In mid 2022, Adrienne Jory and Rick Gibson were driving around West End when they saw a ‘For Lease’ sign. It fronted a property they had viewed years earlier while scouting a home for their plant-based taco venture, El Planta. Back then they weren’t ready for a permanent venue – but after four successful years with El Planta, first as a pop-up then a restaurant, the duo was ready to take the plunge.
“We pulled up and called the agent straightaway,” Jory tells Broadsheet. “As soon as we walked in, we looked at each other and were like, ‘No matter what we have to do, this is the space.’”
The venue now houses Bar Francine, Jory and Gibson’s newest offering. Based in a 100-year-old space in West End’s hospitality and cultural hub, the bar’s history is highlighted with an arched ceiling – restored by the pair – plus ’60s milk bar tiles and framed vintage photographs on the walls. Warm-toned timber furniture anchors the chic, unpretentious setting, where diners can sip natural wines from antique glassware and share plates of seafood and veg-focused dishes.
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Chef Brad Cooper (ex-Florence) heads up the kitchen, serving a purely pescatarian menu. Jory told Broadsheet back in September 2022 that Cooper would’ve told her to “get stuffed” if she’d wanted second plant-based menu. So the Bar Francine menu is a bit of a compromise. It’s “super vegetable-forward but just sometimes [goes] down to the beach for a bit”, Jory joked. But she says the absence of red meat and poultry has been pushing innovation.
“For example, the kohlrabi minute steak … is a three-day process. It's really increased the creativity from the kitchen not having that [meat] fallback.”
Cooper’s menu takes inspiration from European techniques and flavours, with plates such as crisp onion fritti with crème fraiche and mint jelly on the side; sweet swimmer crab atop creamed corn and chilli butter, and rigatoni in a zesty mint and zucchini sauce.
Bar manager Chris Bancroft (ex-Maeve Wine) is behind the dynamic Australian wine list. As you’d expect from a Maeve alum, he highlights minimal-intervention Australian producers such as Curly Flat, Little Reddie, and Gentle Folk. There’s also a handful of by-the-glass options for those looking to sample a few drops.
As well as classic Martinis and spritzes, the cocktail list features nostalgic Australian drinks like the Shandy and Fruit Cup made from Australian spirits (Never Never, Archie Rose, Autonomy Distillers).
A fuss-free collection of tinnies also speaks to the style of hospitality – relaxed, comfortable and welcoming.
For Jory and Gibson, a good meal should feel like eating at a mate’s place. And we think we’ll want to be friends with Francine for a long time to come.