A week in Melbourne: Café Vue & Bistro Vue, 6 July 2009

Faced with the prospect of having the days free to yourself for a week whilst in Melbourne, what would you do with all that time? Go shopping? Well I did have some of that planned, for Melbourne has some uniquely beautiful boutiques down its narrow laneways and maze of interconnecting arcades, but I was also going to visit sites and monuments which I had been too young to appreciate on previous trips. However these were mere filler activities for those periods in between meals. So while Monsieur Poisson was exercising brain cells at his training course, I took to the streets of Melbourne with a very healthy appetite.

I took a guided tour of Melbourne Town Hall that morning but had a bit of time up my sleeve before it started. I wander up Collins Street for a bit of a look when I stumble across Fifteen’s entrance down George Parade. I stand for a while looking at their menu, glancing down their staircase with a twinge of sadness. Although it is only Monday, we pretty much have our dinner plans laid out for the week and, knowing Fifteen would not be a part of those plans, I take a photo of their doorway instead.

After my town hall tour finishes, I walk down Little Collins Street in search of Café Vue. I had read about Shannon Bennett’s Vue de Monde and its consistent three-hat success, so I was excited to discover there was an affiliated café and bistro at the same premises with more affordable prices. Having secured a reservation for dinner at Bistro Vue that evening was no barrier to trying their café for lunch – I absolutely adore café food.

Café Vue is situated right on the corner of Little Collins Street and New Chancery Lane next to the opulence which is Vue de Monde. Through Café Vue then along a short pathway lined with little potted plants is the entrance of Bistro Vue. The three places form two adjacent sides to the building and I wonder if there is a massive kitchen which services them all from the centre.

I walk into Café Vue at around 2pm and request a table for one. A staff member wearing a full-length light brown apron shows me to a couch seat and takes my coat to hang in the corner – a practice which I discover is common to many establishments in Melbourne. I order a skim flat white but am told they only serve full-cream milk which is not of major consequence to me. Water is placed on the table as I sit back and admire the sleek yet cosy interior peppered with red implements.

I order the ‘Café Vue Lunchbox’ which is priced at $15 and can be pre-ordered for pick-up or delivery to corporate meetings. The contents of the lunchbox are seasonal and, at the time of my visit, contained borsch with poached quail egg, salad of Tunisian couscous (with cumin, broccoli and red onion), an oxtail and vegetable pastie and a sweet yuzu yo-yo.

I was hoping my lunchbox would arrive in a coloured slide-out cardboard box as seen on the website but, I guess, as I was dining-in the lunchbox was served on a more rustic wooden chopping board. The servings are not large but pack in heaps of flavour and was definitely enough to satisfy me. The borsch is served in a small paper cup and is a brilliant shade of beetroot purple with a delicate ball of a poached quail egg suspended on top. The soup is sweetly beetroot and thick in contrast to the wobbly silken poached egg. The fragrant and chewy salad was my first experience with this larger sized couscous, but I am uncertain as to whether the ‘Tunisian’ description refers to the style of preparation or the actual type of couscous (Is this the same as pearl couscous?). The pastie has a lovely buttery pastry with tender shredded oxtail meat in a rich sauce within and the meal is rounded off nicely with a tartly sweet yuzu shortbread sandwich. I was most impressed that $15 bought this sort of quality and value. And the coffee? It’s a cup of perfectly made Illy decorated with a love-heart so I can’t complain.

The official entrance to Bistro Vue is located around the corner from both Vue de Monde and Café Vue, along New Chancery Lane. It is decorated in French provincial fashion and the lighting is very dim. We are shown a table with couch seating by a rather good looking waiter before ordering drinks. I decide to treat myself to some Veuve Clicquot bubbly while Monsieur Poisson tries a Kronenbourg and soon after a man begins to play an accordion in the corner - très français!

Ficelles are served on floral plates with rounds of butter, salt and pepper presented on unglazed ceramic tiles. The bread is incredibly fresh and crusty, and it is nice to see salt and pepper for those who do not just want unsalted butter.

I order an entrée of ‘Half-dozen garlic snails with parsley crust’. As opposed to the usual escargots that come sitting in a garlic butter sauce, these are presented on individual piles of rock salt like oysters and are stuffed with parsley crust at their shell openings. I have fun playing with the escargots tongs and am reminded of that scene from Pretty Woman.

Monsieur Poisson orders the ’Quail and foie gras ballotine served with brioche’. The dish is like a terrine but with a more consistent and firmer texture. There is a stripe of marmalade-type fruit purée alongside the ballotine which adds sweetness. The brioche is served in one thick slice on a side plate and is light and crumbly.

For mains I have the ‘Canard confit avec petites pommes sautées’ which is a departure from the norm as I don’t normally order duck. However, after being so impressed by the duck fat potatoes at L’étoile I decide to give it a try at Café Vue. The dishes are not identical in preparation so they are not comparable. I find it a little too fatty towards the end of the dish but the duck has tender, fall-apart meat. The potatoes and spinach help make this a very sizeable meal.

Monsieur Poisson has the ‘Braise of the week’ which happens to be a fatty cut of beef (apologies, the name escapes me) served with creamy potato mash and baby Brussels sprouts. The sprouts are sweet and tight and help balance the fat of the meat and in the mash. The sauce is rich and deep.

As I cannot pass up the opportunity to try another soufflé, I decide to squeeze in dessert and go with the ‘Soufflé au chocolat’. It is placed in front of me in its miniature saucepan and the waiter makes an indent in the top before pouring in a chocolate sauce through this orifice at the table. It is impressive to watch him as he raises and lowers the sauce jug without managing to splatter any of it on me. The top is sugary and flat and the sides are well-risen. The centre is gooey and fortunately the chocolate sauce has not made the soufflé too sweet.

Monsieur Poisson tries the ‘Tarte tatin aux poires’ which is served with crème anglaise. The tart is brought out by the waiter still in the pan, before he inverts it onto a plate in front of us at the table. He claims to have never done so in front of diners but looks pretty comfortable and manages to avoid any tart-splatting-on-floor embarrassment.

The tart is generous in size with four pear halves and is decorated by a split vanilla pod for good measure. Monsieur Poisson finds the tart a little too crusty with toffee around about a third of the edge and finds the tart hard to finish due to its sheer size. The crème anglaise is wonderfully runny and is punctuated with vanilla seeds.

We get the bill and our waiter helps us to our coats. We head into the wintry Melbourne air to amble back to the hotel and I am grateful I will be wandering the streets of Melbourne CBD the next day to help work off this rich meal.

Normanby Chambers, 430 Little Collins St, Melbourne VIC
Tel: (03) 9691 3899

Opening Hours:  Mon-Fri  7am-4pm
                        Fri from 6:30pm for Cocktail Nights
                        Sat & Sun  CLOSED

Café Vue on Urbanspoon
Normanby Chambers, 430 Little Collins St, Melbourne VIC
Tel: (03) 9691 3838

Opening Hours:  Mon-Sat  11am until late
                        Sun  CLOSED

Bistro Vue on Urbanspoon

happy eating!

LATEST UPDATE: A second café has opened as part of the Vue de Monde group at 401 St Kilda Rd, near the corner of Toorak Rd, as of October 2009.


  1. I have been reading so many posts about Melbourne lately!! I want to go there too!! Hopefully December. You sure had great fun!

  2. Hi Ellie! Melbourne is great fun for food, clothing and easy navigation amongst other things. Do go if you get the chance and thanks for reading this post even with your sore neck =)

  3. sounds like you had a delightful time in melbourne! i am a massive fan of pear tarts and this one looks like my cup of tea :-P

  4. Hi Jen! Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. If you like pear or apple tarts, see my post on L’étoile - I highly recommend the tarte tatin there. Mmmm...

  5. I love French food, and that escargot dish looks appetising! And the tart does indeed look quite generous!

  6. That pear tart looks enormous! :) And I do like it when places offer to take your coat. So many don't here!

  7. Hi Trisha! Thanks for reading =) The tart was really on the large side!

    Hey Lorraine, I loved the personal touch of storing diners' coats. Sydney winters warrant coat-wearing as well so it'd be great if we could adopt the practice here.


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