Saturday, 10 May 2014

C'est Bon - Classic French cuisine that's almost perfect

Given my penchant for fine dining cookery, it's quite surprising that I'd never been to French restaurant C'est Bon.  After all, French cuisine is the basis of most traditional fine dining and when you hear that a chef has been classically trained, they're often referring to being trained in French cuisine.  In fact, many of the greatest chefs in modern history are classically trained French chefs and some of the most amazing meals I've ever eaten have come out of the kitchen of classically trained chefs.

I've known about C'est Bon for ages and have even thought about going many times, mainly because its a favourite restaurant of a good work buddy, who's always suggesting we head over for a double date to check it out.  Up until recently, I'd always resisted the urge to visit the little French restaurant, mainly because of it's location, which is about the grungiest part of Woolloongabba, right on Stanley Street near the freeway.  I'm not sure what inspired me to get motivated enough to finally book, but I suspect that it was the promise of a wonderful meal overseen by one of Brisbane's few French born chefs.

While C'est Bon is owned by renowned chef Michel Bonnet, gone are the days when Michael controlled the kitchen but he has handed the reins over to talented young French Chef Anthony Weynard.  Considered one of the most traditional French restaurants in Brisbane, Chef Anthony has taken the classic French dishes designed by Michael Bonnet and put a particularly modern twist with them, while managing to keep the elements that take classic French the pinnacle of world cuisine.

We'd booked in for a busy Friday night and had a little trouble finding a park near the restaurant but thankfully only a five minute walk away.  It was quite a cool night, so by the time we arrived at the bright red facade of the restaurant, we were looking forward to getting inside.  As we entered and were warmly greeted by one of the waitresses, I noticed how cozy the restaurant was and I was instantly transported to provincial France and all thoughts of the grungy 'gabba street were quickly forgotten.  I quietly noted the free seats downstairs but we were quickly ushered past these seats up the stairs to our table.  Now, I've been to some pretty cramped restaurants before, but our table at C'est Bon ended up being on the upstairs enclosed balcony, which barely had enough room for us to squeeze into our seats.

I initially had a fear that we'd quickly be forgotten in our balcony seating with perfect views of carparks, hospitals and the run down shop fronts of Stanley Street, but this was quickly dispelled when our waitress came back with our menus.  Looking over the very comprehensive menus, we discovered that there were a couple of options.  The menu decouverte, or discovery menu had a cut down version of the a la carte and offered three courses for $55 dollars, which represented great value.  There was also the les classiques, which had most of the options from the a la carte menu and was $75 for three courses.  We ended up choosing from the les classiques menu, which had a much more comprehensive range and was much more appealing.

Shortly after placing our orders, we received an amuse bouche of a creamed duck pate on a sesame seed bread stick.  The duck pate had been artfully squeezed on the rather plain looking breadstick that also doubled as a spoon.  The pate was lovely and light, with a beautiful gamey sweetness from the duck and was quite a delight to eat.  The actual breadsticks themselves were just a little stale but didn't detract from the wonderful duck pate.  What I found a little odd a out the presentation was the paper doily that the amuse bouche came presented on, it was really out of place.

It was good that SC loved her amuse bouche of duck pate because she was about the get a whole lot more of it with her starter of parfait de foie de canard, home made duck pâté with chutney and brioche.  While the amuse bouche had been whipped and light, the pate for the starter was much more substantial and had to be sliced with a knife.  There were some subtle differences in flavour between the two duck pates, with the entree version having a richer duck flavour that was less subtle and a little more in-your-face.  The sweet brioche and the slightly acidic chutney were great foils for the rich and indulgent pate.

If I'm in a traditional French restaurant and escargot is on the menu, then I'm definitely ordering and I was ecstatic to see the escargots de bourgogne, six french snails served in garlic and parsley butter.  When done well, escargot is a simply stunning way to start a meal and the C'est Bon escargot were expertly cooked in a simply stunning sauce.  The garlic and parsley butter was unbelievably good and partnered with the slightly chewy snails wonderfully.  The only thing missing was some crusty French baguette to soak up the sauce afterwards, which was a real shame.  I tried to soak up as much of the butter sauce as possible, even trying to 'drink' it from the kidney shaped plate, but it proved too hard and I ended up leaving too much of it behind. When the waitress came to take the plates away, she asked if I'd had the bread delivered with it and once I confirmed it had not, exclaimed that they'd made a bad mistake....  A comment I completely agree with!  

Can you ever go to a traditional french restaurant and not get the duck a l'orange?  I agree, so it was unsurprising when SC ordered the canard à l’orange, crispy organic free range duck with sweet potato, red cabbage, grand marnier & orange sauce.  This would have been a beautifully presented dish if it had been delivered with a little more care, the sauce was smeared all over the plate and detracted a little from it's visual appeal.  Luckily, it was the only minor issue with the dish, with expertly cooked duck that had a lovely rich gamey flavour accompanied by silky smooth sweet potato puree.  The earthy flavour of the sweet potato worked wonderfully with the gamey duck and intensely flavoured braised red cabbage with the whole lot brought together by the sticky orange sauce.  It was simply delicious but SC struggled to get through it all because it was a very generous portion.

The French are especially well know for their sauces and bisques, so I'd ordered the assiette de la mer, 
scallops, prawns and monkfish flambeed with pastis, truffled cauliflower puree and a crustacean sauce in the hope that I'd be in for a special treat.  It was an inconspicuous looking dish with most of the seafood hidden under a vibrant looking bisque but once I dug into the dish and ate my first scallop, I knew I'd picked a winner. The sauce was an incredibly intense flavour and was delicious but somehow the essence of the sauce had infused with the scallop and intensified the flavour even further, it was beautiful.  I graciously shared half a scallop with SC who also went into palate spasm from the wonderful flavours.  The prawns were also great, but didn't hit the height of the scallop but the whole lot sat atop a bed of truffled cauliflower puree that was also sensational.  This was a great main and I'd definitely go back again, just for this dish.

After having a terrible creme brûlée recently (see post here), SC decided to try her hand with the C'set Bon version of a traditional creme brûlée.  The brûlée did in fact come in the more traditional French style of in a flatter dish and looked quite lovely, except for the cheap looking paper doily, which had been presented with most of the dishes.  There was a lovely crunch from the caramelised sugar coating and the custard had set perfectly.  The vanilla brûlée had a lovely flavour and was quite delicious, however, the custard was not quite perfectly smooth and therefore not quite perfect.  It was a good attempt at a creme brûlée but could have been perfect if it was just a little creamier.

I'd had visions of the very amazing Stokehouse bombe alaska when I ordered the bombe alaska berry sorbet with vanilla ice cream, biscuit and meringue and was a little disappointed with the dessert that was presented to me.  It looked a little thrown together on the plate and while the birds nest of spun sugar looked quite spectacular, it was also quite out of place on the plate.  There was a very distracting burnt flavour coming from the cake at the bottom of the dessert, which quite overpowered the berry flavours and the meringue.  It's probably not a dish I would order again, especially when just around the corner at Southbank is the best bombe alaska ever (at the Stokehouse, see post here)

There was a lot to love about our visit to C'est Bon - was it the most amazing French meal that we'd had, not by a long shot, but it was still very good.  Some of the components of our meal were outstanding and delightful, especially the sauces and bisques.  But there were some simple mistakes on some of the dishes that did detract a little and turned what could have been a spectacular overall experience to just a very good one. That in and of itself is not bad but it could have been so much more...

I also didn't like our seats very much and felt completely disconnected from the restaurant.  Sure, it felt as if we had our own private dining room, but we have that at home (and with much nicer views).  When we go to a restaurant, part of the experience is feeling like you are 'at a restaurant'.  I'd have said the service on the night was excellent except for the fact that my escargot came without the crusty bread to soak up that delicious butter sauce, so again, it could have been so much more.

I know that a few years ago, C'est Bon had an AGFG chefs hat, which it's lost recent and I can actually see why.  There is the basis of a very, very good restaurant here but it's the little things that let it down on the night that we visited.  A lot of the food was delicious but for a dining establishment to be considered in the top echelon, all of the food needs 'hit-it'.  As one of my favourite French chefs, Michele Roux Jnr would say, "you're 'this close', but just not there"

A glass of red with the grungy view of Stanley Street in the background 
Yep, this was our tiny little space for dinner
And downstairs has a much more classic French feel about it

C'est Bon on UrbanspoonC'est Bon

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