A French bistro with a modern spin opens this week on Melbourne's Collins Street.
Lovers of fine rôtisserie chicken, rejoice: Philippe Mouchel is back. The revered French chef who arrived in Melbourne 25 years ago for Restaurant Paul Bocuse and liked the city so much he stayed has finally thrown open the doors on his new city digs - and, yes, the chicken rôtissoire is along for the ride.
Mouchel has had a peripatetic career since the closure of his Crown casino restaurant, The Brasserie by Philippe Mouchel, in 2010. There was the maddeningly short-lived PM24, under the umbrella of the Made Establishment, followed by his deliberately short-lived St Kilda Road pop-up, Déjà Vue. Now he returns with a permanent address, at the Paris end, appropriately enough, of Collins Street.
Philippe, as it's called - perhaps an indication he's reached one-name-only status - takes over a basement space with history of its own. First it was Greg Malouf's Momo, then Jamie Oliver's Fifteen, followed by Tobie Puttock's The Kitchen Cat and most recently Brooks, which went into voluntary liquidation in September last year.
The good bones of Brooks didn't call for too dramatic a makeover from architects Crosier Scott, who've gone a route best described as French industrial chic. "The feel of the place is bistro with modern ambience," says Mouchel. "It was a little dark for me so we've done a lot of work on the lighting, and we put in a vertical garden in the bar area for a little bit of freshness to the room." The addition of a handsome zinc bar mounts a case that this is the city's premier place to slurp freshly shucked oysters au naturel or anointed with seawater jelly and watercress cream.
"A good French bistro" is what Mouchel calls it, backed by a menu in violent agreement. The cooking remains indebted to the alchemy of elegant sauces that don't encumber his personal brand of simple but elegant dishes. "The food has a lot of modern touches, like the cured salmon with walnut mayonnaise, and there are a lot of things I had to do, like the roast lamb on the rôtissoire for two."
Expect familiar names: chestnut velouté (with king brown mushroom crisps), escargots in parsley and garlic butter, and braised beef cheek (with carrots, cumin and bacon emulsion). The haute rôtisserie chicken is the same that wowed the city at PM24: buttery, herby, lemony, served with potatoes cooked in the bird's juices.
Mouchel has something of a dream team. His head chef is Aurelien Gransagne from two-Michelin-starred L'Espérance, and Tim Sawyer, of the Yarra Valley's Bella Vedere, is in charge of the floor. Add linen tablecloths and a cheese trolley doing the rounds of the dining room and the world is put back on its axis.
Philippe, 115 Collins St, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 8394 6625, philipperestaurant.com.au