“Well, there used to be a bath here,” says Ian Curley, gesturing to a space directly in front of the zinc-topped bar that dominates what is now the French Saloon. “This whole room was a two-bedroom apartment. The private dining room, just up those stairs there – that was a one-bedroom apartment. The rent was up on these places, so we thought, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s take it on’.”
The “it” Curley is referring to is the space directly above Kirk’s, the wine bar he owns in the CBD along with restaurateurs Con Christopoulos and Josh Brisbane (both of The European, Siglo, City Wine Shop). As its name suggests, the space upstairs has been converted into a French-style saloon-slash-bistro, complete with stripped-back white floors, a bright-red ceiling and a bar that was imported from just outside of Paris.
“We had to get it sent over in two pieces,” says Curley. “It wouldn’t have fit in the container otherwise.”
The ethos of the French Saloon is similar to that at Kirk’s. The wine is fabulous. The food is simple but refined. And there’s a relaxed European vibe to it all. But while Kirk’s downstairs has established itself firmly as a wine bar, the French Saloon upstairs, while not quite a restaurant, is, at the very least, a “confident French bistro”.
“Restaurants, as far as I’m concerned, are places that do three courses: entrée, main, dessert. We want people to be able to come in and just have a coffee or a beer. If you just want to have a snack on the balcony, and a cigarette or a cigar – that’s also fantastic,” says Curley. “But if you want a proper meal, you can get that here too.”
Curley is executive chef of the French Saloon, like he is at the European. But he’s appointed Todd Moses, ex-head chef of Supernormal (also Golden Fields and Circa), to run the kitchen and create an approachable menu that’s a modern take on classic combinations.
“Take, for example, the smoked duck with cherries and radicchio,” Moses explains. “The flavours are classic, but we’re using beautiful produce and technique, and we’ve modernised it with our plating. It brings that pizzazz and wow, and it’s what will set us apart.”
Russell Keightley is doing the wine (as he does downstairs at Kirk’s, too). The list isn’t all French, but it’s mostly in the French-style – for example, Barossa reds that could be from Bordeaux. There’s also a strong focus on cocktails and aperitifs to fit the saloon theme.
“This is our idea of a French saloon,” says Curley. “Kirk’s is our idea of a wine bar, and when we open Kirk’s Public Bar [mid-2016], that will be our idea of a pub. We’ve got a good, organic energy going – we just do what we do.”
French Saloon Bar & Bistro
Level 1, 380–384 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne
(Access via Hardware Lane)
(03) 9600 2142
Mon to Fri 12pm–12am
Closed Sat & Sun