Another year of Melbourne Food & Wine festival is behind us. This year, Broadsheet put on a sell-out event of our own, turning daytime sandwich shop Hector’s Deli into an after-dark bistro with the legendary France-Soir.

To celebrate, we invited Hector’s co-founder and chef Dom Wilton and France-Soir owner Jean-Paul Prunetti onto our podcast, Broadsheet Melbourne: Around Town. The pair spoke about how the “no-brainer” collaboration came about, and quizzed each other on the differences between running daytime and night-time venues.

Plus, we hear about France-Soir’s beginnings, how it became one of Melbourne’s longest-running institutions, and the ways it has inspired Wilton.

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Dom: On being a long-time France-Soir fan

I had my first France-Soir epiphany when I was 14 years old … It was a very hot day and we went to the back of the restaurant at about 4pm [and] just ate a crème brûlée. I remember it being such a memorable experience and Mum telling me why the place was special. Ever since, I’ve celebrated all special occasions, anniversaries, birthdays and whatever else there.

When [the Hector’s Deli team looks] at a brand like France-Soir – I wouldn’t dare compare it in any way, but the inspiration definitely comes from timelessness and perfecting simplicity. That is the essence of everything we want to be.

Jean-Paul: On the theatre of France-Soir

I never wanted to open a restaurant. I was in the industry a long time before I got to France-Soir. I was in the industry in France for about 10 years, and then I got here and didn’t do anything before starting France-Soir. A friend of mine called and asked, “Would you like to start a restaurant?” I told him maybe, because I didn’t want to really do a restaurant, but that’s what happened.

It’s theatre. There is an ambiance to reproduce every night, there’s a way to please people, and they only come back because of that. They don’t necessarily come back because the food is better than anywhere else. Normally it’s a good meal, but it’s also something else with it. There is an ambiance, there is a way of doing things … there’s a lot of pieces to put together to make it successful.

Dom: On what creates longevity for a restaurant

I want to be here in 38 years, but I want to be here in 38 years having done something worthwhile, not having created just another quick service restaurant. Because I can tell you, if that was the plan, if I put up a whiteboard tomorrow in front of everybody and said our purpose here is to have as many stores as we can, everyone would walk out.

What creates longevity? I’m not sure. I’m lucky enough to be able to sit in a room with people like JP and work at various places that have been around for a long time. But it seems like there’s a certain magic that isn’t easy to put your finger on. If I asked JP what’s the reason for your 38-year success, I’m sure there wouldn’t be a simple one-word answer.