Some things are quintessential to a bistro experience in France. Authentic food, a welcoming ambience or un acceuil chaleureux, attentive and personal service coupled with a certain charm and je ne sais quoi that grabs you as enter the premises. As is a Kir Royale as a choice of apéro.
Café Sel et Poivre in Darlinghurst has all these essential ingredients.
François-Xavier welcomes us on arrival and I find myself slipping into French mode and conversing with the bilingual staff as if I am in Paris – something I rarely do in Sydney. We are offered a choice of a table on the trottoir or in the shelter of the courtyard. The dining room is buzzing at full capacity on this Saturday night.
Kir Royal, Courtyard, Paris Métro Map
We choose the privacy of the courtyard and have our choice of table. Naturally, I sit within view of the kitchen, taking the occasional peek behind the scenes. The map of the Paris métro takes me back, as does the selection of French songs filling the night air with memories of travel.
The menu at Sel et Poivre is what you would want from a traditional French bistro. The Kir Royale, a measure of Crème de Cassis topped up with Champagne ($12) makes the choice an easy one. Unfortunately, Mr G could not come along and we won’t be doing the customary plate swapping.
Rillettes de porc et canard avec cornichons – Pork and duck Rillettes with cornichons and baguette
I start with the rillettes de porc et canard avec cornichons ($14.50) which I spread over sliced baguettes. The flavours are rich, intense and remind me of rustic home cooking.
The duck fat is flavoursome and melts on contact with the bread.
Pâté de campagne et cornichons – Country style pâté with cornichons and baguette
The pâté de campagne et cornichons ($14.50) is equally flavoursome a generous size serving with a little green salad.
Tartine de Rocquefort et Proscuito – Tartine of Rocquefort with Proscuito
The tartine de Rocquefort et Proscuito ($16.90) is served bruschetta style on toasted bread with Rocquefort cheese – a slightly unusual combination but one that is quickly savoured by my friend who remarks on the piquant flavour of the Rocquefort.
Joue de bœuf braisée, sauce vin rouge – Marinated braised beef cheeks with Miramar Cab/Sauv sauce
My main course of joue de bœuf braisée, sauce vin rouge ($25.90) is rich and intense. The beef cheeks are so tender that they fall apart on contact. The bacon adds a smoky flavour but the sauce vin rouge with Cognac, port and red wine makes this dish a winner.
Filet de bœuf sauté, sauce au poivre ou Béarnaise – Grilled Eye Fillet (220 g) with a green peppercorn cream sauce or Béarnaise sauce
Tender and cooked to taste, the filet de bœuf sauté ($31.90) comes in 220 g and is served with a green peppercorn cream sauce or Béarnaise sauce, which my friend orders both.
Braised smoked pork hocks with green lentils casserole
But the pièce de resistance comes in the form of the blackboard special. The braised smoked pork hocks with green lentils casserole ($31.00) has our pork tasting expert swooning in delight. In retrospect, I should have stolen a forkful when he wasn’t looking.
All the dishes are accompanied by crispy pommes frites. A couple of glasses of Château La Gravelle, Bordeaux, France, 2004 ($11.00 by the glass) go down well with our main courses.
The dessert selection is tempting with an authentic vanilla bean crème brûlée, a chocolate marquise with crème anglaise and profiteroles filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with chocolate sauce. But we find ourselves defeated, and only one of us orders dessert.
Classic Tarte Tatin with crème Anglaise
The warm Tarte Tatin gets high praise with its evenly caramelised apples on top of a crumbly pastry, accompanied by crème anglaise and vanilla ice-cream. We are tempted to change our mind on dessert but as we are making room for cocktails at the Victoria Room, we decide to leave it for another evening.
Café Sel et Poivre is the type of bistro that takes you back to the first time you fell in love with the food of France. The service is attentive with a blend of casual charm that makes you feel right at home. The bilingual staff happily swap between French to English which add to the ambience. The food is well executed with authentic flavours that are set to bring you back so you can work your way through the menu.
Authentic French cuisine is what Café Sel et Poivre is known for. But François-Xavier said it best when he told my friends, “The food is as authentique as Madame’s accent”.
Café Sel et Poivre
263 Victoria St
Darlinghurst NSW 2010
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