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Bistro Gitan

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Bistro Gitan

Elegant French in friendly refined surroundings

I'd heard the name Jacques Reymond since moving to Melbourne ten years ago, and always assumed I'd eat at one of his restaurants. He closed his solo doors in 2014 before I got around to it, but along with L'Hotel Gitan in Prahran, he remains involved with Bistro Gitan (52 Toorak Road West, South Yarra), jointly operated by three of his children.

Ever since a soul-changing meal in the south of France with my family on my first trip to Europe, I have enjoyed partaking in a decent bit of French food. I was particularly looking forward to the dinner date my partner had booked, knowing the restaurant's location opposite Fawkner Park in the elegant, leafy part of South Yarra would only add to its feel of an exclusive treat.

We arrived with the sun still in full force (Australian summer nights, eh?), to a charming, solid corner building not dissimilar to Entrecote's home only a few blocks away. The European vibe was apparent immediately: a sprinkling of kerbside tables, curved awnings and arched windows framed out in warm-toned wood, curly white wrought-iron balustrades above, and a potted tree or two to garnish the doorway. A weathered metal sign identified the restaurant's name to the street, and its rustic feel seemed an odd choice to me, given the clean, classy look of the building from the outside.

Upon entry, the light was immediately dimmer despite ample windows letting in ample natural light, and I felt as though I were walking into a cool, calm oasis. The masculine rustic tone from outside was continued inside with lots of wood trimmings in a mixture of tones, and touches of metal in the fixtures. The salmon colour of some bench seating reminded me of the '80s, but added warmth and somehow didn't seem out of place. However, a quiet elegance prevailed with a cursory nod to tradition in white tablecloths, curved dining chairs, handwritten chalkboard specials, sparkling glassware and gorgeous parquetry flooring. Although most of the floor space was being utilised, the restaurant felt spacious and civilised.

We were shown to our central table by a gentleman who proceeded to get us settled with drinks and menus. He seemed a little rushed, querying our water choice before I'd sat down, and later reeling off the specials a little too quickly for my summer weekend brain. However, he had an easy, friendly manner, and was helpful and efficient. (Plus, the specials were written up on a board!) When he delivered our glasses of sparkling and some delicious warmed bread with lovely butter, I didn't care anymore what speed we travelled at.

Hankering for oysters as a starting point, we opted for quite traditional choices during our meal:

Half a dozen oysters from northern Tasmania served with a white vinaigrette
A bit cloudy, and one oyster was notably smaller than the rest, but they still managed to hit the spot. The vinaigrette was lovely.

Steak tartare with quail egg and fresh horseradish, served with house-made potato chips
Peppery and chunky, this was definitely one of the better tartares I've had.

Spatchcock with a mustard crust, butter savoy cabbage, bacon and pepper verjuice
According to my partner, this was well-cooked and balanced: not over-cooked at all, just the right amount, and apparently the sauce was delicious.

Oven-baked rockling with mushrooms, bacon, white onion and sorrel
Despite my recurring inability to decide on a main, I was very happy with this choice. Buttery seafood is one of the things the French generally do well, so this was filling but light, with a great mix of flavours.

Selection of cheeses
The usual creamy, blue and hard, but just what we felt like, served with crackers, quince jelly and slices of apple on a wooden breadboard.

We washed it all down with a stunning bottle of Tellurian Blanc, a Marsanne Fiano Viognier - fruity but with a very satisfying dry finish.

The evening ended up costing more than I had anticipated, at $255 plus tip, no doubt helped along by our drink choices. Food industry mainstays put Bistro Gitan at 'moderate' pricing, but with the mains pushing $40, I'd call it borderline myself. Nothing I wasn't willing to pay though: it was a delicious, fine-tuned affair in a lovely setting. The diehard loyals are likely inner East locals with wallets to match their geography, but despite not being one, this is a place I'd like to revisit.

Bistro Gitan Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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