Don’t worry, wine bars aren’t going anywhere. But 2024 is shaping up to be the year of the bistro, with a number of these restaurants – with their familiar service and comforting unfussy menus – opening in recent months. There are more to come, but here are three to try for now.

There’s a nostalgic bistro with white tablecloths, Luke Mangan’s new French spot and a Fitzroy joint inspired by a French chef’s nonna.

Bistra, Carlton

The dream of the ’90s (and early 2000s) is alive at Bistra, a Carlton hideaway that taps into nostalgia with white tablecloths, throwback dishes – including a canned lychee and coconut custard dessert inspired by co-owner Joseph Ho’s childhood – and old-school service.

Never miss a Melbourne moment. Make sure you're subscribed to our newsletter today.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Bistra opened in April and is the work of Ho, Henry Crawford (Bar Romantica) and Alexei Taheny-Macfarlane.

The decidedly Australian bistro sees casarecce pasta sit beside a classic American cheeseburger, French onion soup and beer-battered Spencer Gulf prawns with Southeast Asian aromatics. Alongside the food is a 460-strong wine list the trio has amassed over 10 years.

The understated space, which looks like it’s been there for decades, belies the work that’s gone on behind the scenes. The former clothing boutique’s staircase was reconfigured, and what was once a courtyard is now an extension comprising the kitchen and corridor (with a newly added skylight letting in plenty of natural light).

Bistrot Bisou, CBD

Sydney chef Luke Mangan (Luke’s Kitchen, Luc-San) is at the helm of this new French bistro – or bistrot – in Hotel Indigo on Flinders Lane. Mangan, who trained under Michel Roux at the UK’s three-Michelin-starred The Waterside Inn in the 1990s, said Bistrot Bisou is his “love letter” to French food, when we interviewed him just before the new venue opened at the end of May.

The relaxed 96-seat dining room has Parisian elegance thanks to banquettes, ivory-coloured tiling and gold pendant lighting. The open kitchen runs the length of the dining room and has a woodfired parrilla grill that emits a fiery glow and has a European countryside feel.
The menu showcases Mangan’s favourite French dishes. These include a dry-aged rib eye on the bone and bavette steak frites, and spatchcock roasted over ironbark coals served with a champagne and tarragon sauce as well as classic gruyere soufflé, steak tartare and chicken liver parfait.

There’s also Taittinger champagne served by the glass alongside a selection of French wines from Beaujolais, the Loire Valley and Burgundy and a list of most French-inspired cocktails.

Norma, Fitzroy

French-born chef Benjamin Tremblet opened this 36-seat restaurant in a former Chinese restaurant on Smith Street back in March. The green and white wood-panelled bistro draws on the Italian heritage of Tremblet’s maternal grandmother – who gives the venue its name – as well as his own upbringing in France.

Many of the dishes are adapted from Tremblet’s childhood favourites. The pizzettas, for instance, are his take on those his grandmother Norma used to prepare as a pre-dinner snack. Toppings include pistachio pesto and mortadella, eggplant and scamorza, and caramelised onion, anchovy and black olives – a specialty of Nice.
There are also coquillettes (a typical French pasta), cooked low and slow in a pan with smoked ham, pecorino and cream and a wine list that offers a mix of French, Italian and Australian bottles, with a significant focus on red wine and rosé from Tremblet’s family vineyard near Bordeaux.

Additional reporting by Daniela Frangos, Quincy Malesovas and Jo Rittey.