6 Loftus St
|Opening hours||Lunch and dinner Mon-Sat|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Licensed|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $ 20- $ 40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
I’m beginning to think steak and chips might be Australia’s national dish. Salt-and-pepper squid is another contender, and I’m obliged to mention the meat pie, but almost every pub around the country offers a blackened rump and I’m hard-pressed to think of a more popular workhorse meal.
Good luck to any boozer charging north of $ 40 for steak and chips, too. I have relatives who will ask for the cow’s resume and references at that price point.
Steak frites, however – sophisticated, chic, French (and also Belgian but let’s put that to one side) – is a different story: $ 50 seems like a bargain for all that European flair.
Never mind that steak and chips is identical except for the sauce. Diane, pepper or gravy? Bearnaise or Cafe de Paris? Australians love familiar ingredients with a dash of foreign pizzazz, and this goes some way to explaining why so many new French bistros have opened in the past few years.
Bouillon l’Entrecote launched in Circular Quay in January and it immediately raised Sydney’s steak frites bar by a couple of notches.
Chargrilled sirloin rests on a buttery, pea-green “secret sauce” (spoiler alert: most likely tarragon, anchovies and basil) and the meat is kept warm at the table thanks to a candle under its platter. Beautifully bronzed, hand-cut fries are provided gratis and it’s one of the most enjoyable steak and chips – sorry, “frites” – I’ve had in months.
Founded by French-born mates Johan Giausseran and Vincent Ventura, the 70-seat restaurant is part of Quay Quarter Lanes, a mixed-use hub one block from the harbor. Hinchcliff House (home to fine-diner Lana) launched in the precinct last year, followed by a Marrickville Pork Roll outpost and the luxury Mexican restaurant, Londres 126.
With vintage French posters, marble counters and a glossy, splash-proof menu, Bouillon fills a gap between the tourist-trap creperies of Circular Quay and Sydney’s more elegant brasseries. Entry-level steak is $ 42 (not bad for 200 grams of Rangers Valley-raised sirloin) and several wines are available by the carafe.
A rather frightening portrait of legendary French chef Paul Bocuse hangs on the back wall, and his eyes follow every Pambula oyster ($ 5) and escargot (12 for $ 29) around the room. I suspect the kitchen isn’t as intimidated by Monsieur Paul’s image as I am, otherwise the snails may have featured less overpowering garlic; the chef was a big advocate for letting natural flavors shine.
However, if Bocuse was still with us today, I reckon he would be impressed with Bouillon’s foie gras-stuffed cabbage ($ 34). The tennis ball-sized ballotine is napped by a veal demi-glace reduced with careful respect; we ask to keep the sauce on the table to further enhance those fries.
If you want to spend more on steak, there’s a 350 gram striploin grilled on the bone ($ 65), which is dry-aged in-house for beefy, densely packed flavor.
A handful of non-steak mains are on the carte, too, and if you’re in the mood for confit duck a l’orange ($ 39), you are well catered for. Vegetarians are looked after with $ 36 gnocchi in something only described as “fresh tomato sauce”. Clearly, this is a place that would rather serve you meat.
Parisian bouillon restaurants are all about affordable, agreeable food in plush surrounds, and this Sydney version mostly nails that brief. Would I return for a date night? Probably not. Restaurant Hubert is close by with more intimate brasserie vibes and better wine service. (A quick note to Bouillon staff: please consider pouring wines ordered by the glass at the table. We customers have a habit of liking to see the bottle we’re drinking from.)
Terrifying Paul Bocuse portrait aside, Bouillon l’Entrecote does come into its own as a spot for families. Tartare for the grown-ups; creme brulee for the kids; garlic bread for everyone.
Certainly, if my young niece ever expresses interest in French cuisine, this is the kind of approachable spot I would take her for an introduction to scallops Saint Jacques. At six years old, she’s already a leading scholar on chips – wait until she samples some of these frites.
Vibe: Relaxed bistro for a quick business steak or long family lunch
Go-to dish: Rangers Valley sirloin with secret sauce ($ 42)
Drinks: A blunderbuss shot of entry-level Burgundy, grand cru and Australian shiraz. Spirits fans can find some French gems on the back bar.
Cost: About $ 160 for two, excluding drinks
This review was originally published in Good Weekend magazine