While many French restaurants in Melbourne hone and honour French bistro classics, Chez Bagou adds its own flair. The classy French restaurant is part of the French bistronomie movement – started by Paris restaurant La Régalade in 1992 – that’s seen a new breed of chefs make French dinners fun and accessible again.
For French-born owner Aurelien Bagou, that starts with brightening up the classics. Here, the bistro favourite steak tartare might be elevated with porcini mushroom and slices of Tasmanian truffle, while the gravlax plate sees salmon swapped out for cured kingfish topped with beetroot puree, fennel and homemade buttermilk blinis with kingfish rillettes.
Tradition also stakes its claim here. In the elegant dining room, complete with original floorboards and old-school white tablecloths, you can rely on mainstays like French onion soup, escargots with garlic butter, boeuf bourguignon with slow-cooked beef cheek, confit duck leg and, to finish, tarte tatin and fluffy profiteroles. It’s fancy yet accessible food in sleek, cosy surroundings.
You can also sit up at the bar and choose a glass of wine from the 160-strong, mostly French wine list. Or ask the waitstaff to scale the rolling ladder that lines the golden-hued bar for top-shelf Armagnac eau de vie dating back to 1953. Two private dining rooms upstairs include the cellar room, complete with maps of wine regions, wine barrels, and a wall of wine; or the fireplace room with its 12-seat table, velvet curtains and rustic provincial-style wood and iron chandeliers.
Bagou grew up in Normandy and spent his career working front of house in restaurants across France and Monaco, before arriving in Melbourne for a three-month holiday that stretched to more than 15 years. The influence of his motherland might be clearest in the Parisian-style terrace out the front, where you can sit and experience a little bit of France in Albert Park.
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