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Monday, December 08, 2008

Chez Pascal, Ramsgate

We're halfway through dinner when it happens again.


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
(Blackboard special)

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
(Blackboard special)

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
(Blackboard special)

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.

Chez Pascal
250 Rocky Point Road, Ramsgate, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9529 5444

Opening hours:
Dinner Tuesday to Saturday from 7pm

Bookings essential
(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

Related GrabYourFork posts:
French--Becasse, Sydney
French--Forty One, Sydney
French--La Grande Bouffe, Rozelle
French--La Guillotine, Sydney
French--La Peniche, Stanmore (Bastille menu) and (dinner)
French--Little Snail, Pyrmont
French--Mere Catherine, Potts Point
French--Paradoxe Restaurant Francais, Crows Nest
French--Restaurant Blancmange, Petersham
French--Sel & Poivre, Darlinghurst

Sydney South--Big John's Pizza Restaurant, Sans Souci
13 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 12/08/2008 11:31:00 pm


  • At 12/09/2008 12:48 am, Blogger Simon Leong said…

    yum yum. this place has been on my must visit places for ages now. it's good to know it's actually worth checking out now. i can't believe you ate brains. OMG, you are a true carnivore! i salute you.

    simon :-)

  • At 12/09/2008 7:29 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm glad you enjoyed the experience. It was an interesting nite. That man has a very loud voice. We can now cross it off the list.

    One of the first things I do at a new restaurant, besides checking out the desserts, is to check if salt & pepper has been provided atthe table. Can see why they didn't have any. Food was good but a tad salty.

    So glad we compacted our stomachs and found room for the crepes. They were so alchoholic and so good. Especially the toffee bits.

  • At 12/09/2008 8:35 am, Blogger Annie said…

    The pate looks great! And that crepe! I don't think you would want to spoil the caramalised goodness of it with ice cream!

  • At 12/09/2008 9:50 am, Blogger Howard said…

    I love the look of that Pate. This place looks pretty 'authentic', not that I know what authentic French is ... but it looks pretty good.

  • At 12/09/2008 9:53 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm so impressed at the brain eating! I thought I was being adventurous with my black pudding!

  • At 12/09/2008 10:59 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    That Crepe Normandie looks stunning.....

  • At 12/09/2008 12:23 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Yum, apple crepes, they look superb. I wonder how hard it would be to make at home.

  • At 12/09/2008 12:44 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Wow, the prices are so reasonable there! I have to admit I like brains too until a reader sent me a link with the amount of cholesterol in them (like 2000% the RDA or something similarly scary). Still, once in a while isn't too bad!

  • At 12/09/2008 6:26 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oohh sounds like its really worth trying! Added to list thhxx ^^! Ahh brainnss what kind of brains were they? I have tried pig, lamb and chicken so hopefully this can be a new one :)

  • At 12/09/2008 7:51 pm, Blogger Y said…

    What amazing looking food! That onion soup looks divine. And all that golden butter the brains are swimming in! .. though personally, I prefer sweetbreads to brains.

  • At 12/09/2008 10:56 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Simon - We had tried booking in for their Bastille Dinner years ago but were thwarted by a lacked of foreward planning. It was great to finally get there.

    It wasn't my first encounter with brains but yeah, I'm all for hardcore dining. I think I'd give most things a go. And I love my offal anyway.

    Hi Veruca Salt - It was memorable indeed. I think that family-run suburban restaurants with 'character' like these need to stick around for a long time. So much more rewarding than the soul-less restaurant chains.

    I didn't know you always looked for the salt and pepper. Perhaps it's a sign the chef is confident about his seasonings?

    The crepes were superb. I think I will always remember them in my top 10 desserts of all time!

    Hi Annie - Oh the crepes were so good you really didn't need ice cream. I think the Chef's whole Soup Nazi attitude to the exclusion of ice cream is hilarious though. Never before have I seen the words "forget it!" in bold on a menu! lol

    Hi Howard - It has a very homely French feel to it, not posh or awkward by any means, but rather endearing with its random knick knacks and obvious sense of family pride. An increasingly rare thing these days - we need to hold tight onto the ones that still exist!

    Hi Reemski - Ahhh I feel smarter already. lol. I have a habit of choosing weird and wonderful things on the menu. Usually driven by "what would I never cook at home or find elsewhere?". Never ventured, never gained, I say!

    Hi Aptronym - The crepe was superb. I wish I could go there just for dessert!

    Hi Arwen - I'm not sure. I'm not sure whether they're cooked on the stove and then grilled on top. They were great though. I'm sure experience and classic French cooking training goes a long way too!

    Hi Lorraine - I'd believe that about the cholesterol - the brains were so so rich (and then I followed it up with beef cheek! lol). Glad I had them though. I think they were executed with impressive finesse.

    Hi FFichiban - I'm guessing they were lamb brains. On the hunt for new brains to try? Good luck with your gustatory mission!

    Hi Y - Ahh the golden butter was my salvation :) I've only had sweetbreads a couple of times, and I did enjoy them. I think that crumbing always helps. I find crumbed lambs brains a lot more palatable :)

  • At 12/10/2008 10:20 am, Blogger sophie said…

    Oh this is such a good find! I moved to Sydney from Melbourne earlier this year and have spent much of the time bemoaning the difficulty of finding good eating places.

    Now hopefully I won't have so much trouble.

  • At 12/10/2008 9:10 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Sophie - There a lots of good eating places in Sydney. You just have to know where to find them :)

    I have a list of "favourite feeds" near the top of the right hand side panel. Most are affordable, otherwise happy browsing - and dining!


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