Sydney is currently swept up in a whirlwind romance with French cuisine, and it’s not just about the steak and frites or the irresistible crème brûlée. It’s the intangible allure of the “joie de vivre,” the promise of the French lifestyle that has captivated our hearts and stomachs.
The warmth, the comforting embrace of a nostalgic pate, the deliberate placement of frill lamps and the paper table covers — all work in harmony to transport diners to their favourite Parisian memories, even if just for a fleeting afternoon. We’re hooked, like a drug, and we need more.
The traditional Australian notion of a French restaurant was once confined to charming bistros with an air of mischief about them. However, the recent surge of French establishments in Sydney has shattered these limitations, giving rise to a diverse range of culinary experiences.
From vibrant brasseries seamlessly blending bistro charm with upscale steakhouse vibes to wine bars infusing local produce with a French twist, Sydney’s French culinary scene is evolving. A standout in this evolution is Martinez.
Martinez is a departure from the stereotypical French restaurant aesthetic in Sydney. It offers a slice of life from the South of France with a New York bar ambience. The abstract space is flooded with light, muted red leather booths, corduroy chairs, and enough greenery to be mistaken for a greenhouse.
As an added bonus, patrons can enjoy views of the iconic Sydney Harbour from inside the restaurant and on the terrace bar. Scott Brown, Director of House Made Hospitality, describes it as the kind of place where one can easily while away the hours.
“We could see commonalities between an approachable dining experience and the South of France, being a destination where you linger over glasses of rosé while enjoying fresh seafood and a coastal outlook, so that became the inspiration for Martinez,” says Brown.
The success of French cuisine in Sydney is not accidental. It’s a duet between two culinary cultures — France and Australia. “Both France and Australia favour fresh, seasonal produce and draw from a multicultural landscape of culinary influences, so it makes sense French cuisine is popular in Australia,” opines Brown.
It seems the new French venues are getting more into the nitty-gritty of French cooking, showing diners there’s more to it than they might think. “We’ve got the staples like our petit bouillabaisse and steak frites, but we’ve also got some wild cards, like the Oursinade scallop with sea urchin butter,” says Brown.
While the classics still have their devoted fans, diners are increasingly curious and eager to shake things up, often venturing into uncharted culinary territories to awaken their French palate.
In the heart of Rozelle, Chez Blue has transformed a former pub’s games room into a moody, romantic Parisian bistro with paper-covered tables stamped with “599 Rue Cherie,” a Franglais take on Darling Street, and dark bentwood chairs.
Mark Williamson, Head Chef at Chez Blue, notes that people appreciate the comfort factor of French cuisine and the approachable bistro style of dining. The decision to open Chez Blue in Rozelle was a thoughtful response to the evolving landscape of the area, presenting a unique opportunity to introduce a new restaurant to the peninsula.
“So many of our guests have been to France, and yes, it’s been romanticised. With Chez Blue, we really did want to bring back fond memories of dining on the streets of Paris,” Williamson says.
The familiarity of French bistro food provides a sense of connection, making it a go-to choice for many. Similar to Martinez, Williamson has observed diners becoming more adventurous with their dishes and boasting a growing curiosity for diverse flavours. “Our fried tripe with herbes de Provence and rouille is gaining popularity,” he says.
Yet, as mentioned, it’s not merely about the food – it’s about reliving those European summer holidays and indulging in the unhurried, joyous spirit of French dining. The influx of new French restaurants in Sydney is not just a culinary trend but a cultural phenomenon, a passport to the idyllic world of French joie de vivre right here in Australia.