Confit duck leg was the dish of the night
Jon Langevad estimates he’s been complicit in the deaths of tens of thousands of ducks since he was served a substandard poultry meal about 12 years ago. He’s made it his mission to serve quality dishes using the meat in his restaurants.
“It was around the time we opened our first restaurant. So we decided to specialise in duck. We wanted to make something our signature dish, so why not duck,” says the chef.
Langevad and his partner, Ulla Hiltula, opened their first restaurant, Raffles, in Middle Park in 1999 and ran it for three years, before deciding to retire. But six months after playing golf and tennis, Langevad needed a new challenge. So in early 2003, they opened a rundown restaurant in Fitzroy and named it Mon Ami. Langevad ran the kitchen and Hitula worked front of house.
Trio of scallops
Eight years later, when Mon Ami had a well-established local following, the thought of retirement beckoned again, so late last year the pair decided on another challenge. Langevad, a former finance controller, calls this one their superannuation.
But Paris Grill, which opened in February, had a troubled beginning.
“We had 13 chefs in 13 weeks,” says Langevad. So he hired John Paul Sebastian (ex Mietta’s and Delgany) to work at Mon Ami with Hitula, and took over the kitchen at Paris Grill himself.
There are six entrée choices, two with scallops, and about a dozen mains – six with duck. Most nights, there is an additional duck special.
The chef’s description of his food is accurate: “French food is about the depth of flavours and the different things it brings to your palate at the same time, while Scandinavian food is more about singular flavours and freshness.”
This cuisine union is evident in a trio of scallops presented in their shells and resting on a fine tomato braise. The sweetness of the scallops and the rich, acidic-but-sweet sauce are a classic French-style match, but a creamy tartare-style dollop on top added bite and freshness. The Canadian scallops were of excellent quality and cooked with care and precision.
Less impressive was an entrée quail dish, cooked in piri-piri spices and served with green apple and confit grapes. The sauce and the grapes were earthy, sweet and delicious, but the texture of the quail was a letdown. It was too firm and the meat was tight and unresisting. Perhaps that was just unlucky.
Pistachio créme brulee
A twice-cooked duck breast “served pink” from the specials arrived on a cauliflower puree served with a braised cherry sauce. It was a good dish; sweet meat, slightly acidic sauce and well-treated accompaniments.
“The breast is roasted first as this sets the meat, and that way I can keep it pink and full of moisture,” says Langevad. The dish arrived with a tiny duck-shaped piece of puff pastry, which Langevad calls his “duckette”. It’s served with every duck dish.
A confit Gippsland Pekin duck leg, with zested orange on a red-cabbage relish, was the dish of the night. The tender leg was cooked in duck fat at 110 degrees for just over three hours. Orange, herbs and spice added depth and character to the meat, while the red cabbage, tossed with a small kick of chilli, added the aforementioned Scandinavian freshness. The dish was served with buttered kipfler potatoes and a double-baked parmesan soufflé, which provided a strong “French” contrast in its texture and its salty, savoury flavours.
Other meal choices include three risottos (one of them with duck), a beef bourguignon, steak grilled to order and reef fish with a champagne-and-caviar sauce.
The cheese and dessert lists tread a safe, comfort-food path. The house specialty is crepes with buttered almonds, Amaretto and almond ice-cream, and there’s also a honey-and-orange panacotta. We chose the house-made French-style caramel ice-cream, served with a shot of Drambuie – its burnt-toffee taste and creamy texture were excellent – and a notable passionfruit-and-pistachio crème brulee, with a fine toffee crust and just-right silky, just-runny texture.
Paris Grill retains its duck “theme” right to the end. As you leave, look up. There’s a bamboo duck on a chair over the door. There’s a duck-napping story involved. But ask the owners. They tell it better than I can.
Despite a troubled start, Paris Grill is a well-suited addition to Port Melbourne’s waterside. Its fine-dining, comfort-food aspirations show promise and the potential to attract a loyal, local clientele, as did its sister restaurant, Mon Ami in Fitzroy. Summer
will draw bigger crowds to this appealing establishment, which shows personality, humour and originality delivered by its well-travelled owners.
Paris Grill, 49 Beach Street, Port Melbourne
Phone \ 9646 1101
Head chef \ Jon Langevad
Prices \ Entrees $14-$18; mains 23-$39; desserts $14-$17
Open \ Dinner Tuesday to Sunday; lunch Friday to Sunday
In lieu of a wine list, Paris Grill has a “wine wall” from which diners can browse the considered collection of reasonably priced, predominantly Australian and French, wines. Boldly select your own, or ask for help. The idea was taken from a bistro in Saturnia, Italy, visited by the owners, and adds theatre to choosing wine. More drama is added by the owner’s prolific photography display, which includes an imposing self-portrait that hangs above the fireplace and striking black-and-white images of architecture, café life and nature. High arched windows and tall ceilings are elegant bones for the $100,000 renovation, which includes high-backed chairs, sand-coloured walls, splashes of deep red and, in winter, tapestry-look tablecloths.