time I didn't I found there were WAY too many capers). It's not as good as the steak tartare at the Macleay Street Bistro (73a MacLeay St Potts Point, (02) 9358 4891) in Sydney (where I've been told if you're lucky you may spot Paul Keating grabbing a bite of dinner), but it's pretty good. They bring yet more pomme frites with it, but I prefer to ask for some extra bread. There's nothing like steak tartare on some soft white bread with a thick layer of butter (insert Homer-style drooling here), although for anything other than tartare or a bread pudding I'd rather a rye or at least a grainy bread.
Also well worth it are the French onion soup, which is satisfyingly hearty and cheesy, and the salad with blue cheese dressing. I have had blue cheese dressing in other establishments, only to find it either too cheesy or not cheesy enough, but like Goldilocks, I found the blue cheese dressing at France Soir just cheesy enough.
If you're a vegetarian - one of the crazy sort who doesn't eat seafood at any rate (we all know it's okay to eat fish cause they don't have any feelings) - go somewhere else for dinner. You're not going to get any love here. Other than salads, there are not really any vegetarian options on the menu (even the peas have bacon in them, for heaven's sake), and they are not all that likely to be obliging if you ask, as the woman on the next table found out when she did. The waiter went away to confer with the kitchen staff and came back to tell her "We can do you some steamed vegetables" (in snooty French accents). Eventually it seemed they settled the matter of an entree by offering her an asparagus and caviar entree "without the caviar".
The dessert was the crowning glory of the evening. Denis ordered a latte, Mr H had a Cafe Royale (which was delish, I tried it), and I had an Earl Grey tea. Unlike some places that do nice coffee but then give you a tea bag if you want tea, the tea was made with leaves, came in a proper pot, and (as requested) was nice and weak (nothing is more disgusting than strong Earl Grey tea - or even worse, milk in Earl Grey tea. People who drink Earl Grey tea with milk shall die by the sword when I rule the world. But I digress). And then came the Creme Brulee, with three spoons - there was unfortunately no way we were going to be able to fit in a dessert each, much as I was simply longing for the Isles flotant, which consists of floating clouds of soft meringue in a light sky of vanilla. But the Creme Brulee was the King of Creme Brulees, crunchy slightly burnt toffee surface, with light cremey goodness beneath. Despite the fact that we were all so full we were threatening to explode like Mr Creosote the dessert disappeared directly.
I can only say it was lucky they didn't offer us a wafer-thin after dinner mint, or there would have been an incident.