French fare on the Rive Gauche of the Yarra

A large grey monolith stretching along the banks of the Yarra, with its bird-burning fire balls that launch into the night sky, the Crown casino complex is a strange beast. While it appears on the must-visit list of many tourists, locals on the whole seem to feel ambivalent towards it. Which is strange when you think that Melburnians love their food (and aren’t afraid to spend a few dollars on it), and the casino is home to some high-end, well-respected restaurants. The kind of places Gourmet Traveller loses its cool over. Perhaps we can’t overcome our inner snob long enough to visit the gambling mecca, instead thinking: ‘We are locals, we don’t need to visit the obvious places.’

Well think on people, choose your eatery well and you are in for some rather lovely waterside dining. We went to Rockpool nearly two years ago – a Christmas Eve jaunt with the Aussie relatives – and returned a few weeks later to The Waiting Room (a newcomer, at the time, to Neil Perry’s national family of bars and restaurants – although we recently heard that it has closed). Both were great, but we were poor. So our experiences never really translated into a decent blog post. Then off course earlier this year The Merrywell signalled a less stuffy approach to dining at Crown, and we have been back for drinks several times since we posted our review. We watched the AFL Grand Final there, so did a lot of people, perhaps confirming that this place has finally made the casino a viable place for locals to hang out.

So anyway, we were invited to Bistro Guillaume and, while this place had never previously figured that highly on our foodie wishlist, we were curious to see how the chef’s French fare was doing alongside the Asian offerings at Spice Temple and Nobu, and the seafood fest that is The Atlantic. Plus it is one of the few ‘better’ restaurants at the casino to open onto the river, making alfresco tables perfect for people spotting, a pastime we love.

Walking in you can’t miss the half deflated hot-air balloon lampshades. I think I like them, although they maybe also look like burst bubbles of chewing gum hanging from the ceiling, but let’s not dwell on that image. Anyway, they are apparently meant to put you in mind of French petticoats or chef hats. Trappings of an upmarket bistro abound, lots of polished brass fittings, zinc-topped bar and wood panelling (French oak, I’m sure).

The menu looks pretty expensive – one of those places were you wonder just how much you are going to have to order to feel full up. But we needn’t have worried. Kicking things off was a generously stocked charcuterie board ($22). Although the menu is set out as entrees, mains, sides, salads and desserts, the size of this first dish quickly places BG in the realms of sharing plates, which means you can take the kind of pick-and-choose approach that we love. By all means, order three courses all to yourself, but I can guarantee you will be rolling out the doors with a stomach the size of Sacré-Coeur’s dome.

Country-style terrine of pork and chicken, jamon Serrano, duck liver parfait (served in a super-cute ramekin), pork rillettes, and three types of cured meats – the truffle salami was a highlight – came with Dijon mustard and toasted sourdough, extra to the fresh bread delivered to the table. It’s like they almost want you to fail at the first course with the amount of carbs on offer at the start of the meal.

Next, onion soup ($16) – rich, unctuous, in no way bitter or burnt, a delight. A cheese-covered rouille bobs happily in the middle of the soup bowl. It might seem on the steep side for a soup, but again, the savoury sublimeness makes it a tough one to devour solo.

Then came the in-house smoked salmon with dill cream and toasted brioche. Both delicately sweet and subtly salty, the salmon was great and there was plenty of it. Again, not a starter I could finish on my own.

Staff were super-efficient and happy for us to stagger our ‘sharing’ courses. We opted for one main – rack of lamb on a red of ratatouille, tapenade and zucchini flower ($36), which saw a heaped plate of juicy pink meat and tangy veggies delivered to our table with an extra plate. A confronting sight considering we were already half full up, but completely appeasing any concerns surrounding the price tag. And why limit ourselves? A side of crispy confit of potatoes with garlic and parsley delivered a further earthy, fragrant hit.

We couldn’t even contemplate a dessert, so plan next time to go easy on the pre-dinner drinks and settle in for a few hours of concentrated grazing. And, we can’t stress this enough, order with sharing in mind – it is the only way you are going to manage to fit in a few different courses of this rich and tasty French fare, well executed and faultlessly delivered.

Gallic tipple obviously pops up a lot on the wine list, but it does not saturate it, and there are some great Victorian bottles here too, most notably the Coombe Farm chardonnay and Balgownie Estate cab sauv. And if you can’t stretch to $25 for a piddly glass of Mumm (and frankly, I wouldn’t bother) then there is Yarrabank Cuvee.

French regional specialities (cassoulet, beef daube and cassoulet, for example) take turns as the Plat du Jour and cost between $34-40. Then there is the lunch or pre-theatre menu (which from Monday to Friday runs all afternoon), which sees two courses for $45 and three courses for $55.

Value for money at the Crown casino? Mon dieu, we’ve struck gold. And, in case the bill does come as a surprise, it is delivered with pretty pistachio macaroons.

Bistro Guillaume

8 Whiteman St, Crown Entertainment Complex

Melbourne, VIC 3006

Ph. 03 9292 4751

Bistro Guillaume on Urbanspoon

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