Food can define a race. The Brits are called Limeys in the US because of their 19th century scurvy-beating initiative to feed Royal Navy sailors limes. The French are often referred to as Froggies – mostly by the British – because of their predilection for eating frog legs.
The French take none of this lying down. They sneeringly refer to the Brits as Les Rosbifs, because the sons and daughters of Pomgolia love a good Sunday roast and have a florid, medium-rare steak complexion.
Southern Italians disparagingly call Northern Italians Polentini because, well, they eat polenta, which one never sees in the south.
We could go on, but our attention today is drawn to a new restaurant in Perth which would make the world’s Froggies proud. It’s called La Lune. It’s in East Fremantle and, seriously, it’s the most French restaurant we’ve visited in WA.
Which has nothing to do with a cheesy, culture cringing, nostalgia drenched, ‘Allo ’Allo! take on French bistro dining. La Lune could easily be a modern French bistro in Paris. And there’s not a frog leg or an Edith Piaf playlist in the place.
It ticks every bistro box with aplomb. Eight entrees, 12 mains – six of them from the char grill – and four desserts including crème brulee and mille feuille. So far, so very 6th arrondissement.
The wine list is perky and lust-worthy with a 70:30 split of Australian and old-world wines. Their vins le saison – an ever-changing list of six “wild natural wines” – are served in a 500 millilitre carafe. You can dine at the bar – our recommendation – on the footpath or inside the beautiful series of rooms that is La Lune.
I was fair dinkum triggered by the amuse bouche, a vol-au-vent just like mum used to bang out at her afternoon card games with “the girls.”
Actually, these were far better than mum’s chicken and mushroom wonders, but, like hers, they were a trip back to the ’70s when social media was a cuppa and a natter over the back fence and one dabbed one’s lips with a Marimekko napkin. La Lune’s were flaky, large and stuffed with a filling of swimmer crab, bound with a celery remoulade and topped with salmon pearls. My god, they were good. Our bouche was indeed amused.
We ordered a 2017 right bank Bordeaux – based on merlot rather than cabernet-dominant, which is a left bank thing – which was a cracker.
It was the right choice for a bavette served with bearnaise and frites, perhaps the most bistro-ish bistro dish of all time.
The French have been cooking bavette for as long as French cookery has been around. We have only just cottoned on in Australia in the last decade. We call it flank steak. It’s a long thin strip of meat from behind the rib cage with big beefy flavours which, when cooked properly, defy its propensity for toughness.
It’s a French bistro staple because bistros were all about the people and the people couldn’t afford primary cuts like eye fillet, rib eye or porterhouse. Regardless of price, it outperforms the prestige cuts because of its flavour and texture. At La Lune, it was cooked perfectly medium rare, well rested and bloody.
It was sliced across the grain for service, as it should be, which meant it all but melted in the mouth.
Bearnaise sauce cookery is a calling. A glossy, properly emulsified bearnaise is not difficult to cook. But a superb one is rare. La Lune’s was a ripper, but it should have been more acidic – it was a little light-on with the vinegar/wine reduction – and more infused with tarragon. It was fine, but just missed the mark. The freedom fries… sorry, French fries… oops, I mean frites, were lovely.
Roast chicken with “sherry broad bean fricassee” was not what we were expecting. Bistro plus chicken equals rotisserie. Not at La Lune. They brine, sous vide and pan cook the chook. The sous vide treatment imbues the meat with a heady garlic and thyme flavour.
The chicken is finished in the pan until the skin is browned, then deglazed with dry sherry, and reduced chicken stock, which makes a simple but plate-lickable pan sauce of considerable heft. It is garnished with broad beans and sprout leaves and the sauce thickened with mounted butter. Tender, sweet, moist. Every day.
Paris Mash, one of the five $10 sides on the list which also includes the very naughty gratin dauphinoise, was a glossy, buttery beauty.
The kitchen utilises grenobliose, velouté and meunière sauces across the menu and sticks mostly to French technique. But just like many bistros and brasseries in France, they cater to a modern audience too with the addition of dishes like a cheeseburger – a royale with cheese perhaps – and tagliatelle with lobster sauce.
Other bistro faves include moules frites, seared duck breast on lentils, whole fish in a brown butter sauce with capers and an entrecôte (a thin, boneless rib eye) with pepper sauce.
La Lune’s cocktail game is good. We hoovered a few of their classic martinis. No complaints there.
The French have a word for a small and beautiful object of jewellery. Bijoux. Its meaning has grown over the 20th century to mean something delicate, elegant, or highly prized. You can see where I’m going with this. La Lune is bijoux – a gem of a small restaurant, elegantly conceived and bloody well executed, if you’ll excuse the French.
73 George Street, East Fremantle, 08 6246 6566
Open: Wednesday-Sunday, breakfast and lunch. Friday-Saturday, dinner. (With plans to open for dinner service five days a week before the end of the year).
Mains (Les Plats and Le Gril), $20-$38.
Sides, all $10.
If you like this try: Le Rebelle in Mount Lawley.
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