Food News

Coming soon: Porcine, a new-school French bistro in Sydney, without the steak frites

There’s a former Old Fitz chef in the kitchen, an ex-Don Peppino’s owner on the floor, a whole pig every fortnight, plus a seafood- and veg-focused menu. This piggy is going to market with a lighter and brighter style of Parisian cuisine.

Porcine's Nik Hill and Harry Levy.

Yvonne C Lam

To enter Porcine-in-progress, you need to dodge the HANDRAILS ARE WET sign at the foot of the staircase, the wobbly letter T formed by a plank of wood precariously balanced on another plank of wood, and a pile of dust. The forthcoming French bistro by Nik Hill and Harry Levy, golfing friends turned business partners, is very much in pre-production.

They’ve been at it for six weeks in Sydney’s Paddington, transforming the former upstairs space of Mickey’s Diner into something worthy of their vision for lighter, brighter French food.

Relics of the old Mickey’s remain. Red velvet curtains frame the wide window that looks onto Oxford Street. A neon sign reads “Cocktails & Dreams”. Is it aspirational? “It’s real,” deadpans Hill. “Cocktails and dreams. You can’t have one without the other.”

Porcine is a homecoming of sorts for the duo. For Hill, who turned heads with his French-inflected British pub food at Old Fitzroy Hotel, it’s a return to his French culinary training forged at Sepia. For Levy, of the now-closed Don Peppino’s located 900 metres down the road, it’s funny how things come Full Circle.

“It feels weird once again being on Oxford Street, in Paddington, in an upstairs venue. I don’t know how that happened,” says Levy.

Cocktails and dreams are on the menu at Porcine.

Nose-to-tail cooking might be a tired trope of restaurant press releases, but Porcine walks the snort. Each fortnight a whole Berkshire pig from Hungerford Meat will arrive, to be broken down and turned into sliced leg ham and lardo for smalls, head meat for terrines, chops, tomahawks and T-bones for mains. Hill has his sights set on “big country-style sausages” and cretons, a Quebecois potted pork spread.

The pig-a-fortnight plan is only possible thanks to the sizable kitchen downstairs. “We cooked a lot of pork at The Old Fitz and it seems fitting while we have the space here to utilise a whole pig,” says Hill. “That said it’s not a bacon-themed menu.”

The menu swings the other way too – a lighter incarnation of French bistro food, a freshly sprouted off-shoot of the roux- and cream-based dishes of cookbooks past. “There are lots of old-school places that do beef Bourguignon, duck a l’orange and steak frites … But there are also lots of places with amazing veg, seafood dishes and fresh, seasonal produce,” says Levy, name-checking new-wave Parisian restaurants like Le Baratin, Le Chateaubriand, and Clown Bar. (French “neo-bistro” Bistrot 916 has also recently opened in Sydney’s Potts Point.)

To wit: a Fremantle octopus “barigoule”, whole John Dory with sauce vierge, vegetables in bay-leaf vinegar and olive oil for summer, root veg with fried rosemary for winter. A salad of potato and smoked eels, courtesy of Hill’s slinky side-hustle Smoke Trap Eels. And he’s backing the ’80s canape in the form of a scallop and fennel vol-au-vent with Champagne velouté. “Some people say the vol-au-vent left. But I never saw it go,” says Hill.

There’s a wine and cocktail list in the works, though diners can BYO for a $25 corkage fee – handy, considering their location above the freshly minted P&V Paddington.

Hill and Levy, golfing friends turned business partners, cosy up at Porcine’s “DJ booth”.

For the meantime though, there’s a fireplace to fix, a balcony to tidy and a playlist of French pop music to formulate. Ex-Old Fitz sous chef Abigail Amen will join the kitchen soon; Matt Fitzgerald, front-of-house manager and restaurant all-rounder, is giving the stove a decent scrub-down. (For Hill and Levy, both of whom are on their L-plates, Fitzgerald plays another vital role – their driver to the markets.)

And before their slated opening in mid-March, they’ll likely agree on the correct pronunciation of “porcine”. They turn to Google Translate’s speaker function and nod their heads in approval. “Good accent,” says Levy.

Porcine is set to open in mid-March.

Upstairs, 268 Oxford Street, Paddington, NSW

Open Thu–Sat for dinner, Sun for lunch

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