“What is a pub?" Ask that question to ten different people and you get ten different answers. The pub is a place for everybody because it means different things to different people. For most Australians, it’s an institution brought to us when the British landed and colonised its newfound land. Part entertainment, part watering hole, part boy’s club, and part many other things. Le Pub knows this and puts a stylish twist on it - a French one.
Walking inside, we were dazzled by the Art Deco interior with accents of gold and brass while bustling patrons competed for aural dominance against the music. A bar sits on one side facing TVs which has been thoughtfully separated from the eating area. Glance around and you could stare at the letter-riddled walls hidden with French vocabulary – a fun way to practice your French while waiting for your food. Just as the word “restaurant” was incorporated into the English language, so too has the pub absorbed the bistro.
Celebrating Christmas with some friends, we placed our orders with the waitresses whizzing by, keeping a lid on the chaos. To start, we had the Escargot de Bourgogne, snails baked inside their shells soaking up that herb butter goodness. It’s a rustic dish that relies on you not overcooking the canned snails (yes, canned) as to turn it into a rubber ball. Here, it was tender and comforting with hints of garlic and parsley. Sadly though, there’s not enough sauce to dip the baguette into, taking half the fun away of eating this.
Next came the Poitrine de Porc, a dish that seemed like it was tailored for me. The menu detailed it to have pork belly, pork crackle, red pepper relish, an Alaskan Scallop and apple and fennel salad – stuff I usually adore, yet when had here, left me lukewarm. The pork belly while supple and unctuous, tasted bland, vaguely suggesting of its origins and devoid of the promised crackling rind. If the pork had been boisterous, then the firm and sweet scallop would have complemented it well but instead it was just another wallflower. Perhaps I missed something, so I looked towards the fiery-looking red pepper relish for some liveliness but only found a soft-spoken cordial sauce, meanwhile the apple and fennel salad was just as timid, with nary a sliver of apple, just an earthy raw cabbage-like taste. Eating this was akin to watching Cheers robbed of all its drama and wit and in its place the bland wholesomeness of The Brady Bunch.
Thankfully the Charcuterie arrived as I distracted myself from my previous disappointment. There lies a smorgasbord of cold cuts, sauces and pickled vegetables, resoundingly earning its French moniker as “The Butchery”. My first bite into the Parisian Saucisson was a revelation of tangy cured notes laced with anise aromas. Curiously, my Spanish namesake, Jamon, is here tasting as smooth as silk like a gentle prosciutto caressing my palette with its fatty layers. Taking a break from the meats with the Cornichon, it tested my saline tolerance for it was like a whole gherkin had shrunken down to size, condensing its flavours and about to burst. Reeling from its intensity, I moved towards the Homemade Duck Rillette lined neatly in an opened sardine tin can and couldn’t be happier. Slow-cooked until the meat felt like hair flowing across my tastebuds, it was a sensuous interplay of svelte pate and viscous melted fat lubricating the strands of flesh. Unlike the other meats, this could stand on its own, eschewing the need for the quickly disappearing bread. Nestled in the jars were the pickled cauliflower, sliced gherkin and carrots, which like the cornichons were salty with tart and spicy notes. Finally, there was the creamy Remoulade shimmering in an orange sheen dressing the strips of fennel in a nasal-clearing horseradish flavour.
Moving onto the mains, I had the Steak au Poivre, a staple of French bistro fare. Without this, you don’t have a bistro – simple as that. Cooked rare, the steak was a tender loving piece of meat that still mooed as I cut into its flesh exposing its ruby-red innards. As I ate a piece, the rib-eye rewarded me with its smoky charred crust melding into the meat. The sauce, laden with peppercorns, added a milky and hearty dimension as the soft kernels were crushed under the weight of my steak. Finishing the dish were the frites in all its golden, crispy, fluffy glory. Simply magnifique!
My partner opted for the Pie au Boeuf Bourguignon, a dish that best represents Le Pub, fusing English and French culinary traditions into one dish. Braised slowly, cubes of beef and sweet carrots just dissolved as my teeth sunk into them, gushing of the red wine gravy that it was cooked in. The puff pastry, once billowed out, just tore away, flaking with each bite as I ate it with the filling which supposedly had mushrooms yet couldn’t find any. The smooth mashed potatoes (originally English) were mixed with the garlicky café de Paris butter to form a delightfully rich complement to the pie.
Having ran out of room for dessert, we staggered out, off into the night wishing each other a Merry Christmas. Realizing it is another tradition adopted from a foreign culture and absorbed into our own, running parallels with where we just ate. Le Pub keeps many of the French culinary traditions, and houses it inside a now Australian cultural institution, “the pub”. You can see it in the décor, you can taste it in the food, and you can certainly hear it from the waitresses who refuses to announce the dishes by their native names, preferring to use their own, like “ribeye” instead of “steak au poivre”. Is it faux pas to cross a cuisine known to have a snooty reputation in an Australian institution as humble the pub? It’s the ultimate twist, isn’t it?
~ Jambon Cochon