La Guillotine Bistro – Kent Street CBD
It doesn’t take much to excite me into going to a French restaurant dear readers, if only but the merest hint is given I’m already dialling the number and booking before anyone has a chance to change their minds. Even a name as dire and macabre as La Guillotine deters me not but only entices me to investigate immediately and as I had recently discovered this bistro with a harrowing name suggests not only French patriotism but a place that proudly offers authenticity and signature bistro fair and the kind of French cuisine we crave most. La Guillotine is in fact the oldest and one of the first French restaurants to have opened in Sydney beginning life in the basement of 9 Albion Street as an omelette house in 1967 and quickly became an iconic place known for its traditional French dishes, blood red walls, Edith Piaf tunes and Parisian ambience. La Guillotine then reopened at 518 Kent Street inside a converted office building where the current proprietor in his 27th year, Joseph Bradaric, expanded the restaurant while keeping its original concept alive. While the owner didn’t have blood or gore on his mind when taking over the restaurant he certainly would have had a great deal of passion and confidence in living up to a name that everyone who is French associates with all things revolutionary and events that are rooted in the heart of France.
Crimson red awnings with crisp white signage command our attention as we arrive at the lively Kent Street on a Saturday evening. From the outside of the bistro we could hear the convivial banter of patrons through the open veranda-like design with no apparent windows and the crimson walls beckoned to us to enter animated by the flickering amber light of burning candles and intimate lighting from within. A brushed gold plaque hangs proudly on the street facing facade and reads, La Guillotine Est. 1967, reassuring us that we have arrived at the right place. There is no hint or sign of a guillotine in use or anything disturbing as we enter the restaurant and we are pleasantly greeted by staff and stunning caveau style architectural details and arches offset and defined by gentle down lighting. A Parisian style petite bar stands by the entrance displaying jewel-coloured bottles that sparkled from the fairy lights reflecting off the mirror backdrop. An antique, old fashioned cash register stands underneath the bottle display hinting at the historic Parisian theme of the bistro. Edith Piaf’s ‘La Vie En Rose’ is playing hauntingly in the background and as I turn my head in the direction of our reserved table there on the wall above a display of framed black and white photographic head shots and an homage to deceased French icons like Brigitte Bardot, Alain Delon, Josephine Baker and Edith Piaf amongst a few others. More head shots, in keeping with the guillotine theme, of famous French persons hang to the back wall of the bistro with a framed black and white print of Paris on the side wall below offering a nostalgic and favourable nod to Paris and its notorious jazz caveau bistros and bars that one would find in the historic Latin Quarter or perhaps somewhere in the controversial Pigalle district. Indeed there is something very Parisian about La Guillotine and in a sense there has to be since the Guillotine is most associated with the French Revolution of the late 18th century which took centre stage in what is now Place de la Concorde in Paris situated at the foot of the Avenue de Champs Elysees.
While waiting for more of our party to arrive, I take the opportunity to go down the staircase that spirals into the basement part of the bistro – a perfect space for entertaining large parties or functions. Here too, the crimson red floods the space and cloaks the walls where more French themed framed black and white poster pictures hang and where chocolate coloured banquets, wooden tables and chairs sit empty of guests. People passing by on the street above can be seen from the narrow windows which adds another dimension of interest to the space and here is where the kitchen is located appropriately in the belly of the restaurant. The chefs can be seen from the open plan design confidently chopping away at vegetables that will later accompany dishes and the amazing aromas of food already about to come out of ovens perfume the space greedily awakening my appetite.
As I ascend to the ground level of the bistro it has suddenly picked up its pace as more diners take their seats and waiters scurry to and fro offering menus and cold karaffes’ of water. Edith Piaf continues to sing in the background reminding us to have no regrets in the very French patriotic song, “Je ne regrette rien” and I notice, before drifting away into yet another of my French daydreams, that the rest of mon amis have arrived and I return to our table ready to order and immerse myself wholeheartedly in another French night out.
La Guillotine is undoubtedly a bistro in every sense of the word offering up dishes that define the rustic and hearty cuisine of France. In France a bistro is where you would go when you crave a simple, honest reasonably priced meal that you could find being prepared in the home kitchens of France. La Guillotine offers all the French rustic classics that I adore and can’t seem to get enough of. Dishes like traditional onion soup, country style chicken and pork pate, snails cooked in their shells with garlic and parsley and interesting numbers like Chateaubriand bearnaise et pommes frites and beef fillet topped with a slice of foie gras with port wine sauce excite the imagination as they are not usually seen on menus in French restaurants here in Sydney. In keeping with its true origins, La Guillotoine offers a concise and mouthwatering choice of classic French omelettes like Lorraine, Savoyarde, Normande, Grand Duc and Lyonnaise. The traditional entrees are deliciously inviting as are the mains which will please all palettes plus accompaniments and desserts including a tasty selection of French regional cheeses with a sound selection of wine, spirits and beverages. The menu is in French and English adding an extra little splash of authenticity.
We begin with some entrees to share and can’t resist as always to order the Escargots or snails cooked in their shells with garlic butter, chicken liver and pork pate, prawns marinated in garlic and cooked in a sizzling pot of oil, crepe filled with chicken and mushrooms and French baguette as a side. The entrees were delicious, fresh, flavourful and nicely presented. The prawns cooked in garlic and oil and the crepe filled with chicken and mushroom were so divine we ordered another round as one is a bit too petite for a group of greedy and hungry people to share. Next we dive into our mains of Duck breast with a cherry and Kirsch sauce on a gratin of potatoes, Grilled veal steak served with a spicy mango salsa and Jasmine rice, Steamed Moules marinierres a la charentaise or mussels cooked with garlic, shallots, wine and parsley, Char-grilled lamb cutlets with herbs, Mash potatoes and ratatouille, Seafood in a creamy served in puff pastry and fries and for moi I enjoyed the Chateaubriand bearnaise and pomme frites. While all dishes were lovely and tastefully presented I must say that the Seafood in a creamy sauce and Chateaubriand stood out the most as did the Duck breast and its delightful accompaniment of gratin of potatoes.
After a short interlude it was time for dessert and how could we resist the tempting and sensational Crepe Suzette set to flame before our eyes for extra dramatic effect and flavour. The crepes were limp and so delicate from the caramelised sugar and orange liqueur left us wanting more as did the luscious and heavenly Belgian Chocolate tarte and Grand Marnier Creme Brulee accompanied by vanilla ice-cream and strawberries. We also enjoyed with our meal a lovely Sauvignon Blanc by the predictable and amusing label of La Guillotine from the very European inspired Adelaide Hills region and pourqui pas! It went down quite nicely with our dinner – Santez!
Without a doubt or hesitation of thought, the service at La Guillotine was pleasantly attentive, friendly and relaxed. The staff were mostly of French background adding to the authenticity and were happy to have a chat and take time to explain the menu and offer recommendations of food and wine as well as share with us some interesting stories of their life in France. Staff were all too happy to allow us time to converse and take a few moments to digest in between courses and were extremely pleased and more than delighted to indulge our requests of taking our photos in practically every corner of the restaurant.
While there is no actual guillotine on premise, to the disappointment of those upset with their spouses or with a liking for gore, or any apparent heads rolling around La Guillotine imposes an impression on diners in a more subtle way. La Guillotine offers its diners its patrons a trip back in time to a France when life and attitude to food was simpler and
the dishes that were savoured and enjoyed most were of the regional, traditional, simple and rustic kind before the pursuit of Hats and Michelin Starred cuisine overshadowed this ideal for a long while. The food here is not quite revolutionary and may be dismissed by the gourmands or foodies with a penchant for white table clothes and fine dining. However, those in search for classic, traditional and provincial French favourites that they perhaps enjoyed in a casually quaint bistro in Paris or anywhere in France would most definitely delight in dining here at La Guillotine. As poor Marie Antoinette was once quoted saying before losing her head, “There is nothing new except what has been forgotten”. On this note dear readers I will conclude by saying, “There is nothing new here at La Guillotine except what is often forgotten to be the humble yet truly traditional cuisine of France”. Dear readers, are you entranced by La Guillotine inspired by France?
LA GUILLOTINE RESTAURANT, 518 KENT STREET, SYDNEY PHONE: (02) 9264 1487