Address: 222 City Walk, City Centre, 2602
Ph: 02 6230 4800
Hours: Monday to Saturday, Lunch: 11:30pm – 2pm. Dinner: 5:30pm – Late
Two hundred and twenty two years ago the people of Paris stormed a fortress-prison in a symbolic act of rebellion against the feudal government, a major moment in the French Revolution. Ever since, people across the world have used the anniversary of this event to eat French food.
Not that anyone really needs an excuse to eat French food. As the birthplace of modern cooking and the concept of the restaurant, this is one cuisine that never gets tired. Although, thanks to every other country stealing their techniques, to some extent French food is now the same as any other food. Just with more butter.
Canberra does not have a surplus of classic French restaurants, with cassoulet and bouillabaisse sadly few and far between.
Though in Civic, situated near the theatre, is Ardeche. Open for the past 13 years, this is really the only explicitly French joint in town. The room doesn’t feel like it was created for this purpose, with cold attempts at artiness among an otherwise lackluster environment.
Aiming a little bit higher than simple bistro, Ardeche’s menu is laden with classic dishes, and a few detours to some of France’s colonial conquests in North Africa. Onion soup, chicken pate, seafood crepes and smoked salmon are part of a bill of fare with no real surprises.
And on Bastille Day, it seems only right to order the most clichéd dish on the menu. For entrée, that clearly means Escargots a la Bourgogne. Tender snails, steeped in fatty garlic butter are placed on a dish with an unnecessary amount of lettuce, red pepper coulis, and a piece of puff pastry. But the hero parts of the dish, the snails in the butter, are delivered so amazingly well that it didn’t matter. Although, it would have been better to just serve the snails and butter on toast.
Stealing from the classic French scene, this was a Gerard Depardieu of a dish. It looked completely ridiculous, but it was inexplicably wonderful.
For an equally clichéd main, canard a l’orange. Continuing with the actors metaphor (though moving away from the French), this dish was Christian Bale. At the beginning of his films, you can pick a whole lot of things that seem wrong. Maybe this bit seems a little overdone, or that bit doesn’t seem realistic. But by the end, you’re lapping up every last bit of what you’re given, wanting more.
This is exactly how I felt about Ardeche’s take on this classic. Parts of the duck were over-cooked and dry, and a triangle of what may have been meant to be potato dauphinoise wasn’t creamy enough. And yet it grew on me. By the end there was not a bite of food left on the plate, mainly thanks to the orange sauce that had just the right amount of bitterness to avoid being oversweet and that I wanted to lick up.
If the first two courses were those brilliant actors, then dessert was… whats-his-face, in that film about the thing. It was completely forgettable. A layered chocolate mousse tart, white, milk and dark, looked pretty enough, but it lacked any distinct flavours of each level. Alongside, a selection of tacky garnishes that would make the great French pâtissiers faint.
Even still, the meal itself was enjoyable. Then came the one real downer of the night – the final bill. I have eaten a fair few meals at different prices, and you get an idea of what a night out is worth.
This one cost $120. It was not a $120 meal. At $90 I would have walked out extremely happy. At $120, this wasn’t the case.
Ardeche has the potential to be something quite special, but they just seem to be trying too hard. The best parts of the dishes are the classical bistro elements, which are then marred by unnecessary extras and an excessive price tag. By updating the décor a little, reducing the price, and making the food a little simpler and more fun, this could become a real hotspot.
Then we can celebrate Ardeche’s own French revolution.