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Best New Restaurant 2009: Bistro Guillaume, Melbourne

A team of champions, they say, doesn’t always make for a champion team. Even so, when Sydney’s Guillaume Brahimi accepted the offer to set up on the banks of the Yarra at Crown, he knew it was going to take a special brigade to have the kind of impact Bistro Guillaume has made on Melbourne.

Such is the importance of a team that can only have their captain on the ‘field’ half the time, inevitably the case with a restaurant run by a chef/entrepreneur with more than one iron in the fire or, in this case, fires 1000km apart. The ‘field’, in this case, is the glamorous, sexy Bistro Guillaume, part of the ongoing assault on Melbourne by star Sydney operators, and the restaurant’s key team members have all played a pivotal role in the restaurant’s rapid rise.

Head chef Daniel Southern came to Guillaume with all the right credentials: the head chef at Melbourne’s L’Oustal and, before that, working alongside the brilliant Donovan Cooke at Ondine and est est est. His pastry and desserts chef, Philippa Sibley, is recognised as a leader in her field; a fiery restaurant specialist whose experience as a partner at est est est, Luxe, and Ondine has cemented her reputation for creativity and dedication to her craft.

And, to anchor the floor, Craig Hemmings who made the trip to Melbourne from Bennelong and has quietly established for himself the reputation of a great host and waiter. He is easily one of the city’s best. Throw in, for good measure, the design skills of Hecker, Phelan and Gutrie and, in the parlance of  modern football, it’s a ‘leadership group’ any restaurant in Australia would kill for.

But Brahimi always knew it was going to take excellence, rather than gimmickry, for his bistro to turn heads. If the restaurant was to stand on the merits of its classical French bistro offerings, the food had to be the best it possibly could, built up to a standard, not down to a price. And so it is. The hospitality had to be utterly professional. And so it is, too.

And, finally, Guillaume Brahimi listened to the advice of his neighbour, fellow Sydneysider Neil Perry, who told him creating a restaurant in Melbourne was no set-and-forget exercise, and he acted accordingly; Brahimi has spent a lot of time in Melbourne this year to help convince locals just how good classic French bistro can be when it’s done right.

And, in this instance, an illustrious playing captain with a team of champions has grabbed the flag. A champion team. The bistro is back and it tastes bloody delicious.

Bistro Guillaume, Riverside at Crown, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank, Vic, (03) 9693 3888, bistroguillaume.com.au

WORDS JOHN LETHLEAN PHOTOGRAPHY DEREK SWALWELL

This article appeared in the September 2008 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.

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