Monsieur Poisson had treated me to a surprise dinner at Bilson’s for our second anniversary and ever since I have been enamoured with head chef Manu Feildel. This was without having seen much of Ready, Steady, Cook and was many months before the hysteria of Masterchef captured the nation. But I must admit I am biased for I studied French throughout my high school years and possess a particular fondness for almost anything à la française, be it fashion or handbags and especially food. So despite feeling some disappointment at hearing of Monsieur Feildel’s departure from Bilson’s in early 2009, I was most excited about his move into a new bistro venture.
So I telephoned Monsieur Poisson in excitement, asking him to round up the usual suspects and arrange a visit. Everyone was suitably keen at the prospect, especially after viewing the menu online – Dr King and Gingerbreadman decided on the spot what they planned on ordering despite us having yet to secure a reservation!
We arrive a little ahead of time on the evening of our little dining expedition, after finding parking more easily than expected near the five-ways roundabout at Paddington. We are walked through the converted terrace house past the kitchen into the covered back courtyard and shown our table. As we pass the kitchen, we hear an almighty, ‘Bonsoir!’ from Monsieur Feildel and his team. Our group return the greeting and I find I am swooning before I have even had a chance to taste the food.
It is a cold evening but the courtyard is dotted with gas heaters to keep us toasty. We browse the menu and Dr King chooses a bottle of red to share. (I am notoriously bad at choosing wine so I palm off the task where possible.) We start chatting and before long a basket of crusty baguette pieces is placed on our table along with some creamy unsalted butter.
Then, the rest of the fun begins. I find it very hard to go past a soufflé, no matter sweet or savoury, so I absolutely have to have the ‘Soufflé au Fromage’ – a twice-baked cheese soufflé with baby cress and hazelnuts. It is wrinkly on the outside but sexily smooth within and is sitting in a pool of runny cheese sauce. It is so cheesy and so good that the conversation is reduced to, ‘Mmmm…mmmm…’ going around our table after everyone has had a taste. The baby cress is subtley peppery and is perfect with the salty, creamy soufflé and the crunchy nuttiness of the toasted hazelnuts.
Kiki has ordered the ‘Salade Landaise’ to share as she is rationing room for her mains and dessert. The salad is a collection of duck confit, smoked ducked breast and duck foie gras with pine nuts sitting on mixed green leaves. It is a textural experience of duck and is surprisingly un-oily.
But of course the champion of the entrées is Monsieur Feildel’s signature ‘Boudin de St Jacques’ – a silky sausage of scallops resting on a bed of wilted spinach surrounded by crustacean bisque. If the cheese soufflé was sexy then this is definitely X-rated – the texture is akin to quality silken tofu and care needs to be taken when slicing to not destroy its shape. There are collective sighs and praise from the owners of the three plates of boudin at our table. Each mouthful of satiny seafood slides easily down the throat while the bisque ups the flavour ante and adds creaminess to the spinach. The pop of the fish roe balanced delicately atop the boudin give saltiness and texture.
We are still raving about our entrées by the time our mains arrive. I have the ‘Traditionelle Bouillabaisse’ which is a
Southern France seafood stew served with rouille and garlic croutons. It has plenty of seafood and a potato sitting in a flavourful soup which is given even greater depth with a dollop of the creamy rouille mixed in. The croutons are seriously garlicky and are excellent on their own, with some rouille or dipped in the stew.
Monsieur Poisson has the ‘Poisson du Marché Meuniere’ which is a whole flounder on this occasion with lemon butter. The flesh is moist and flaky but a little oily towards the end. The sauce is fresh and lemony and the dish is served with a lemon wedge alongside which comes thoughtfully wrapped in muslin.
Dr King and Gingerbreadman both have the ‘Boeuf du Boucher à la Bordelaise’ which is a butcher’s cut of Wagyu hanger steak on this occasion, with potato croquettes and a Bordelaise sauce. Both find the beef to be a bit chewy unfortunately.
Kiki has ordered the ‘Confit de Canard’ where the glossy duck skin encloses tender, fall-apart thigh meat. However, the star of this dish is the side of thinly sliced potatoes that have been cooked in duck fat – they are crispy around the edges, tender in the centre, rich and flavourful and taste the way roast potatoes really should. We keep requesting more potato samples from Kiki as she makes her way through the duck.
I declare that I am too full for dessert but this is no deterrent to my companions. They order and, while waiting, we are presented with watermelon granita as a palate cleanser.
Monsieur Poisson has the ‘Pear Tarte Tatin which is buttery and flaky with a thin edge of toffee running around the rim, making the pastry edge crispy and smoky. The pear is tender, not overly sweet and any richness of the tarte is offset by a quenelle of crème fraîche.
Kiki has the crème brûlée which being in a fairly shallow dish makes for maximum crunchy topping. She enthusiastically cracks into the brûlée to reveal an almost runny creamy custard interior.
Dr King has the ‘Mousse Chocolat Café’ which is a wonderfully dense, dark chocolate mousse topped with a layer of coffee cream in a glass. The surface is dusted with cocoa and sprinkled with dark chocolate bits.
Last but not least, Gingerbreadman has ordered the ‘Bavarois à la framboise’ which is cooling and silky with the refreshing tang of raspberries.
And I, of course, did not sit around staring at them whilst they were eating their desserts. No, that would have been rude. I happily sampled a taste of each and went back for second tastings (just to be sure) with some – did I really say I was too full for dessert?
Tel: (02) 9332 1577
Opening Hours: Mon-Thurs 6pm-11pm (dinner only)
Fri-Sun 12pm-3pm (lunch)
LATEST UPDATE: L’étoile scored 15/20 in The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2010, earning its first Chef’s Hat Award.