As a child, I remember thinking about French food as being exotic, sophisticated and only for rich people. French food, I was sure, came with crisp white starched tablecloths, heavy silver cutlery, and food cooked in heavy rich sauces with, ewww, wine.
Of course, as I later discovered, French food is nothing like that. The French love their wine and their food but their meals are light and small in portion. I still remember my wide-eyed awe in Paris, foodstruck by the beckoning patisseries, boulangeries and compellingly pungent fromageries.
We revelled in the novelty of standing up to drink our coffee, eating in friendly family-run bistros and luxuriating over the last of our prixe fix as we watched the world go by.
Dining al fresco at Sydney's Sel & Poivre (Salt and Pepper) recently, it was hard not to agree with its motto "a touch of France in the heart of Darlinghurst". The French staff (all are multilingual) were endearing, the hospitality was warm and the food was delicious. And if we had any doubts about its authenticity, the French family of five next to us had all three children happily digging in to platters of garlic-drenched escargots.
Salmon Tartare and Toasted Baguette $15.90
Crispy Galette of Fresh Swimmer Crab, Leeks and Sauce a l'Americaine $13.90
A true French galette is made only from buckwheat flour and water, without the use of any milk or eggs. I went halves in this dish which was packed with plenty of fresh crab and tender leeks. The galette wrapping was paper-thin and so carefully wrapped I looked in futile for the secret to its enclosure. The sauce was rich and delicious too.
Roasted Goat Cheese, Walnuts and Mixed Salad with Vinaigrette $13.50
Pork and Duck Rillette with Cornichons and Baguette $11.50
I also went halves with the pork and duck rillette which arrived in a giant ramekin big enough for three. We had to order more bread and the three slices of baguette fell far short of doing the generous quantity of rillette any justice.
The bread, by the way, was sensational. A golden flaky crusty with soft fluffy almost buttery insides. The rillette was tasty although I'm glad I went halves in this one. Even then I was offering samples of the remainder which I still couldn't quite finish.
Grilled Chicken Breast, Spring Leeks, Mash Potato
and Ravigote Sauce $19.50
Seasonal Vegetables and fresh Spaghetti with a Tomato Salsa $14.50
Confit of Duck Leg with Puy Lentils and Salad
Seared Veal Liver with a French Shallot Sauce and Frites $18.50
I had already known what I was ordering before arriving at the restaurant. Intense scrutiny of their online website menu had me mentally ordering the rillettes and the seared veal liver without question.
I love liver's strong flavour and utterly unique texture; it's meaty but soft, juicy but sticky, and when cooked with flair, it is utter perfection.
The veal liver here is cooked rare although cutting into it, it is a reassuring dark pink without any blood. It is amazingly meaty tasting, like a grainless wagyu.
Frites (for two orders of seared veal liver)
The veal comes with golden brown shards of frites. They are crisp and crunchy and do such a good job of soaking up any remnants of the veal's sticky, meaty french shallot sauce.
Chocolate Souffle Fondant $15.90
Dessert brings a round of overt negotiations. Our necks have been craning all night checking out the dessert concoctions floating past us to other tables.
A lovelorn couple beside us share the chocolate souffle fondant and we blatantly stare as it is set down upon the table. A fork breaks the surface and we are immediately overcome with the intense aroma of molten chocolate. This immediately convinces one person that this dessert must be hers. And it is indeed as chocolatey and rich and goo-ily comforting as it had promised.
Apple Tarte Tatin served warm
with Creme Anglaise and Vanilla Ice Cream $12.90
Instead I negotiate another round of halves in dessert, thereby enabling me to partake in not just one, but two types of dessert.
The apple tarte tatin is, ah, tarter than I imagined. It is topped with brown sugar tanned wedges of tart apple, affording a suitable partnership with the light and slightly sweet creme anglaise.
Authentic Creme Brulee with Fresh Vanilla Beans $12.90
My favourite memory of the night, though, is the creme brulee, which arrives in a giant white ramekin that elicits a chorus of breathy "wow"s.
The tentative thwack of spoon against toffee cracks open the sugary crust to pale smooth sweet custard. The ramekin is actually quite shallow which means a delightfully decadent ratio of toffee to custard. Even better, the custard is positively light, a just-set wobble of silky custard and nowhere near as heavy as your usual brulees.
The rillettes, the liver, the creme brulee... who wants a whack of the Euro when you can enjoy the touch of the good ol' Aussie dollar.
Cafe Sel & Poivre
263 Victoria St Darlinghurst 2010
Tel: +61 (02) 9361 6530
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner
Monday to Friday - 6.30am til late
Saturday and Sunday - 7.30am til late
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3/25/2006 05:35:00 p.m.