We're halfway through dinner when it happens again.
"IS EVERYBODY HAVING A GOOD TIME???"
Chef Philipe Lebreux is standing at the entrance to the dining room, eyes alight, chest puffed, smile from ear to ear. His voice booms across the tiny restaurant. Our table is the closest to the kitchen and hence closest to Lebreux, and not only do we jump out of our chairs with fright, but our ears are still ringing.
We're at Chez Pascal in Ramsgate, known not only for its traditional French cuisine, but perhaps more endearingly, its larger-than-life owner and chef.
Named after Lebreux's son, Chez Pascal has recently moved down the road from its former premises. It's still proudly old school though with a quaint bistro feel. Table menus in plastic sleeved folders are supplemented by a comprehensive selection of blackboard offerings, written in French. Waitstaff patiently recite the eight extra entrees and nine extra mains, a flurry of French accents followed by translations in English. Our French is minimal so it feels like a test as we try to remember each translation. Whilst our waiter recites the French dishes with aplomb, we're amused to hear him lapse into a broad twangy Aussie accent when he defaults to English.
Soupe a l'aignon gratinee $8.50
Traditional French onion soup
There are 14 entrees to choose from, including temption French classics Coquilles St Jacques a ma facon (scallops cooked in olive and leeks $18.50), Escargots de Bourgogne (snails cooked in garlic butter $16.50), asperges au buerre blanc (asparagus in a white butter sauce $19.50) and the fancy sounding foie gras with truffle ($26.00).
We make our selections then start with french damper ($4.00 per half-cob), a warm fluffy bread served with ramekins of plain butter, garlic butter and olive tapenade.
Veruca Salt has the French onion soup, a hearty salty beef and onion broth that is topped with a slice of toasted baguette and Gruyere cheese.
Pate de Foie Masion $14.50
Homemade chicken liver pate with spices, cornichons and toast
Speedy's homemade chicken liver pate is smooth and generously portioned, with toasted rounds of baguette, sweet pickled cornichons and a side of salad leaves.
Champignon aux crevettes $23.50
Salad of field mushroom with garlic prawns
Bellboy wishes there were more garlic prawns in his entree but the field mushroom is giant and delicious.
Cervelle a l'ail $14.50
Brains lightly pan-fried in garlic butter
Meanwhile I've gone for the brains, not a dish I normally eat but one I'm constantly intrigued by. These brains are large and barely disguised. Dusted only with the lightest coating of flour, it's easy to dissect them and identify the white corpus collosum, the tightly compacted folds of the cerebrum and the bountiful pockets of protective fat. Yes, that's when I started to feel a little ill too.
But as a dedicated carnivore, I'm a strong believer in eating and appreciating all parts of the animals we slaughter. The brains are soft and buttery rich, requiring minimal chewing and almost melting on the tongue. The garlic butter helps cut some of the strong flavour. Perhaps the texture and flavour can somewhat awkwardly be described as a cross between bone marrow and steamed tofu.
Lemon sorbet palate cleanser
After our complimentary scoops of lemon sorbet palate cleanser, we continue on with mains. In addition to the six mains on the menu, nine more dishes were offered on the blackboard. I'm almost tempted by the Porc au Roquefort (pork with Roquefort blue cheese $22.50), the Filet de Porc au Cassis (pork fillet cooked in a blackcurrant liquer sauce $19.50) and the Lapin a la Moutarde (rabbit with mustard sauce $22.50).
Joue de boeuf $18.50
Beef cheek with mashed potato
I choose the beef cheek instead - it's a rich dinner for me tonight! Slowly simmered for five hours, the beef falls apart at the mere caress of my fork. The tendons are soft and sticky, the tender braised meat resting on a bed of creamy mashed potato awash with rich (slightly too-salty) gravy.
Faux-filet de Boeuf a la Bourguignonne $21.50
Scotch fillet cooked in red wine, mushrooms, onion and bacon
Veruca's beef bourguignonne is a whole fillet cooked to order (she had medium rare) dressed wth bacon and mushroom in a puddle of red wine jus.
Filet mignon $26.00
Speedy and Bellboy both have the filet mignon, the prized cut of meat from the tenderloin. The meat is cooked to medium rare as standard, the bacon wrapping around the fillet imparting a smoky saltiness to the meat.
We only just receive our mains when there's a booming HAPPY BIRTHDAY from Lebreux. This time he's holding a cake aloft, blazing with candles and heading toward a table in the corner. The entire restaurant is forced to sing along and we're even chided for not hooraying loud enough. "Say it like you mean it!" he scolds. HOORAY, we cheer in amplified response.
No visit to Chez Pascal is complete without ordering the Crepe Normande, a dish so close to Lebreux's heart it comes with strict warnings on the menu. "It will not be served with cream or ice cream! FORGET IT!" it reads. Rumour has it he won't serve the crepes to the table until all other desserts with cream or ice cream have been eaten, lest a spoonful of ice cream is eaten on the sly.
We watch Lebreux whisking our crepes furiously in the kitchen. There's a twenty minute wait and Lebreux refuses to start preparing them until all mains have been finished.
Crepe Normande $14.50
Caramelised apple pancake with Calvados apple brandy
The wait is more than worth it. The crepe Normande is a golden disc of pancake set with glistening rings of fresh apple. Happily doused with Calvados, there's a heady scent of brandy and caramelised toffee that wafts towards us. As luck would have it, I score the extra caramelised crepe whilst Veruca and Speedy shared a more evenly tanned version. It's the highlight of a memorable evening.
250 Rocky Point Road, Ramsgate, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9529 5444
Dinner Tuesday to Saturday from 7pm
(Friday and Saturday nights often book out 2-3 weeks in advance)
BYO $1.50 per person
There's a Liquorland bottleshop next door if you arrive reasonably early
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12/08/2008 11:31:00 pm