121 Greville Street, Prahran
Winter Solstice is upon us again. Well: officially tomorrow is the shortest day, but my trip to Sydney tomorrow put the kibosh on our usual 21st June celebration of winter. So a Solstice Eve Sunday luncheon was in order.
Eileen suggested Chez Olivier in Prahran, a tiny slice of France in Greville Street surrounded by chi-chi boutiques and jewellery shops. We found Mena sipping a Baileys at a window seat by the bar, surrounded by pastis bottles, fifties French posters, urns full of wine corks, and French waiters wearing black waistcoats with the tricolour on their breasts.
We gathered at an upstairs table, by a huge picture window - great for natural light. We had the whole floor to ourselves. Mena, in her element, ordered escargots for a starter. Each snail came served in a tiny steel jug, drowning in butter and laced with garlic. My warm goat's cheese salad had a centrepiece of crusty bread smothered in beautiful chevre. Onion soup, a seafood millefeuille, seafood bisque and a caramelised onion, anchovy and olive tart completed the traditional French fare for first course, all washed down with a good pinot chosen by Kelvin (of course).
After a decent interval, the mains arrived, all accompanied by a 2006 bottle of Sanguine Estate's Heathcote shiraz. Duck ruled, with Mena choosing the magret of the day served on creamy mash and wilted greens, Robyn choosing the "Frozzie duck", double-roasted and served with lemon and pepper mash, bok choi and pickled ginger, and a few more opting for the cassoulet a la "Jacky", with duck confit and pulses.
My bouillabaisse was full of fresh salmon, prawns, mussels and scallops, but could have been a lot more tomatoey and a lot more garlickey. Orlando's baked salmon was served with creamy mash, and looked good but Orlando thought it ordinary. A second bottle of the Heathcote was ordered, but like a lot of the wine list they were out of stock so we upgraded to a 2006 Sanguine Estate d"Orsa shiraz which did very nicely.
Desserts looked and tasted good for the most part. The mousse au chocolat (Orlando's choice, naturally) was a huge helping served with fresh strawberries. A few chose the "self-saucing, self-indulging chocolate fondant" which lived up to its legend. My tarte tatin was a little disappointing: none of the bite of a good cooking apple in there. And Mena completed her classic French lunch with crepes Suzette complete with flaming Grand Marnier, which she pronounced divine.
Interestingly, from Sunday to Thursday the restaurant charges $11 a head for whatever wine you have chosen, so despite the wine list suggesting a total bill of about $200 for the wine alone, that is all we were charged - $11 a head. This certainly made up for the limited availability of some wines on the list. Total bill for seven came to $598, which was about $85 a head.
By then, we were alone in the restaurant, the wait staff had mostly gone home and those remaining were preparing for the evening's sitting. The light was fading as we wrapped ourselves in coats and scarves against the chilly evening air. Quite a civilised solstice lunch to mark the passage of time in winter. Tomorrow, the days will get longer by a cock's stride, and we can look forward to spring.
As for Chez Olivier, despite one or two pedestrian meals, our overall experience was lovely, and fantastic value too. I can imagine this will become a favourite winter haunt.