chez olivier le bistro – take three

121 Greville Street, Prahran
www.chezolivier.com

Third time’s the charm: after an offer by Chez Olivier’s owner to try the restaurant again, and a $100 voucher as motivation, Robyn and I headed back for a quiet, anonymous dîner à deux.

It was a hot Melbourne evening and the cosy restaurant was all but deserted. We chose a table in the cooler back room near the air conditioner but after a few minutes the draught got uncomfortable, so the waiter happily moved us to a larger table away from the direct blast.

A bottle of 2006 Château Noaillac from the Médoc hit the spot despite the heat of the day. We sensibly ordered first and talked later, otherwise we’d never have gotten to the food. For starters, we shared a pissaladière – an onion, anchovy and olive tart – with a serving of coquilles St. Jacques. The tart was tasty but not as substantial as I would have expected. The coquilles were just divine, and I quietly wished that all three were mine. They would be worth going back for themselves.

For main course Robyn chose the confit duck special and I, predictably, chose steak frites. Robyn’s duck was good but, she said, a little overdone. My steak frites was plentiful, perfectly cooked medium-rare and just what I wanted.

Dessert was out of the question but the waiter chose us a glass each of an alternative red to finish the night. All told, the service was friendly, unobtrusive, helpful and attentive. The food and wine were most agreeable, and most importantly, the company wonderful.

At just over $150 for two (most of which was covered by the $100 voucher) Chez Olivier is not a cheap option, and in my opinion it’s still not the best value in town. However, with money no object my conclusion is not to choose Chez Olivier for a large dinner party, but for a smaller table of two or four. At this size, they acquit themselves pretty well.

 

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chez olivier le bistro – reprise 2011

Thirteen months after our first lovely experience at Chez Olivier the Bistro, we came back again for dinner with a friend home from France. It was the day after Bastille Day, and the wintry weather outside made it a perfect choice for some good hearty winter food.

Unfortunately, whilst most of our food was perfectly lovely, the service was appalling. We had a new waitress who did not know her way around the menu. Fine: we all have to start somewhere. Six out of a table of seven chose starters, but only four arrived at once. Two were presented to the table under different names, one under a name nobody had ordered. People had started eating before the staff came back and started swapping plates around.

The wait between courses also appeared quite lengthy. Then the same thing happened: only five out of seven mains came out. We waited for quite some time before we could find someone to tell us that the waitress had fallen with two dishes and they had to be made again. Would have been good if they had volunteered this up front. We gave up on our side dish of broccoli, as nobody seemed to know anything about it. Halfway through our mains, the waiter who had taken our orders came and apologised as he had forgotten all about it and had not put the order through.

Combined with accordion music so loud one of us had to go downstairs and ask for it to be turned down just so we could hear our own conversation, it was a disappointing experience. For almost $100 a head including wine, Chez Olivier’s is not a cheap option, and I can think of half a dozen other places with better service I would rather frequent.

I fear this was our final visit to Chez Olivier.

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>chez olivier

>121 Greville Street, Prahran
www.chezolivier.com

Winter Solstice is upon us again. Well: officially tomorrow is the shortest day, but my trip to Sydney tomorrow put the kibosh on our usual 21st June celebration of winter. So a Solstice Eve Sunday luncheon was in order.

Eileen suggested Chez Olivier in Prahran, a tiny slice of France in Greville Street surrounded by chi-chi boutiques and jewellery shops. We found Mena sipping a Baileys at a window seat by the bar, surrounded by pastis bottles, fifties French posters, urns full of wine corks, and French waiters wearing black waistcoats with the tricolour on their breasts.

We gathered at an upstairs table, by a huge picture window – great for natural light. We had the whole floor to ourselves. Mena, in her element, ordered escargots for a starter. Each snail came served in a tiny steel jug, drowning in butter and laced with garlic. My warm goat’s cheese salad had a centrepiece of crusty bread smothered in beautiful chevre. Onion soup, a seafood millefeuille, seafood bisque and a caramelised onion, anchovy and olive tart completed the traditional French fare for first course, all washed down with a good pinot chosen by Kelvin (of course).

After a decent interval, the mains arrived, all accompanied by a 2006 bottle of Sanguine Estate’s Heathcote shiraz. Duck ruled, with Mena choosing the magret of the day served on creamy mash and wilted greens, Robyn choosing the “Frozzie duck”, double-roasted and served with lemon and pepper mash, bok choi and pickled ginger, and a few more opting for the cassoulet a la “Jacky”, with duck confit and pulses.

My bouillabaisse was full of fresh salmon, prawns, mussels and scallops, but could have been a lot more tomatoey and a lot more garlickey. Orlando’s baked salmon was served with creamy mash, and looked good but Orlando thought it ordinary. A second bottle of the Heathcote was ordered, but like a lot of the wine list they were out of stock so we upgraded to a 2006 Sanguine Estate d”Orsa shiraz which did very nicely.

Desserts looked and tasted good for the most part. The mousse au chocolat (Orlando’s choice, naturally) was a huge helping served with fresh strawberries. A few chose the “self-saucing, self-indulging chocolate fondant” which lived up to its legend. My tarte tatin was a little disappointing: none of the bite of a good cooking apple in there. And Mena completed her classic French lunch with crepes Suzette complete with flaming Grand Marnier, which she pronounced divine.

Interestingly, from Sunday to Thursday the restaurant charges $11 a head for whatever wine you have chosen, so despite the wine list suggesting a total bill of about $200 for the wine alone, that is all we were charged – $11 a head. This certainly made up for the limited availability of some wines on the list. Total bill for seven came to $598, which was about $85 a head.

By then, we were alone in the restaurant, the wait staff had mostly gone home and those remaining were preparing for the evening’s sitting. The light was fading as we wrapped ourselves in coats and scarves against the chilly evening air. Quite a civilised solstice lunch to mark the passage of time in winter. Tomorrow, the days will get longer by a cock’s stride, and we can look forward to spring.

As for Chez Olivier, despite one or two pedestrian meals, our overall experience was lovely, and fantastic value too. I can imagine this will become a favourite winter haunt.

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>bistro vite

>Southgate, Melbourne

I will admit the main criterion for choosing a place for dinner this night was location. We had tickets to see The Bar at Bueno Vista in Hamer Hall, and we needed to be close. Eliminating all the Italian places that would have been higher on my list to accommodate Orlando, this was what was left.

At least it was cosy. There were people dining outside, and whilst it had been a pleasant day, it was pretty chilly when the sun went down. The wait staff were nice enough but absentminded. The maitre d’, I have to say, was aloof.

Starters were a mixed bag. Orlando’s smoked salmon salad was decently-proportioned, and Kelvin’s zucchini souffle looked good enough, but not much like a souffle. Our French onion soup was tasteless. We tried some salt, and then Eileen went searching for black pepper. Neither improved the taste of this blandness. A bowl of hot beef Oxo would have been nicer.

Two roast ducks and two steak frites came next. The duck was nice enough, Eileen and Kelvin said, but the skin – the best part of course – was limp and not at all well-cooked. Our steaks were generous but less than average. I left the last one-third of mine because I couldn’t get through the gristle. The French fries were nice I have to say: a huge bed of them with the juices of the steak mingling with the tiny amount of garlic butter I had allowed to melt before I took it off the plate.

All in all, a pedestrian meal. I would not be lining up to dine in Bistro Vite again.

>le parisien geelong

>15 Eastern Beach Road Geelong
www.leparisien.com.au

A long lingering lunch with my sister Mena was in order. We had much to catch up on. we headed to Mena’s favourite place on a breezy Sunday afternoon, to sit by the water and graze the afternoon away.

I was feeling really ill, with a chest infection picked up in Perth just not going away. I kicked off with two paracetamol and a full-fat Coke to get the heart going, quickly followed by a nice glass (or two) of Austin shiraz – a local red. I was starting to enjoy this.

We both chose the seafood chowder to start, and we were not disappointed. This is one of my favourite soups and it is rare to get a good one anywhere I find. By the time I had soldiered through mine I was feeling much better and wondering how I could fit my main course in.

The waiter had taken a shine to me so our service was impeccable. The owner, a grand-sized Frenchman, also took time to visit each table and chat with the lunchtime crowd. It was a nice vibe and we really felt at home sitting at the window. There was no rush.

An elderly lady came in to lunch alone, nicely dressed up in a navy blue suit complete with hat. Perhaps she had been to church that morning. It seemed to me that she was a regular – maybe she had a favourite dish she had every week. She stayed about an hour and then walked briskly on home along the waterfront in the wind. I want to be like her when I am that age.

My fillet steak Cafe de Paris was huge: topped with sauteed mushrooms, bacon, onions and garlic butter it was a heart attack on a plate but I dug in and mopped up the sauce with chat potatoes. We tried to ignore the complimentary French fries on the table but failed dismally. My defence is that I did my sore throat good with all that salt.

How we managed to leave I do not know. We sat for over four hours putting the world to rights, sipping on our wine and finishing off with a couple of good quality lattes before facing the long drive home. It was comfort food at its best, and a location probably best enjoyed in the autumn or winter months when you want cosiness with your lunch.

At $202 the bill was not cheap, but I can see why it is Mena’s favourite and I will find an excuse to accompany her there again!