Restaurant Reviews

Review: a Martini at 4pm and French onion soup past midnight? It must be Bar Margaux

It may be located in the Melbourne CBD, but French bistro Bar Margaux takes its inspiration from the city that never sleeps.

By Michael Harden
Bar Margaux.
It's an exciting time for hungry Melburnian night owls right now, with all the major food groups, from vegan ramen to aged-cheddar burgers and Bolognese jaffles, available into the wee hours. An excellent place to celebrate this good fortune is at the newest addition to the late-night mix, Bar Margaux.
Brought to you by Michael and Zara Madrusan of The Everleigh and Heartbreaker fame, this basement-dwelling New York-style French bar and bistro would be cause for celebration even if it kept regular hours. That you can get access to one of the city's best examples of soupe à l'oignon at 4am on a Saturday with a solid glass of Adelaide Hills pinot gris is an act of civic charity worthy of a citizenship award.
Bar Margaux owners Zara and Michael Madrusan. Photo: Bar Margaux
The Madrusans' masterstroke – aside from a pitch-perfect fit-out and half-sized Martinis – is getting Daniel Southern on board as executive chef. Southern is a skilled and fastidious chef, a stickler for precise French technique and mother sauces, who applies his exacting standards from oyster to crème brûlée. Putting him in charge of a menu of French greatest hits immediately flagged that Bar Margaux intended to be as serious about its food as it would undoubtedly be about its booze.
The French onion soup proves the point. Margaux's is muscular, emphatic and loud with flavour. It's based around a rich veal stock, dark with slow-caramelised brown and red onions, lashings of pancetta, butter, herbs, port, red wine, Heidi Gruyère and toasted baguette. It's just the right kind of rich and salty, an enthusiastic bear hug of a dish, perfect for shift workers and the over-refreshed alike.
Soupe à l'oignon. Photo: Gareth Sobey
There's a similar more-is-more approach with the escargots, which arrive in shells brimming with melted butter that doesn't stint on the garlic and Pernod. The panko breadcrumbs finishing the dish remain valiantly crisp in the face of the butter onslaught.
The steak tartare, on the other hand, is more about precision than heft, the eye-fillet trim as precisely chopped as the shallots and capers mixed through the meat, and teamed with a classic, well-balanced mix of ketchup, Tabasco, brandy, Dijon and Worcestershire sauce. The salad Lyonnaise, all soft egg, pancetta lardons, hand-ripped garlicky croûtons and an applause-worthy French-mustard vinaigrette also plays it straight.
It's food that's perfectly in sync with the room. Michael Madrusan's lengthy experience as a bartender in New York City has had a strong influence on the design, the chequerboard floor, glittery white subway tiles, timber and upholstered booth seating and wired-glass room dividers channelling Parisian-accented American joints like Balthazar. Comfortable bar stools, golden back-lighting and sharp service make the bar a great place to hang out, though
the hard surfaces and standing-room-only situation during rush hours can make the noise levels less than ideal for those with sensitive ears.
Inside Bar Margaux. Photo: Gareth Sobey
The deft drinks list ensures there will be as many people using Margaux to drink cocktails as there are flocking there for dinner or supper. The cocktail list is compact and leans towards classics. Two of them – a Martini and Manhattan – come in "snack size", three-gulp drinks for just $12, making them ideal for a midweek pre-dinner tipple that offers a Mad Men-style vibe with half the hangover.
The wine offering leans French, as much through varietal as label, with Whispering Angel rosé from Provence sitting alongside New World versions of pinot noir (Nanny Goat from Central Otago) and a solid list of Champagne that includes non-vintage Krug by the glass.
Bargain-hunters should head to Margaux for the Golden Hour, from 4pm to 6pm every day, when the cheeseburger (rich with a marrow-studded sauce) is teamed with a glass of Burgundy, or moules frites are matched with a glass of Sancerre for just $29.

The value for money is notable. Most of the main courses – including several well-sourced, precisely cooked steaks served with poivre or béarnaise sauce and fries – are priced under $40. Other dishes, such as a superb duck frites that's served with sauce made from the duck bones, still read as bang for your buck.
Order the soufflé, particularly if the blood-orange special is on. The kitchen knows what it's doing. Bar Margaux might seem familiar, but there's really nothing else like it in Melbourne. And, as you're contemplating the menu at 2am, wondering whether to go the boudin blanc or the lobster croque-monsieur, you'll thank it for its service.