Adam decided to take me to Bistro Guillaume last night, a two-hatted restaurant at Crown that I had been looking forward to visiting ever since it opened in 2008. A highly successful chef, with a much-praised restaurant, Guillaume at Bennelong in Sydney, and with dozens of awards to his name, Guillaume Brahimi’s Melbourne restaurant is widely known for its unpretentious, bistro-style cooking not dissimilar to that of Bistro Vue‘s and Philippe Mouchel’s Brasserie a few doors down. A booking was made a few weeks ago for 6pm. But ever since that booking was made, I had heard not-so-unsavoury things about that place such as the widely-held view that they were strict on food photography (according to Dave) and that only a week or two ago, they were denounced to one hat status when the Good Food Guide was released. We both knew that we were in for an interesting night.
So, we ended up being about half an hour late no thanks to Adam’s aunty wanting us to bloody install real player on his dad’s laptop just so they can watch some stupid Chinese series, and THEN not realising that the city circle would waste about 15 minutes going up and down the Docklands. We did ring up the restaurant to inform them that we were late and they seemed okay with that.
Occupying the space that was previously owned by Prada, Bistro Guillaume attracted $10 million just for its furnishings. Its interior was a mix of old world charm and a hint of the new with its pretty pantaloon-like lamps that hung over the tables and its funky lounge area where the bathrooms were situated. It was a romantic setting (i.e. dim lights, effing…), perfect for those on a date but also appropriate enough to take clients and families to. We were seated by the window, which overlooked the Yarra – obviously not as good enough a view as the Sydney restaurant would offer and the fact that we had to deal with stupid footy bogans outside yelling out “CARN THE CROWS!” and “GO PIES!” every so often spoilt it for us.
After ordering our food, my glass of Te Mata Gamay ($14) was poured in front of me, a light yet acidic red wine from New Zealand that would go well with the steak that I would later consume. We also got a slice of wonderful sourdough bread from Noisette bakery along with an unsalted butter pad.
Almost immediately, our freshly shucked oysters arrived with a shallot and red wine vinegar sauce ($3.75 each). I requested half of them to be Sydney Rock oysters, and the other half Coffin Bay. These oysters were probably the smallest of their kind I’ve seen served at a restaurant but they were probably one of the freshest. While the sauce was nice enough, I felt that it was too strong for the oysters and I was happier just eating them au natural with only the slightest hint of lemon juice.
There was a bit of a wait for our entrees during which we discussed which bars we should hit to watch the Collingwood vs Adelaide game. I couldn’t really give a crap about the game but because Adam’s an avid Collingwood supporter, he HAD to watch it and I suppose I had no choice but to tag along (I mean, he WAS my ride home, heh).
Adam’s steak tartare ($24) was a football-shaped mixture of finely chopped raw eye fillet combined with Cognac, capers, pickles, Worcestershire sauce, eggs and probably 10 billion more herbs and spices. It was served with a handful of lattice potato chips and a small herb salad to offset the density of the steak tartare. It was big enough to render Adam almost half full but we both felt that while the marinade was delicious, it was a tad overpowering.
My seared scallops ($18) were definitely the highlight of the meal. Three large, juicy scallops, seared in burnt butter, sat proudly amidst a sea of velvety Jerusalem artichoke veloute, baby spinach and a delicate chicken jus. Each element was so silky, so smooth and so orgasmically wonderful that if I could only muster up one single word to describe it, it would be perfect.
After all that hype, I was disappointed to say that our mains were a bit of a let-down. They took a good half an hour to arrive, which was not good especially since the restaurant was not even a third full at this time. Finally, when our mains did come, both of us managed a small gasp when we saw Adam’s main…
Introducing the $45 fish and chips, a Bistro Guillaume signature dish and one that other punters often wax lyrical about. Indeed, the presentation was amazing. A whole whiting, painstakingly deboned, was crumbed and then fried whole before being presented on a bed of Jenga-like pommes Pont-Nouf (potato blocks) and accompanied with a disk of garlic butter. You’d think that something that looked this amazing would taste just as good, right? Sadly, this wasn’t the case. We both found the fish too dry and stringy, and it didn’t really taste any better than a $5 whiting fillet, crumbed and then grilled at your local fish and chip shop. In fact, the best bit of the dish were the pommes Pont-Nouf which were amazingly crispy on the outside and soft and pillowy on the inside.
My steak frites ($39). I requested my sirloin steak (100% angus beef) to be cooked medium rare and served with bearnaise sauce. Although I was given a special steak knife to eat with, I found cutting the steak to be extremely difficult as it was as hard as a rock. Upon cutting the steak, however, the meat was cooked exactly how I liked it so it wasn’t like it was overcooked or anything…
My steak was alright but like Adam’s fish and chips, nothing to sing about. So underwhelming were our mains that we didn’t bother staying for dessert (none of the offerings sounded appetising either). The bill was $166 which I guess was fair given the restaurant’s reputation and given that we were both full. Upon leaving the place, however, we both agreed that apart from the scallops, there was nothing on the menu that would make us return again. We both know that bistro food isn’t meant to be creative … but we both know that it isn’t meant to be boring either. We have been to French restaurants that serve bistro classics that not only been executed perfectly but were also adventurous, Brasserie by Philippe Mouchel to name just one. The mains at Bistro Guillaume, on the other hand, just felt like they were something that a pub would serve. Okay, so maybe your local pub wouldn’t present a piece of whiting like that but taste-wise, they would produce something almost identical. I don’t often agree with what the reviewers in the Good Food Guide say, but I have to wholeheartedly agree with them when they decided to take away one of Bistro Guillaume’s hats this years. The restaurant might try to fool us with their pantaloon boudoir lamps and their one grand padded chairs, but unless they start being a bit more creative with their mains like they did with the scallops, then we are not very likely to come back.
PS: They were actually okay with us taking photos, what are you talking about Dave?!
-Went to The Pub @ Crown to watch the footy. Unfortunately, we were stopped by the bouncer and asked to produce ID cards. I told him that I forgot to bring mine but after he asked me how old I was, he let me in. For some reason, the pub’s TV screens constantly had stupid messages flashing on top of the footy coverage (eg “CARD XX, YOUR TABLE IS READY”) which annoyed us to no end so we went to Sportsbar (?), only a hop, skip and jump away.
-At Sportsbar (or whatever the place is called). I got asked for ID but I was again let through. The place was a mix of young men in jeans and fluro t-shirts, young girls in cheap Supre short dresses and middle-aged women from Queensland. We left at half time to go to Fed Square.
-Fed Square. We watched a solid quarter of football on the big screen before the coverage was rudely interrupted by promotion ads talking about how awesome Fed Square is. It was hilarious seeing Adam getting hysterical about not being able to watch the crucial quarter of the match… and having to wait in line for about two whole minutes to get into Transport was a nightmare for him (though funny for me, haha!). Eventually, we got in and finally got to watch the rest of the game with a bunch of other non-bogany Collingwood supporters while a DJ spun some 70s funk music. A great way to end the night (even if I had to see another Collingwood win, ugh).