France may be a wonderful country but Australia is not the most Franco-philic of nations. Sure, there haven’t been any “freedom fries”-type incidents of the sort that in decades past marred Washington’s relations with the Quai D’Orsay.
Nor have the French ever blown up a hippy-ship in an Australian harbour (though if they did, the Prick’d probably buy ‘em a Pastis).
Still, when it comes to the French, Australians are a little bit suspicious and our connections are a little less secure than they are with other European nations. Parliamentary democracy comes from England, Italian is our most-spoken at-home second language and, hey, spag bol is practically our national dish.
But France? Well, don’t go singing a French song on a Melbourne bus if you know what’s good for you.
Thus even in the cultured inner-west of Sydney it’s a bit of a gamble giving a French restaurant a name like La Grande Bouffe. To the un-trained Australian ear the name sounds a little too much like a poorly-named North Shore knock shop, or a highlight of your grandfather’s telling of the tale of the time he liberated Paris – but don’t tell your grandmother!
Yet the name is also a great joke, because – according to a well-cultured workmate of the Prick – La Grande Bouffe really means something along the lines of “the big feed”, or, “strap on the feedbag”, making it sort of like an American roadside eating-barn by way of Google Translator and the French countryside.
While on one level a bit of a laugh – everything sounds classier in French, Darl’! – on another it is deadly serious. Tucked into what must have once been a corner shop down (ironically) the non-Paris end of Darling Street, Rozelle, and seating maybe three dozen people at a stretch, La Grande Bouffe is always convivially full as its little kitchen turns out plates of slightly-fancy, really comforting French bistro fare: There will be no siccing of the ACCC on La Grande Bouffe as it really is a grande bouffe. The Prick can safely report that when one sits down to a meal that includes charcuterie, a hare-and-duck terrine, a twice-baked chevre soufflé, veal shank and risotto, crème brûlée, a good half (maybe two-thirds) of a bottle of Bordeaux, and two or three Calvados, one doesn’t need much in the way of dinner.
And if that sounds like a spoiler for the rest of this review, it’s not. Because our little Sunday lunch party also tucked into fried lambs’ brains – crunchy, creamy little croquettes a brave Nick With a Fork enjoyed but which an offal-loving friend suggested were perhaps a bit too heavily crumbed. (Playing it safe, he had demolished a steak frites like a champion, and was pleased that his medium-rare order came medium-rare and not, as too often happens, medium).
Mrs Prick was disconsolate when a fish pie special topped with puff pastry was sold out, but was thrilled by a giant pot of salmon, cream, and mash which she pronounced “even better”. The Little Pricks also enjoyed a slab of pork belly as big as a paving brick and a perhaps-too-potatoey salmon cake, but who’s counting, because their dessert was an assiette of chocolate fondants, ice cream, and some lovely little pastry thing. Were there off-notes? Perhaps, if one went looking for more than what the place puts on offer, i.e., really nice, slightly homey but in a very good way, French bistro food – the sort of stuff one often wishes one could find in France, but which the Gallic diaspora seems to do better overseas. Lucky us.