Organic Milawa chicken
“The liver crumbles under the knife like plumber’s putty and tastes faintly of gut-scented butter or pressed liposuction.”
The line above does not relate in any way to today’s review. The only similarity is that it also refers to a French restaurant, the legendary L’Ami Louis in Paris. The brilliant British food critic A. A. Gill reviewed it recently in Vanity Fair and declared it “the worst restaurant in the world”. I only reference it here because it’s a shoo-in for the most memorable review of the year (read it online at www.vanityfair.com).
PM24, Philippe Mouchel’s new venture just down from the Hyatt at 24 Russell Street – hence the name – is a French restaurant that bears no resemblance to L’Ami Louis. (And sadly, this review bears no resemblance to the blinding literacy of Gill.) Set in a sexy, sparkling warehouse space of sculptural light fittings and lofty ceilings, PM24 is a classic bistro coupled with a rotisserie where ethically sourced meats are given the juicy spit-roast treatment.
My first visit was on a Sunday when M. Mouchel was not present to greet federal Arts Minister Simon Findlay Crean and his two dining companions. But at Tuesday lunch two days later the trendily black-clad chef was busying himself at the pass in between animated welcomes of visiting VIPs. Former Herald Sun editor Bruce Guthrie was Tuesday’s most notable.
At dinner the meal begins with kitchen-baked rolls presented in a rustic rolled linen or calico sack that could double as an Afghan pakol when empty. The bread is served with olive- and caper-studded fromage blanc served in a stylised sardine can. Beside it is a pat of unsalted butter from Normandy and pink salt from the Murray River. At lunch we only get the butter and salt, no fancy fromage-in-a-can.
The menu will be irresistible to anyone who hankers for authentic French flavours. Entrees run from a charcuterie plate, mostly made in-house, that includes an almost-smoky duck proscuitto with a lacuna of fat on blood-red flesh. Très bon. A velvety smooth chicken liver pate appears to have some remarkable fruits-of-the-forest flavours going on, but a slab of country terrine is liverish and claggy. An uplifting slice of jamon serrano tips the balance in favour of the plate.
Anyone who’s ever recoiled at the thought of eating snails should try Mouchel’s gorgeous little gastropods. They are served Burgundy-style in an iron snail skillet or escargotière, sizzling in a “fondue” of garlic-laced tomato seasoned with shallots and prosciutto. Truly inspiring – I could have easily eaten a dozen.
From the rotisserie, both the organic Milawa chicken and the lamb provide melting moments. Half a saucy chicken that’s been basted with lemon and rosemary is served on its own juices with a few vegetables. It’s very nice chook, especially when eaten with Mouchel’s deep golden and generously salt-crusted fries, triple cooked and tossed with garlic butter and Parmesan for extra goodness. The lamb – two herb-caked ruddy chops and a plump slice of leg – is supple and indulgent. It comes with rustic roasted vegetables, garlic and rosemary.
The wine list mixes premium homegrown and Gallic vintages but also offers eight fine wines by the glass. We try a glass of 1999 Maison Leroy Santenay Côte de Beaune ($28, or $129 a bottle). It’s quite decent but we get more enjoyment from the full bottle – in this case a Lucien Crochet Sancerre.
Service is punctual and knowledgeable as we work our way through several more memorable dishes. A springy, fresh crab cake dusted with chilli; pan-fried gnocchi that’s like tiny tater tots in a butter-and-sage sauce with baby radish, turnip, carrot, zucchini and mushroom; a slab of salmon on a mess of ratatouille with a vinaigrette-like sauce vierge.
The dessert degustation includes a pleasant slice of gateau – hazelnut, I think – a dense and decadent chocolate mousse and the standout ile flottante of light-as-air meringue plonked in a pool of vanilla crème anglaise. Beside it, a scoop each of praline ice-cream and silky berry sorbet.
If you don’t have room for dessert – and you won’t if you’ve already succumbed properly to temptation – rest assured staff will eventually arrive with a groaning tray of pink marshmallow and snip off a chunk of sweetness for you. It’s typical of the savvy hospitality of this new destination diner in the CBD.
24 Russell Street, city
Cuisine \ French
Chefs \ Philippe Mouchel
Hip pocket \ About $120 a head for three courses with wine.
Open \ Sun-Fri noon-3pm; dinner daily 6pm-late.
Highlights \ Terrific cuisine, sharp service, great space
Lowlights \ Weight gain
Bookings \ Recommended
Phone \ 9207 7424.
We rate it 7.5/10