I’m greeted with champagne, sinking back in my comfy chair. The chanson francaise puts me at ease, and for a moment, I forget where I am.
The dogs, too, are in another world: sprawled out beneath the shade of the white-clothed tables at their owner’s feet, lapping up the autumn breeze.
No, I am not in the south of France. I am at Bistro Rivage, in the heart of balmy Palm Beach, an hour north of Sydney.
For ten years, it had been a fine-dining Australian style restaurant, Beach Road. After a trip to London last year, owner Tom Rutherford decided to take the leap and bring a little ‘joie de vivre’ to this sun-kissed Aussie town.
One day last August, Tom, “closed it on a Sunday, took to it with a paintbrush and opened it up the next week with a new sign and a different menu – speaking French!”
Gallic ambiance now runs through the restaurant, with classic blue, white, and brown tones matched with big billowing French flags at the entrance.
Homely touches in the interior include Tom’s old, yellow-stained cookbooks stacked along a central buffet stand, and the long wooden dining table.
Diners are transported to another age with authentic classic dishes like sole meuniere, beef bourguignon and blanquette de veau. Tom says that most tables will have a stew of some description each day – very French classique.
My diet goes out the window as I feast on escargots, confit de canard, brussels sprout fondants, and of course I must sample the decadent chocolate mousse!
Tom points out the duck I am eating has been cooked for about 10-12 hours at 85 degrees, in an airtight bag. Lucky they prepare about 15 a day otherwise I could have been there a lot longer than anticipated..
As I leave the restaurant, a shining object on the wall catches my eye. Tom tells me all the walls have been covered with a clear paint of fleur de lis. I am reminded it’s the finer details that keep diners coming back for more.
From growing up on curry sausages in New Zealand, Tom has certainly learnt a few things along the way.
He heeds the message his chef mentor, London-based Albert Roux abides by: “It’s the things that people don’t notice that make the difference.”
Perhaps one of those divine little details is that even the waiters collect the morning baguettes by Vespa!
I say au revoir and walk away from the bistro into the blaring Australian heat, feeling pleasantly full, fresh and fantastically francais!
Here’s the scrumptious Tarte Tatin recipe from Bistro Rivage.
8 Medium sized granny smith apples peeled and quartered
200g Unsalted Butter
200g Castor Sugar
2 Sheets of pre-made puff pastry
Rose petals and a dusting of icing sugar
Vanilla ice cream
Spread the butter and then the sugar onto a 30cm Teflon frying pan.
Using a small knife trim the core out of the apple quarters and place then on their sides into the pan creating a fan effect around the circumference.
Place the pan on a high heat on a gas hob and caramelise to a golden brown. You may need to turn the pan occasionally to achieve and even colour.
Place the 2 sheets of puff pastry on top of each other, dust with a little flour and roll out evenly until they are the slightly larger than the 30cm Teflon pan. Trim the pastry into a round and place on top of the caramelised apples and tuck in the sides.
Place in a pre-heated oven at 200 deg C until the pastry has turned golden brown.
Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 2 minutes.
Place a tray on top of the pan and quickly flip, allow the tart to release from the pan and remove. Cut into 8 even sized pieces and serve with a good scoop of vanilla ice cream. Garnish with a sprinkling of rose petals and dusting of icing sugar.