moncur magic

Bistro Moncur is a timeless classic. Like the perfect little black dress or an Armani suit, it can be relied on to instantly make you feel both totally comfortable and effortlessly elegant.  It’s the type of place that everyone should have at least one of in their restaurant repertoire. Stylish enough for a special night out, while at the same time, casual enough for a spur of the moment steak frites dinner, it is genuinely an all rounder.

Stepping through the heavy wooden door that links the restaurant with the front bar of the Woollahra hotel, I felt a totally unexpected sense of deja-vu. It had been almost ten years since my last Moncur meal but the minute I entered the subtly lit dining room I was transported back to my last visit.  Everything was exactly as I remembered. The strikingly modern black and white Matisse like mural that dominates one side of the restaurant, the white tableclothed tables with classic wooden chairs, and the surprisingly hushed tones of the full hard wood floored dining room, were all picture perfect.

Like any decent Lyonnaise bistro, Moncur has a menu with a solid background of classic dishes that is peppered with a few more unique creations and supported by an enticing specials menu.  The wine list is equally well balanced with good representation from both Australia and France. The pleasant surprise was some very good options in the sub $30 category, a rarity in this neighbourhood, and a whole page of wine specials…decisions, decisions….. In keeping with the French feel of the evening, a 2001 Cotes du Rhone ($33) was selected and with that decision out of the way we settled in for some serious menu perusal.

I love reading menus and Bistro Moncur’s delivers like a bestseller list. Entrees consisted of all my bistro favourites: a tomato salad, French onion soufflé, crab omelette, chicken liver pate, pork and pistachio terrine. I was tempted by the duck confit, walnut, pear, caramelised onion and wild roquette salad ($19) but it was eagerly chosen by my dining companion.  A masterpiece with the lusciously rich duck meat balanced by the sweet crunch of the pears, the nutty notes of the walnut, sweet soft onions, and perfectly dressed peppery roquette.

In the interest of exploration, I opted for the ‘rustic’ salad of spinach, Roquefort, hazelnut, and organic mushrooms ($18). While the blue cheese embodied the delightfully piquant hero of this dish, it was supported by a strong cast of individuals: crispy croutons, refreshing julienned celery and roasted hazelnuts, all providing a different textural crunch. The raw mushrooms however, played the part of villain detracting from the whole performance leaving me with a bad case of salad envy.

With red wine already chosen, the main course menu was easier to navigate.  The fish options did sound tasty enough to warrant exploration on another occasion, but tonight we were in for some red meat and Bistro Moncur knows how to cater for the carnivore.  From the special of wagyu beef with morel mushrooms, to the minute steak with wine merchants sauce that I remember vividly from my last visit, to your classic pork sausages with puy lentils, and the fillet steak with your choice of béarnaise sauce or tapenade with tomato and basil, there were plenty of options.

The sirloin café de Paris ($35) manifested itself as the classic steak frites. Crisp, delicately julienned fries are a cornerstone of bistro cooking and the Bistro Moncur version leaves no doubt in your mind why the Americans call them ‘French’ fries. Their crunchy potatoey goodness played the perfect accompaniment to a succulent sirloin slab drizzled in a tarragon butter sauce.  Surprisingly, tonight’s offering was more on the medium side than the requested rare but the quality of the meat made up for this oversight.

When you’re feeling a bit on the anaemic side, there’s nothing better than a decent serving of liver to super charge your iron reserves. At Bistro Moncur, the pan seared calf’s liver with sherried onion sauce, smoked pancetta, parsnip chips and semolina gnocchi ($29) was just what the doctor ordered. Thinly sliced liver appeared seared to perfection with the insides still rosy pink. The rich, meltingly tender meat balanced by a punchy yet sweet onion vinegar sauce and contrasted with salty pancetta and the crispest of parsnip chips.  Initially I found the large chunk of gnocchi superfluous, but after a while I welcomed it’s blandness as a respite from the flavour explosions on the rest of my plate.

While the Cotes du Rhone had served us well, we needed a glass of something more to carry us through to the end. From the concise wine by the glass list a 2002 Yerringberg Shiraz Viognier ($9.50/ glass) was chosen. While there was nothing wrong with the wine, there was equally nothing to get excited about, as it lacked the perfumed power that makes this wine style such an attraction.

Desserts did look attractive, particularly the popular honeycomb soufflé with lemon cream, but our very satisfied stomaches made the tough decision for us.  Next time we would save space for dessert but on this occasion we were watching out waistlines and our wallets so we happily waddled to the nearby Lord Dudley Hotel for a post dinner drink….all good things…

Bistro Moncur              
Cnr Queen St & Moncur St          
p. 02 9363 2519      
Chef: Damien Pignolet
Lunch: 12-3pm tues-sun
Dinner: 6-10.30pm mon-sat, 6-9pm sun
Prices: E$17-$29, M 426-$40, D $16.
No Bookings, Licensed