Off Collins Street, up George Parade and down two flights of stairs there’s a portal into France. Philippe is the new venture by Philippe Mouchel, the Normandy-born chef and protégé of the legendary Paul Bocuse, a fixture of Melbourne dining since 1991. It’s the latest in his long line of brasseries, the last of which was Deja Vue, a pop-up on St Kilda Road.

The basement venue has a storied past, with Greg Malouf, Jamie Oliver and Gerald Diffey each calling it home at some point. While the space had many existing virtues – its wave-like roof, painted floor and exposed brickwork – architects Crosier Scott helped warm it up, mainly via lighting.

“It’s a beautiful building, but it was a bit too dark for me,” says Mouchel. “So we renovated the place, and gave it a bit of a lift.”

There is a long zinc bar and living gardens on the walls. The open kitchen is the nucleus of Philippe. From anywhere in the restaurant you’ll hear orders called in French. Mouchel has drafted Aurelien Gransagne, formerly of the two-Michelin-starred L’Esperance in Burgundy, to be his chef de cuisine.

Using produce from farms in Gippsland and Geelong, and cooking over a Josper grill, Mouchel says he wants to serve classic French dishes with a modern touch.

“What’s a modern bistro?” he asks. “First, it’s first-class ingredients you’re using when they’re in season. And, second, it’s cooking very simply. It can be grilled or roasted with fresh garnish, without heavy juices or sauces.”

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Classic-but-contemporary dishes might include beetroot-cured King Salmon with walnut mayonnaise; or a braised beef-cheek with carrot, cumin and bacon emulsion. There are three variations on top-notch steak. Desserts, like everything else, are seasonal – at the moment it's baked quince with lemon crème.

The wine list also goes for elegant rather than extensive. There is a cellar of around 50 wines from Australia and France. “I don’t want to buy expensive wine, because I don’t want to sell expensive,” he says.

And don’t worry – yes, Mouchel’s famous rotisserie chicken is still on the menu. “Everyone thinks now I’m only cooking chicken. But it’s not only chicken, there are a lot of things on the menu!” Mouchel says, laughing. “But I cannot remove the chicken – I’ve got the rotisserie, so I have to do the chicken.”

115–117 Collins Street, Melbourne
(Entry via George Parade)
(03) 8394 6625

Mon to Wed 12pm–3pm, 5pm–10pm
Thu & Fri 12pm–3pm, 5pm–12am
Sat 5pm–12pm