Presentation is particularly important to the French. So says chef Guillaume Brahimi of namesake restaurant, Bistro Guillaume. “French people take their elegance seriously,” he says. “It comes back to words we say in French: savoir-vivre. The way of living.”
The chef’s restaurant on the Riverwalk overlooking the Yarra is no exception to the Parisian chic rule with crisp napkins, emerald green bar, chilled Champagne, rattan chairs and a gorgeous terrace looking out over the river to the city. That style extends to the food. “I consider the food in my bistro simple and elegant and I let the produce speak for itself,” says Brahimi.
With the summer months advancing, we asked the chef for his tips for adopting his elegant food styling at home.
“Beautiful plates” are as necessary as the tools you use to place food on them. Before constructing his salad niçoise with rare yellowfin tuna, Brahimi uses a brush to lightly spread olive tapenade on the plate. “You should have a brush in the kitchen as much as you should have a wine opener,” he says. “For me it’s common sense.”
Tweezers are also handy for placing herbs like dill in the piped crème fraîche of Bistro Guillaume’s in-house smoked salmon with toasted brioche. “You don’t crush the herbs when you pick it with the tweezers,” he says. “They make it more delicate.”
At Bistro Guillaume plating is informed by a “less is more” approach. “If you source great produce, you don’t need to put 20 things on the plate,” says Brahimi. “Make sure you use fresh produce of the season.” If it’s at its best, its colour should pop. “Take the raw zucchini, peas, and the broad beans in our spring salad, or the raspberries and mandarins we use in the Vacherin dessert – it’s the colour of spring and summer. Showcasing them in a simple way is a very stylish thing.”
You can also roll, stack, curl and loop ingredients for contrast and volume on the plate. With Brahimi’s salad niçoise, its construction is paramount. “You pile the beans, bunch by bunch, five-by-five put together, and build a little bit of a castle with it,” he says. “It’s also very important to toss the beans in the vinaigrette [first]. Everything needs to be nicely glazed so it’s shiny.”
Never lose sight of ensuring the core ingredient of a dish remains the focus: “If it’s a smoked salmon dish, the highlight is the smoked salmon. Too many chefs will think, ‘Oh, let me add one more flavour, let me add, let me add … and you’re losing the purity of the dish. Simplicity is beautiful. I’m a big fan of it.”
“Don’t use too much salt,” says Brahimi. “Don’t use too much sauce. If it’s a hot dish, make sure you serve it on a hot plate. I know that sounds like a very simple thing but so many people don’t. And if I do it at home, I sauce in front of the guest so they can tell me when to stop. It’s a nice way to do a little bit extra.”
Loose ends and confidence
Before serving, Brahimi suggests using a tightly rolled up paper towel, fastened with a rubber band, to efficiently wipe away anything on the plate looking out of place. And be confident in it. “When you plate a dish, and you look at it and you’re happy with it, leave it alone. It’s done,” he says. “You need to be confident in your ability to create something beautiful. Whether you spend two hours making a masterpiece or five minutes making an omelette, what do you want? In the end you want an empty plate and a smile on the face of your guest.”
Take advantage of Bistro Guillaume’s Champagne Sundays special offer of a two-course lunch with flowing Moët & Chandon and book your Sunday social occasion now