Ah, Paris. The country of Coco Chanel and the land of coq au vin. When I’m in town, l pastry-hop all day, every day. I can never get enough of those gorgeous eclairs, colourful macarons, fresh, crusty baguettes and piping-hot, gooey croque-monsieurs. French patisseries are proud of their baked goods and prominently display their wares at the shopfront, so invitingly they’re hard to ignore.
Because food is central to Parisian life, the preparation for classic French main dishes such as boeuf bourguignon requires patience and passion. Le Réveillon is one key feast that the French celebrate at both Christmas and New Year’s Eve. While I’ve had my fair share of three-hour dinners, I have never spent winter in France, and I’ve always wondered what it’s like to observe a traditional French Yuletide celebration.
Parisian-style Bistro du Vin is located in the heart of Kennedy Town, and it looks every bit like a chic Parisian eatery. The interior is charming and intimate, with all the French fixings for a cosy, Provençal-style café.
Our group of seven sat down to a starter board of house-made pork pâté, duck rillettes and Bayonne ham, served with a side of sourdough. The pork was puréed with herbs and spices and it had a beautiful line of fat at the top that preserved the pâté. The Bayonne ham hailed from the South of France and tasted slightly sweeter compared to other cured hams, with a chewier texture. But the duck rillettes, made with shreds of duck meat and fat, was the star of the board. It was rustic, decadent and addictive. I was still spooning some onto my plate into our third course, with or without bread.
Still on the entrées, we were served French escargots on bone marrow. I speared an escargot and scooped up some of the bone marrow along with it. The flesh was beautifully chewy and the rich parsley butter brought out the taste of the meat. I also learned the secret to its decadent texture – the escargots were simmered in red wine for 45 minutes first, before dishing both the snails and the butter onto the bone marrow while it was still piping hot.
The pan-seared Hokkaido scallops arrived at the same time as the escargot dish. The scallops were sashimi grade and the gorgeous char on them made my mouth water. Plus points to the chef for perfectly searing them to medium rare. The seaweed butter perfectly complemented the dish.
Next, the servers presented a huge Le Creuset pot of seafood bouillabaisse. The stew contained a delightful mix of local prawns, clams, fish and crab, caught fresh and delivered daily from Aberdeen. The broth had been simmered for two hours, and I was hit by the concentrated ocean tastes of the shellfish juices. The seafood itself was moreishly sweet and so fresh.
Then came the presentation of the Christmas mains, with the roasted chicken the first of the two to arrive. With a typical home-cooked roast, I usually eye the thigh. But when I learned that this was a farm chicken, I gamely opted for the breast instead. Because it was a free-range fowl, the fat should have delicately melted into the flesh during roasting. True enough, the meat turned out to be very tender and extremely juicy. The chicken was also well seasoned and was served on a bed of savoury peas, carrots, green beans and whole roasted garlic.
The second main received gasps before it even reached the table. The côte de boeuf was a prime bone-in rib-eye steak and weighed a colossal 1.2kg. The servers proceeded to portion the medium-rare steak, and I could feel the exquisite pink meat slices beckoning. I cut into my meat – it was perfectly seasoned and tasted phenomenal. The accompanying Béarnaise sauce was smooth and buttery and complemented the steak well, though eating the meat alone tasted just as delicious.
As with any typical French meal, decadence is called for. Then first of the desserts was a traditional Grand Marnier soufflé. It was poofy with a bounce when it was lightly tapped, but when I dug in, it revealed a moist and soft centre. In my first spoonful, I could taste the subtle egg flavour along with the crunch of sugar granules. Unfortunately, though, it fell short on the orange flavour from the liqueur. But the texture was light and great, and it felt like eating a cloud that melted in my mouth.
The dark chocolate fondant arrived soon after. Chocolate desserts are my weakness, and I was eager to sample this dish. We cut open the fondant, and there was a sudden wave of disappointment – there was no molten chocolate inside! Nevertheless, it was still a good, dense chocolate cake, and I was surprised to find myself wishing there was more of it.
We celebrated the end of our Christmas dinner with a special treat from Bistro du Vin. The servers placed freshly baked madeleines made by its sister restaurant Le Port Parfumé in front of us. I bit into the delicate crust and swooned instantly when I tasted the soft sponge inside. I can see why they are famous for their madeleines. The madeleines are not on the seasonal menu, but it’s worth buying them à la carte for your festive nibbles.
I was happy to experience my first French Christmas dinner and inadvertently got to pastry-hop too. I loved the selections in the seasonal set. The chef paid loads of attention to detail, and each element was cooked so precisely that another minute and the course would have been ruined. The escargots were lovely, the scallops were great, but the steak was excellent. In fact, now that I’ve tried côte de boeuf, I don’t think I’ll ever look at beef the same way again.
Bistro du Vin’s festive seasonal menus are priced between $600–800. The above menu (without the madeleines) is priced at $800. These holiday offerings are also available for delivery, with the dishes fully prepped in Le Creuset crockery and including detailed instructions for oven cooking. The sets serve at least six, so this could be your hassle-free plan if you intend to host more and roast less for your Le Réveillon dinner.
1 Davis Street, Kennedy Town, 2824 3010
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.