2 Malthouse Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9662 1632
Just over two months ago, I was doing mid-week dinners frequently. I was also on Kat Eden’s two-week ‘no grain’ eating challenge which involved, yep, eliminating grains from my diet. My reasons for going on this eating plan is beyond the scope of this blog (after all, who I am to give you nutrition, dieting and exercise advice when I’m blogging about 10-course degustation meals and visits to macaron stores?), though it may be the topic for a future post should I run out of restaurants to visit. Maybe. These days I’m back at uni (working four days a week and doing a full-time study load = harder than getting 2500 in Supercoach) so these mid-week dinners don’t happen as often. And I’m back on the grains (though I’m eating them less frequently). You’d think that a pasta lover and being Asian (and therefore, wired to eat rice every single day) would mean that I would struggle on this no grain eating plan. Okay, so it was hard – but it wasn’t impossible. In fact, I was able to have a decent meal at French Brasserie without a single grain entering my mouth.
This mid-week dinner was kinda spontaneous. Shirley and I didn’t bother with a booking so we kinda entered the Malthouse Lane restaurant with light trepidation, thinking that there WAS a possibility that we’d be shunned away for not rocking up with a booking. Seas of empty tables, however, indicated that we were in the clear so we grabbed a table by the door and admired the restaurant’s towering ceiling and polished wooden floors. If tall, dark and handsome were a restaurant, French Brasserie would be it and Serge Gainsbourg would be the kitchenhand.
We decided to take advantage of their $39.50 two-course pre-theatre special, which was on offer for patrons dining before 7pm Monday – Saturday. While we weren’t rushing off to see Mary Poppins that night, I had all new episodes of Gossip Girl and 90210 lined up for my viewing pleasure as soon as I got home. Although the pre-theatre special included a glass of wine, we swapped our wines for non-alcoholic drinks (an LLB for me, and most likely a Diet Coke or a fruit juice of some description for teetotaler Shirley).
We were served warm chunks of baguettes and wasabi butter. Let me tell you, it was friggin’ DIFFICULT not to grab a piece of baked gluten goodness, smear it with wasabi butter and shove it in my mouth. I did, however, manage to have a taste of the butter which was creamy with the slightest hint of horseradish flavour, minus the heat. It was lovely but I can’t help but wonder why they gave us so much bread yet so little butter?
Although the pre-theatre menu gave us two options per course to select from, we both ended up ordering the same thing for our entrée and main dishes. For our entrée, we both ordered the house-smoked salmon, cucumber, dill and yoghurt dressing. The only difference between mine and Shirley’s is that hers came with the brioche and mine didn’t.
For some reason, my non-brioched version looked better – heeh! This was a dish that was prettier than it tasted. Okay so the salmon’s subtle smokiness was lovely and married well with the dabs of yoghurt dressing which, to me, was like a smoother and dill-infused version of a tzatziki. It was refreshing and the slippery slivers of salmon were beautiful but overall? It didn’t really make an impact on me. For all I know, I ruined the dish by deciding to omit the brioche but Shirley’s thoughts also mirrored mine – it was good, but not remarkable.
We each ordered the chicken breast with mash potato, baby vegetables and red wine jus for our mains. Yes, there is potato present in this dish and yes, potatoes are a form of carbs but it’s not a grain so don’t put my head on the chopping block just yet. I’m sure Dr Dukan wouldn’t be terribly annoyed either. Again, I give props for presentation but the dish was somewhat underwhelming. Okay, so the chicken breast cooked just fine (reasonably moist, tender) and the (albeit slightly salty) red wine jus went well with the bird but not so much with the cooked vegies, all of which sat on the plate awkwardly like a bunch of elementary school kids in the presence of Kenny Powers (sorry, been watching an Eastbound & Down marathon while nursing a fever today).
Although French Brasserie is all about textbook French fare, we thought the desserts sounded too boring (champagne jelly with fruits, and rose bavarois) so we decided to have our sweet treats elsewhere. While we thought the food was fine, it veered towards the safe and boring side. Plus, the servings were minuscule even by fine-dining standards – no wonder French women never got fat. Meanwhile, the service varied from extremely friendly (with a hint of quite-possibly-faux French accent) to confusing (I asked the waitress if I could have my entree without the brioche and she said, “certainly” and then stood there, waiting for me to tell her what entrée I wanted even though it was implicit my question re: the brioche that I wanted the salmon dish. And THEN she still manage to get our orders mixed up by presenting the non-brioched salmon dish in front of Shirley and the brioched one in front of me!).
Will I go back? While it wasn’t bad bad, there are better brasserie-type restaurants in Melbourne (and in the CBD alone). All of them provide food which may be textbook French food, yet still manage to satisfy and their portions are big enough to not have us running to Bread Top or Maccas for supper. I guess the only reason I’d recommend a visit to French Brasserie is if you want to lose weight (as the portion sizes are ridiculously small) but then again, there are cheaper ways of doing so.
Oh, and because you’re all DYING to know where we went for dessert.
We ended up going to Papa Goose, which was a short stumble from French Brasserie. I was annoyed that I couldn’t nibble on Shirley’s OMGSOFKNFANTASTIC Eskimo Pie dessert (chocolate biscuit = grains, baby), but my white chocolate pannacotta, poached cherries, sour cherry sorbet and cherry soil was just as delicious. Although I was assured that this dish was grain-free, I had a sneaking suspicion that the dehydrated cherry and white chocolate ‘soil’ also contained gluten but oh, whatever, the sorbet was melting and the cherries were begging to be eaten – no time to worry about trivial matters like a dessert’s grain content! It was a brilliant dessert – the fresh cherries and the tangy sorbet captured the essence of the last days of Summer while the pannacotta gave the dessert an element of richness. It was better than our meal at French Brasserie.