Saturday, 26 October 2013

Lutece Bistro & Wine Bar - Canard a la Presse


There is something about French cuisine that is magical.  Of course it has been the most popular and dominant influence on general cuisine for hundreds of years, but there is a little more to it than that.  I've always admired the passion that the French bring to their cooking, it's something that is so European and so all consuming.  You can see the influence in the Brisbane dining scene with many dozens of restaurants showing influence from French cuisine and quite a few that identify solely as French restaurants.

2013 has been a tumultuous year for restaurants with a number closing but it has also seen many new restaurants entering the dining scene.  Bardon is one of my old stomping grounds and I was delighted to see a new French Bistro open its doors in July.  I was actually still touring New York when I found out that Lutece Bistro had opened up not too far away from my old house.

Lutece is the French term for Lutetia which was a Roman city where Paris now stands and is an appropriate name for a French Bistro established by a chef with the first name Romain.  Lutece has been created by Romain Bapst who is well known around Brisbane as the former head chef of Il Centro in the CBD.  While Romain has lived in Australia since 1990 he is thoroughly a French chef who has been classically trained in his native land before his move down under.  Romain has continued his passion for French cuisine as the President of the Bocuse d'Or in Australia as well as being the President of the Academie Culinaire de France in Australia.

Like most amazing chefs, Romain has a genuine passion for quality produce that is prepared in a manner that preserves its integrity and flavour.  Romain is also at heart a showman who has a love of entertaining people with his cuisine which is prepared from his heart.  We would see this showmanship during our lunch where Romain would demonstrate his famous Canard a la Presse, duck on the press.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Canard a la Presse (as I was before this meal), it's arguably one of the world's most extravagant and exalted meals.  Originally created by Rouen chef Mechenet in the 19th century, the dish was popularised by famed Paris restaurant La Tour D'Argent and was quickly picked up by the Savoy in London to cater to the image conscious members of London's high society.  Canard a la Presse is traditionally prepared in front of the diner and sees much of the carcass of beautifully cooked duck placed in a specially designed duck press to extract the juices, which are then mixed with cognac to create a wonderfully rich sauce.  I was going to be in for a treat!

I had been invited along to a special lunchtime demonstration of the Canard a la Presse along with some other Brisbane foodies and press, which was hosted by Romain.  As we sat down to look over the menu for the day, fresh baguettes were delivered to the table along with some truffled butter.  If you have never had truffled butter before I highly recommend you try it next truffle season (sorry, its all over for another year).  The baguettes were lovely, crunchy on the outside and beautifully soft inside but they were made special with the addition of that truffled butter.


Just as my tastebuds were being assaulted by the delicious truffle butter our entree for the day was presented to us.  The sauteed deep sea scallops with duck liver gateau 'foies blonds' and a beurre blanc had an incredible aroma coming from the beautifully presented plate.  There was a rich caramelisation from the perfectly cooked scallops that married wonderfully with the equally rich beurre blanc.  The decadence continued with the addition of the duck liver gateau, which was light to the touch but intense in flavour.  With so many beautiful and rich flavours on the plate there was a danger of the dish being too heavy, but the addition of some acidity from a tomato side really brought the dish together.


The anticipation had been building while we devoured our scallop starters.  Romain had been busy at the side of our table tantalizing us with the smell of duck and the promise of the sauce that would come from the Canard a la Presse.  As Romain was preparing the duck for the press I must admit I was quietly salivating at the prospect of the meal to come.  We watched as the duck carcass was broken apart and the lovely moisture from the duck squeezed out then added to the saucepan at our side.  The occasional metre high flame coming from the burning cognac certainly added to the theatre of the event.


At last it was time for the Duck a La Rouennaise to be presented.  The duck breast with potato puree and truffle, peas a la francaise and the sauce finished at the table was presented in a simple and rustic way on the plate, but there was no doubting the quality of the meal ahead.  The duck looked wonderfully cooked and the aroma emanating from the plate was incredible.  One mouthful was all it took, I was in love with this dish. That duck breast was bathing in the lovely rich and sticky cognac sauce, which was all over the plate and soaking into the truffle mash and fresh peas.  As I looked around the now silent table, there were looks of rapture as everyone came to grips with the delicious duck dish in front of us.



Where do you go from a dish like the Duck a La Rouennaise?  There is no wonder that the French and British aristocracy fell in love with this dish.  Like all great chefs, nothing goes to waste in a kitchen and Ramion had another surprise for us with the duck leg which was simply presented with baby cress and a mustard jus.  While no dish could adequately follow the Duck a La Rouennaise, the duck leg was also quite delicious and I really appreciated the baby cress to help cleanse my palate after so much ducky goodness that had gone before.



Shortly after a very happy and sated table of foodies had finished consuming and raving about the duck, we were presented with an simple but beautifully looking dessert.  The cherry tart was delightfully and whimsically presented with a smear of chocolate, some macarons and macerated strawberries.  I loved the simple presentation of the tart and it was almost a shame to have to eat the dish...almost!  The tart was of course perfectly cooked and with the slightly bitter cherries and the wonderfully sweet filling had a wonderful balance of flavours.  I also loved the macarons, which were soft, sweet and full of flavour but I went bonkers for the macerated strawberries.  There were numerous plates of dessert across the table and I managed to eat quite a lot of the sweet treat.



Looking at my watch I was amazed to see that two hours had slipped by so quickly and I had to reluctantly bid farewell to the group and head back to my day job.  Before I left Lutece for the afternoon I spent some time looking around the restaurant taking some photos and taking in the incredible view of the surrounding undulating hills of Paddington and Bardon.

There is quite a bit of space in Lutece with room for plenty of diners and there is also a bar for those that love to have a little bit of a tipple before they start their meal.  The fitout is a blend between contemporary chic and traditional French, with starched white linen and silver cutlery.  The wonderful thing about the dining space at Lutece is that practically every table has an amazing view which is great by day and spectacular by night.

There are not too many times where I can say that I have tried something new for the first time but heading to Lutece to try the Canard a la Presse was a genuinely surprising experience.   Not only was there the theatre of the duck being prepared and pressed at the table but there was an incredible aroma that came from such a display, as well as the incredible flavours that come from pressing every available drop of duck juices.  To experience the Canard a la Presse make sure you get into Lutece but be sure to give them 24 hours notice, I'm sure you will enjoy it as much as I did.

I think that other incredible French restaurant in Paddington has some real competition!


**I was a guest of Lutece Bistro for the Canard a la Presse lunch.

Romain busy preparing the duck for the press.  YUM!
So simple, duck peas and mash, but incredible flavours.  The sauce was 'to die for'
The peas were fresh but the truffle mash was another star of the show
The view from Lutece - love the jacarandas
Quite a few tables ready to go for a romantic French dinner
The well stocked bar is ready to go
I loved the lights which were crystal decanters converted into shades
The front counter is made up from the floor of a church in France.
The space at Lutece is welcoming and large

Lut├Ęce Bistro & Wine Bar on UrbanspoonLutece Bistro & Wine Bar

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