Australian dining has changed dramatically over the past 15 years or so. Though eating out still requires a certain amount of disposable income, fine food is more widely available than it’s ever been. You can get confit duck in a $20 burger, panna cotta with granola for breakfast, and sea-urchin roe as a bar snack.
Likewise, the French bistronomy movement – started by Paris restaurant La Régalade in 1992 – has been gently revolutionising the country’s restaurants by making dining fun and accessible again. Food critic François Simon summed it up thusly: “A new breed of bistros run by creative young chefs with formidable haute cuisine training who serve honest food at gentle prices instead of reaching for Michelin stars.”
Ryan Dolan’s first experience with la bistronomie was in 2012 at Saturne, another restaurant in Paris. “I was blown away by the food, natural wine and professional yet relaxed service,” says the young chef, who grew up in Cairns. “I distinctly remember watching a table of old ladies who were licking their plates and laughing loudly [before] another table next to them joined in too.”
Dolan is bringing the movement here as the first resident chef at the Broadsheet Kitchen, an incubator in Melbourne for up-and-coming chefs to experiment, learn and challenge the status quo. “We’re looking for the people who are going to make a mark on the way we eat,” says Broadsheet’s founder and publisher Nick Shelton.
With the high costs of construction, wages, rent and customer expectations, starting a restaurant is an inherently risky endeavour, even if the concept is relatively safe. The Broadsheet Kitchen aims to foster innovation by removing as much of this risk as possible. “It doesn’t matter if we’re eating burgers or degustation: we expect the best. And that means the bar is being pushed ever-higher for young upstarts in what is an increasingly competitive landscape,” Shelton says.
The Kitchen has temporarily taken over the site of Saint Crispin, Scott Pickett’s popular restaurant in Collingwood, in Melbourne’s inner north. Over the next 12 months, three more chefs will get the chance to test their ideas, with experienced head chef Stuart McVeigh and his team in the kitchen to offer practical guidance. In our national search for talent Dolan was the first to impress our five industry judges with his bistronomy concept, Cabale.
Dolan’s first gig in France was at Christian Tetedoie, an expensive Michelin-starred restaurant in Lyon. “When I arrived in France I didn’t realise at the time the fine-dining scene was going through a bit of a stagnant period,” he says. “Spain, Japan and several countries in Scandinavia were more in the spotlight.”
He wised up quickly. Within three years he and two other chefs were cooking at the tiny La Bijouterie. They had no floor staff and no dishwashers – they just wanted to experiment “without conforming to [profit] margins or stressing about Michelin stars”. The seven-course set menu changed every three weeks according to what was available at the market, and what the trio felt like cooking.
Cabale isn’t quite this radical. Saint Crispin’s waiters are still delivering food, pouring wine and all the other things you’d expect from an Australian restaurant. And though the menu is set at two, three or five courses, diners have at least three choices at each step – a godsend for the indecisive.
You might start with a gooey, bite-sized comte gougere (filled pastry), before moving onto a caramelised Moreton Bay bug served in bisque and pork neck paired with butter beans, pipis and … galangal, the Thai root much like ginger. Desserts stick to simple flavours: goats milk ice-cream with blueberry sorbet, or a moreish chocolate marquis (firm, dark chocolate mousse) with ice-cream made from dried bananas.
Just as that French food critic once said, Dolan has “formidable haute cuisine training”. But at Cabale, he’s using it with restraint, to keep the food fun and accessible.
Just how will this bistronomy approach translate to Australia, though? You’ve got until Australia Day to find out for yourself.
Ryan Dolan, Resident #1
Until 26 January, 2019
The Broadsheet Kitchen at Saint Crispin
300 Smith Street, Collingwood
(03) 9419 2202
Tue to Thu 6pm–late
Fri to Sun 12pm–3pm and 6pm–late