“We needed a name that better said what we are,” owner Gary Prebble explained when I finally worked out Bistro St. Jacques was Pitt St. Diner rebadged. With gold lettering on pink, blue and white French doors, done in an appropriate French bistro font, backed by dainty black chiffon curtains, it’s an eye-catching shop front.
On display outside, the classic French bistro menu very nearly unseated my desire to visit Juan Bowl + Tea next door and was enough to lure me back on a second visit to Redfern the very next week. When we arrive for our booking, every table is full, and the restaurant buzzes with a convivial hum.
Edison bulbs held captive inside black mesh pendant light shades exude a warm orange glow that illuminated the pretty pressed tin ceiling. From the outset it’s clear this restaurant is serious about wine, with bottle racks on the wall of the long galley-like dining room, and in the intimate private dining room, which looks like a scene from The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989).
The extensive wine list offers up some good descriptions of Prebble’s favourite wines, like the 2016 By Farr Viognier, Geelong ($125), which, though pricy is a wonderful drop packaging up power, concentration and surprising restraint. Prebble writes: “re-experience this varietal” and he’s right on the mone - without the heady perfume, it’s a non-characteristic Viognier that is worth trying if, like me, you avoid this varietal because of the floral elements.
Being lightly lemony with flinty minerals, this Viognier is made for oysters. Today they’re tight little Sydney Rock Oysters ($4/each) from Pambula on the NSW south coast. All they need is a squeeze of lemon, and they’re away, though the French shallot and Champagne vinegar they’re served with is sharp and enjoyable.
Thinly sliced rounds of house-made Bread ($2/person) are tasty and dense, especially when thickly lathered with the accompanying, bright apple and thyme-infused butter.
You’ll also get four little slices to accompany your Duck Liver & Pistachio Parfait ($16), which, if you carefully quarter the pink, unoxidised slice of parfait and spread it on thick, stays within the acceptable carbohydrate-to-parfait range. While the accompanying pickles are too sweet for me on their own, laid over your parfait covered baguette rounds like juicy, wet blankets, they work against the iron-rich flavour.
Coquilles St Jacques ($18) presents three tiny Tasmanian scallops gratinéed in their shells in a blend of butter, fennel, shallots, garlic and fresh breadcrumbs. While they’re pretty to look at, they’re cooked a bit heavily with the normally tender scallop meat getting a bit lost in translation.
With every table full, our mains take longer than they should, though we’re distracted by friendly staff and a discussion on the merits of Viognier, enhanced by a complimentary taste of the 2013 Alain Jaune Viognier, Cote du Rhone France ($69). I don’t like it as much as the By Farr I’m currently drinking, but as Prebble points out: “It’s half the price.” My dining companion succumbs to a glass.
When the Herb & Parmesan-Crusted Lamb Brains ($30) finally do arrive, they prove well worth the wait. The crisp crust hides pink, creamy interiors that respond beautifully to the tangy apple butter sauce at the base. Springy fresh parsley and crisp maple bacon complete the dish, both helping to ensuring that your mouth gets a complete flavour and texture workout. I love this dish.
It would obviously be remiss of me to come to a French bistro and not order Steak-Frites ($35), so I oblige with the 220-gram scotch fillet version against classic Bordelaise Sauce ($5). The beef is good, and the Bordelaise is impressive - the mid-palate of roasted bone is brightened up with a pleasantly not-too-heavy red wine. While the steak component of this classic dish that I ate at Macleay St. Bistro recently was better, Bistro St. Jacques wins hands down on the crunchy and compelling hand-cut chips.
Portions are predicated on eating three courses, so throw in a Baby Cos and Butter Head Lettuce Salad ($12) without fear. Chef Brett Jeffrey has a good eye for produce, and his duelling lettuces shine against pickled vegetables and a simple herb dressing.
Not being all that big on dessert, we go to pay the bill but kept in our chairs with free glasses of Spanish Vermut Negre (black vermouth) garnished with orange wedges and green olives. This pleasant digestive drinks a bit like cinotto, and is a lovely way to end the meal. The warmth of the welcome, combined with good food and great wine, really inclines us out-of-area blow-ins to become enduring friends with this above-average neighbourhood bistro.
Bistro St. Jacques
96 Pitt Street, Redfern
Ph: (0478) 705 704
NOTE: See a previous review of this venue under its old name back HERE.