Like clockwork, the brigade at Melbourne’s most famous French restaurant, France-Soir, sits down for lunch at 4pm. We joined them for turmeric chicken and some family-friendly conversation.
“We’re open 365 a week,” says Geraud Fabre, before correcting himself. But for the staff of France-Soir, it’s probable that this number feels just about right. At 4.00pm, when we rock up to take photos, this Toorak Road institution is still packed to the gunnels. There’s a table of fifty-somethings who’re five bottles of burgundy deep into a conversation about the merits of #MeToo. It’s getting a touch heated. “I’ve got no bloody sympathy for Geoffrey Rush!” proclaims one bloke, his red-tinged voice rising above the low-level clatter.
It’s always like this - and has been for the last 33 years. Nevertheless, the kitchen brigade and floor staff sit down for family lunch at four, every day, in the middle of the restaurant, busy or not. This is France. There are traditions. They are not to be trifled with.
Something else not to be trifled with is Chef Fabre, who’s been head chef for 25 years. He’s very much of the old school – which is exactly as it should be. When we wander into the kitchen with Frank and Jimmy, he tells us in no uncertain terms: “This is the kitchen! It is for cooking! Waiters belong on the floor, waiting fucking tables! So you fuck off back to the floor, and we’ll do the fucking cooking!”
Frank is particularly unfazed. ‘Chef’s chill,’ he admits.
And sure enough, chef is, when he sits down to eat the delicious turmeric chicken with coriander rice and carrot raita prepared by chef Ven. “We have Indian maybe once a week?” explains Frank - a fact about which he is clearly pleased.
“Every time I cook chicken in the oven it dries out,” complains bartender, Tess.
“You need to add way more yoghurt,” advises Ven. “And just put it under the salamander.”
“The what??” Tess responds. Ven explains.
The rest of the table conversation that ensued is patently unprintable. Some of it was in French. Let’s just say a pleasant time was had by all - although Jimmy sat eating by himself, after tending tables while everyone else ate.
As we left, Fabre was standing over a truly enormous Tupperware container filled with truffles, whose scent was distinguishable at five paces. The guy who grew them was telling a joke about lesbians. The crew had all scampered back to work - though the traditional 12am family dinner was already scheduled. Frank advises: “There’ll probably be more shirts off then.”