enjoying some of my favourite Melbourne restaurants. Funny thing about Melbourne restaurants: how many of them are hidden from view. Up unmarked flights of steps in laneways is The French Saloon, which is doubly hard to find because the address is Little Bourke St, but the entry is in Hardware Lane. Then there are places like Izakaya Den, the still hip Japanese restaurant and bar down flight of stairs from Russell Street, near the corner of Little Collins.
My own favourites include Caterina’s Cucina e Bar, downstairs at 221 Queen Street. The staircase gives no hint of the space of the restaurant, or its warmth and generosity. It’s lunch only, generous, great wine list, and very good food. The exuberant Caterina, attentive and knowledgeable, is one of the atttractions. There are always lots of daily specials, but if you want to stick to the menu, head for classics like the vitello tonnato, and the ravioli, or whatever is the braised meat of the day. www.caterinas.com.au
Philippe opened earlier this year. Philippe Mouchel is everyone’s favourite French chef, I think, from his early days at Restaurant Paul Bocuse, through the Brasserie Philippe Mouchel at Crown, and now his own place at 115 Collins Street. That’s the address, but the entry is in George Parade. www.philipperestaurant.com.au What I love about the place is that it feels like a proper restaurant, a place to eat and drink and talk – rather than a place where the decor is louder than the conversation. A lovely zinc bar for a snack or oysters, dining areas and a private room, simple and welcoming. Go for lunch: two courses for $38, three for $45, often including the beetroot cured king salmon, and the pea veloute as a first course. The full carte is also available, and I’d recommend the pate en croute, which is one of those great classics that has to be done perfectly if it is to be done at all. The rotissoire is the other feature: usually rack of lamb or chicken, sometimes duck.
It’s where you can also find copies of More than French, the book I wrote with Philippe (published by Slattery Media). It was published a couple of years ago, and still a great addition to the cooking repertoire. If I say so myself. It’s a book for people who like cooking, who like eating.