In between visiting every inner-city food store in mad preparation for The Writer's Farewell and Birthday (talk about bittersweet) party, we managed to squeeze in a quick lunch. The European cuisine we both adore comes from the same European country we unfortunately will not be visiting in our upcoming trip so it was an easy choice. Paris Go is what an Australian French Bistro should be- simple. You will always find escargot and duck on the menu, a variety of French drops on the wine list and a warm, cosy interior that just manages to stay on the right side of too noisy.
We begin with deliciously chewy bread and rosettes of butter. Having let you see the size of the basket it is with great embarrassment that I admit these two starving shoppers had it refilled and devoured that too!
The Writer opts for one of the specials; crab bisque. The broth had a beautiful depth of flavour without being overly rich. The sort of bowl where you anticipate your next spoonful to try and determine what secret ingredient makes it taste so wonderful and whether you can possibly recreate it at home.
I opt for the escargot and a large portion of the bread basket was soaked in the garlicky butter that bathed these tender morsels. The snails sit atop a mushroom that also does a wonderful job mopping up those buttery juices.
The Writer selects another special of roast lamb in juniper berries with a port sauce. The lamb is delightfully tender and served with what appeared to be a wild mushroom risotto.
I struggle to choose between the coq au vin with truffled mash and the cassoulet but my love of duck and pork which both feature in the latter triumph. Studded with beans and what is also served as the provincial sausage, this may be the ultimate one-pot meal. Cassoulet recipes differ greatly between French regions and French restaurants and while this wasn't the best one I have ever sampled it certainly makes for a beautifully hearty Winter meal.
I was engrossed by a nearby table of four that consumed two dozen oysters and four additional courses (including a cheese platter) and four bottles of wine in the time we were there. I must return for a similarly leisurely lunch and soon. Too full for dessert and keen to get on with party preparations we finish with a complimentary drink for the birthday boy and a very strong espresso for the now designated driver.
In comparison to other inner city French restaurants in a similar price range, in my mind Libertine is clearly ahead. The food is more refined, the service smoother and the wine list clearly superior. Most importantly in a French restaurant it is intensely romantic, particularly if you get the corner booth seat on a Wintery night. Paris Go has a wider variety of dishes than Aux Batifolles but I prefer the interior of the latter so I think that one is too close to call.
It had crossed my mind to book somewhere fancier for the birthday celebration- Vue de Monde, Fenix, Interlude or Jacques Reymond perhaps. Then The Writer said something that made me sure sometimes the best choice is a place that does classic dishes well: "I like innovative food but I'm not tired of the simple things yet". Neither am I, in fact I get more joy from discovering a place that does simple dishes well than any other type of establishment.
Paris Go Bistro
116 Rathdowne St, Carlton
Ph: 03 9347 7507
Licensed, BYO Bottled Wine Only. Corkage $3.50 Bottle