I like anyone free from restraint so unsurprisingly Libertine is a bit of a favourite of mine. I'm rather pleased this one-hatter isn't surrounded by hype making it perfect for intimate dinners. During the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival it's also perfect for a bargain lunch. The Restaurant Express Menu gets you two courses, a glass of wine and tea or coffee for $30. With our three hour stint I can't help but gleefully calculate that to be $10 per hour. Like Grossi Florentino, Libertine offered those beloved special touches such as the warm sourdough. John Lethlean it seems they've heard you. This was an excellent loaf.
The downstairs has a dark cosy bistro feel, a perfect escape on cold winter nights. Upstairs the feel is lighter with white walls, vintage wallpaper, ruby crystal chandeliers and a great soundtrack full of fabulous French clichés.
Because there are a few of us we decide to spread out our two courses and sample as much of the menu as possible. The entrée I sampled, the crispy river prawns with sauce gribiche, is a stack of sweet soft shelled prawns surrounded by a gorgeous tomato and prawn stock infusion that in my opinion outshines the gribiche.
Our table is split between those ordering the entrecôte béarnaise with salad and pommes frites and the moules marinière with aioli. The mains aren't exciting but are classics done well. Inferior to the exceptional food on the normal menu but it's hard to offer roast duck breast with quince or steak with truffles and foie gras at these prices. It's worth noting even à la carte both the mains and exceptional European wine list are well priced.
We finish by sharing plates of Roquefort with quince paste and toasted walnut bread and strawberry and crème chantilly sablé. Each generous cheese portion is easily enough for four people. The sablé are delightfully buttery yet lovely and light.
The outstanding sweet treat are the complimentary petits fours- a bite of dark chocolate mousse encased in chocolate. I finish with a pot of Darjeeling filled with a very impressive leaf indeed. The tea is characteristically light in colour yet becomes bitter if left too long in the pot- a sign that it's pure Darjeeling and not mixed with other leaves as is all too common. This isn't a place that takes short cuts and it's all about the special touches. Chef Nick Creswick (ex-Attica) and wife Zoe Ladyman (ex-sommelier at Ezard) certainly have a winning formula. A real gem.
500 Victoria St, North Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9329 5228
Lunch midday-3pm Mon-Fri; dinner 6pm-10pm Mon-Sat