Theres a lot to be said for suburban gems. In fact, for this weeks review I plan to say 850 words about one in particular. In the novelty-obsessed world of restaurant reviewing its nice, once in a while, to salute the stayers of the industry dining rooms where you can always be guaranteed a good meal for your money.
Thats why this week weve ended up at the cosy Kooyong French diner known as Koots Salle à Manger, where owners Patrice and Catherine Repellin have been putting the "oui" into cuisine since 1999. Their chic shopfront restaurant shines in summer, when its jasmine-draped rear courtyard is the setting for long, lazy lunches. But its even more enticing in winter, when the sandstone hearth crackles to life, the tiered chandelier twinkles onto the street and diners huddle in convivial groups around smartly clothed tables.
Despite Koots Salle à Mangers obvious attributes, theres no escaping that name a sort of hybrid Aussie-French title that possibly confuses both nationalities. Australians might understand koots to refer to either (a) a local waterbird or, more uncharitably, (b) the average age of the diners. But they might be less confident in declaring that salle à manger is the way French people say dining room. Personally, I think Salle à Manger on its own would be nicer and easy to Australianise perhaps Cellar Monjay but this is not my restaurant so Ill defer to the superior neighbourhood nous of Les Repellins, who clearly dont need any advice from an upstart blow-in like moi.
The crowd, incidentally, is not particularly antique at all but a well-to-do cross-section of this blue-ribbon belt who, like me, have been lured inside by the promise of a crackling fire and cracking-good French fare.
Butter-glazed heirloom carrots in paintbox colours of purple, orange and yellow brighten up a quinoa-based, walnut-dressed salad rounded out with creamy goats curd, smoky baba ghanoush caviar and an irresistible golden fritter of puréed salt cod (brandade).
The wine list, a French-Australasian collaboration, seems really quite reasonable. Theres a heap of decent drops under $50 and a Puligny Montrachet premier cru for the not-outrageous sum of $155. In other good news for diners, theres a prix-fixe two-course lunch for $30 and, between Tuesday and Thursday, they can BYO one bottle per reservation at $15 corkage. Between the wines and the cocktails, theres plenty of good drinking to be had here.
Our meal just gets better with the arrival of the cheese soufflé, a puffy pudding baked until appealingly dark at the fringes and sitting in a Vesuvius of tomme and gruyere béchamel. We destroy that soufflé in record time.
Chef Repellins fresh take on traditional French recipes is obvious in the thin apple tart we have for dessert. Its a slimmed-down tarte tatin with a wafer base of puff pastry topped with impeccable apple slices, beurre noisette or hazelnut butter ice-cream, and dusted cinnamon. The tried-and-true flavours play nicely together but the advertised caramel was sparse. But this is a minor quibble, a mere bagatelle.
Koots is now very firmly on my eating circuit, despite being miles from home. If I can get there at least twice a year for the simple pleasures of a polished three-course meal, a crackling fire and seamless service, Ill be happy.
Eat thisKoots Salle à Manger
479 Glenferrie Road, KooyongCuisine Modern French Chef Patrice Repellin Hip pocket Three courses for about $70 a head Open Tues-Fri, noon-2.30pm; Tues-Sat 6-10.30pm Highlights Food, wine, service, fire Lowlights The clunky name Bookings Oui Phone 9822 3809
We rate 7.5 out of 10