In Melbourne we really are blessed with an abundance of good, often great, eating. Gastronomy is our middle name. Bistro Gitan is a welcome new asset.

Bistro Gitan

16:12:PM 01/02/2012
Kendall Hill

Specials, not just deserts: Bistro Gitan's kitchen.
Specials, not just deserts: Bistro Gitan's kitchen.

Whenever I eat a meal in a restaurant – which is quite regularly – I sit there chewing and ask myself: “Is this better than I could make at home?” Much more often than not the answer is yes.

In Melbourne we really are blessed with an abundance of good, often great, eating. Gastronomy is our middle name.

Bistro Gitan, which opened in October, is a welcome new asset to the city’s repertoire of fine diners and its success is not surprising given the restaurant’s pedigree.

A prime South Yarra corner site, the old Fawkner Bistro, is now in the hands of three offspring of the legendary French chef Jacques Reymond. Edouard (ex-MoVida), Antoine and Nathalie Reymond, assisted by their father/partner, have conceived a relaxed and airy bistro with confident service and the sort of food I really couldn’t make anywhere near as well at home.

It takes considerable talent and training to turn out decent French cuisine, and ex-Jacques Reymond chef Steven Nelson obviously has both. Engagingly savvy floor staff spruik his food in a high-ceilinged, quite elegant dining room with plenty of light and a bar that does casual eating and fireside drinks in winter.

Hervey Bay Scallop
Hervey Bay Scallop
Speaking of drinks, there’s ample temptation to be found in Bistro Gitan’s winelist, which picks its grapes from noteworthy vineyards here and in Europe and features a considerate selection of wines available by the glass, 250-millilitre pichet (small jug) and half-litre carafe. There’s also a reserve list for those special moments when you fancy blowing more than 200 bucks on a bottle.

The cellar’s pan-European bent echoes a menu that occasionally deviates from classic French fare to present snacky churros with gruyère, for example, or black Angus beef with churrasco sauce. But the daily special, an intensely Gallic salad of grilled sardines, sautéed lambs’ brains, croutons and sauce gribiche, reveals the kitchen’s true loyalties.

We start small – “a mouthful” according to Gitan’s graduated menu – and order a Hervey Bay scallop with panzella salad. I think that should be “panzanella” but don’t want to out myself as a pedant or a fool by saying so. Besides, my lunch companion, a French swot, has already corrected the entire menu on the blackboard above the kitchen servery. There were only four errors.

Anyway, the scallop is tiny, really just a mouthful, and is paired with a minimalist arrangement of golden croutons, ground olives and tomato slivers glistening in a slick of very good olive oil.

It reminds me of an amuse-bouche except I’ve never paid $8.50 for one of those before. An underwhelming start to an otherwise crack menu.

Six nuggety snails nestle in the dimpled pockets of a palette-shaped dish, swimming in hot garlic butter seasoned with ground almond. The snails are springy and willing sponges of the butter and they explode in the mouth like garlicky bombs.

I’ve never had a croque madame quite like the Gitan version. It’s a sandwich of two fluffy, almost cake-like slices of grilled white bread packed with chilli jam-smeared blue swimmer crab, palm hearts and a gruyère béchamel. It is rich, sinful, remarkably light.

When the Petuna ocean trout arrives I dive in with a fork and am, momentarily, speechless. The trout comes “a la plancha” from the grill, and the four pumpkin-bright pieces are overlaid with thin cantaloupe slices and underlaid with a fresh

horseradish aioli.

The canteloupe steals the show. It’s just stunning with the trout. It seems unusual to serve fruit and fish but, when you think about it, not so unusual. Lemons, tomatoes, oranges and olives can all work beautifully with seafood, and Atlantic at Crown already does that fancy prawn cocktail with cubes of rockmelon jelly.

There’s a nod to the family heritage in a sort of fish casserole called la pôchouse that hails from the Reymonds’ home region of Jura, beside the Swiss border.

A plump white hunk of hapuka has been baked in the oven precisely a point and arranged in a bowl with white onions, tiny champignons, a smidge of kaiserfleisch and some sorrel. It is a lovely dish, largely because the fish is so perfect. The french fries we order to go with it are catering quality and let the team down a little.

Desserts might range from a simple fromage blanc with sugar and fresh fruits to waffles flavoured with lemon maple syrup and something called pineapple sauce nutella.

We err on the side of safety and go for the special of honey sabayon gratin, so creamy and sweet and slightly torched on top, layered over plump, spectacular cherries and chopped strawberries spiced faintly with cinnamon, star anise, juniper berry and orange rind.

It’s a well-executed, slightly unorthodox but enjoyable classic. The same could be said for much of the menu at Bistro Gitan.

Eat this

Bistro Gitan,

52 Toorak Road West,

South Yarra

Cuisine European

Chef Steven Nelson

Hip pocket About $70-$80 a head for three courses

Open Monday 5-10pm; Tuesday-Friday noon-10.30pm, Saturday 3-10.30pm

Highlights Suave service, super food

Lowlights Minor menu disappointments

Bookings Good idea Phone 9867 5853

Bistro Gitan on Urbanspoon

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