Mere Catherine Potts Point
Mere Catherine as I recall, was a delightful discovery (before my blogging days) after returning from a trip to Paris a few years ago and feeling the very necessary need for a warm Parisian embrace and an injection of French culture and cuisine. This particular restaurant caught my attention in my google search for a French restaurant in Sydney as it shares the same name as one tres tres special bistro in Paris that mon mari and I visited and loved which happened to be the oldest bistro on Place du Tertre in the fabled district of Montmartre. Mere Catherine in Paris’ Montmartre is known for its delicious classic French cuisine and is right beside the famous “arty square” where artists today stand clustered around this small area painting Parisian scenes and impromptu portraits of anyone who’s interested.
An interesting fact about Mere Catherine in Paris is that it’s believed to have been the birthplace of the word “bistro” during the Russian occupation of Paris in the earlier part of the 19th century when some Russian soldiers began shouting at the dismissive and care free French waiters to “bistro, bistro!!!” bring them meals and some alcoholic beverage.
Somehow, this Russian word bistro meaning “hurry, quick” resonated with the proprietor of Mere Catherine and soon enough a plaque with a fork sign and the word bistro replaced the term Brasserie. It didn’t take long for the other restaurants in Paris, in need of extra business, to catch on and it quickly became associated with a restaurant that served drinks and hearty food promptly. Mere Catherine, in the very European heart of Potts Point, has been around since the 80’s with a loyal following of customers especially families that keep coming back for more of that loving feeling. Mere Catherine has a Provencale and Parisian inspiration with a unique and cosy experience in every sense of the word where you will be exclusively fed and pampered by a husband and wife duo Nanette and Gerard Humair (the chef) and treated to some heavenly, homestyle French fare from a menu that never changes and which offers those classic French dishes that we all love and desire.
You have heard people describe very small dining spaces as “a whole in the wall” or “tinier than you’re grandma’s kitchen”, well in the case of Mere Catherine in Potts Point, I exaggerate not by saying that this French restaurant is indeed as petite and quaint is it possibly gets. Seating no more than eighteen guests per allocated time slot, you can walk from the door to the back wall in a nanosecond but I don’t think there is another French restaurant here in Sydney where you will be treated to such a unique, authentic and concentrated French dining experience.
From the very façade of the restaurant, you will be warmed and delighted by the cosiness and comfort that it exudes with a tiny window displaying blue and white checkered curtains with French menus and newspaper accolades stuck around it. As you enter the tiny space you at once feel like you’ve received a warm Provencale hug and Parisian kisses on the cheek. As mon mari and I are greeted by the tiny Nanette at the door and escorted lovingly to our prettily set table I couldn’t help but feel like I had just stepped into a fairytale restaurant where Nanette is the kind, mature and softly spoken fairy-like character with her son mari chef, the fast paced wizard cook in a baseball cap and silver mostache, whizzing away in the kitchen and magically plating up snails and perfectly seared beef sirloin.
The dining room is tiny but the tables and chairs, all dressed in blue and white, are just as tiny and fit into the space miraculously well with very little floor space in between with just enough room for Nanette’s little body to glide from table to table. The walls are a powdery blue and wrapped in cobalt blue wayne skirting that adds definition and character to the space and a splash of necessary colour. An eclectic display of wine and spirit bottles stand on a floating blue shelf on one side of the room with a few French themed paintings and prints scattered on the other side and around. French tunes play gently in the background as we contemplate what to order from the menu listing irresistible dishes and wine. Within a few minutes, the gentle mannered and softly spoken Nanette approaches our table with a petite white board set in a wooden frame with the specials of the day written on it and describes in detail every item seducing our appetites even more with every word. We finally decide on our entrees and mains and without writing our order down the fairy-like Nanette gives a nod and a sweet smile and drifts away into the kitchen to immediately relay our order to her son mari chef who I hear immediately responding “mais oui!” and just like that the smell of butter and garlic suddenly wafts through the air and I’m reassured that my snails in garlic butter are on the way.
Mere Catherine has a consistent and unchangeable menu that offers all the French clichés and well loved classics. Garlic snails, Gratin Coupole French onion soup, Lucifer Soup, Le Pate Du Chef, Roast Quail flamed in Armagnac and Chateaubriand with béarnaise sauce, garlic butter or with pepper sauce. The piece de resistence, however, would have to be the chateaubriand for 2 which I noticed being delivered to the table next to ours and I felt a tinge of regret for not ordering that one. Chef Gerard makes an irresistible bird as well I over hear the other diners mention – the roast duck with green peppercorns and roast chicken in tarragon sauce seemed to get a nod of major approval.
For sides there is the delectable creamed spinach, Roquefort salad and roast potatoes in duck fat on offer and for something sweet les maringues Chantilly, crème brulee and profiteroles aux chocolate. Mere Catherine is fully licenced but allow BYO and booking here requires for you to call on a particular day and time not so much to complicate matters as to ensure that all guests are accommodated at certain time slots in order to maximise one’s dining experience. Something else to mention would be the Specials of the day which change from time to time unlike their set menu that never changes. Nanette brings over the white board personally to your table which offers more suggestions like the hard to resist Fillet Mignon with Béarnaise sauce, Chicken Provencale, Duck a l’orange, Fresh Deep Sea Perch Fillet with lemon juice, pork fillet with fruit and Dijon mustard sauce, whole baby guinea fowl with minted orange sauce, steak for two with cognac pepper sauce and chocolate mousse for dessert.
On the evening we enjoyed escargot in garlic butter, French onion soup, chateaubriand with béarnaise sauce, duck a la orange, roasted potatoes, broccoli in butter, crème brulee and chocolate mousse. The entrees were a delight and the Chateaubriand with béarnaise sauce was a tender sensation and that taragony and buttery béarnaise sauce was the nicest I had tried since returning from Paris. The Duck a l’orange was succulent and juicy and perfectly prepared with well rounded flavour and the side dishes were a delight. Dessert was also a sensation so creamy yet so light and delicate to the taste. Nanette is a pleasant host and spends time describing any dish you wish to know more about and ensures that you are made to feel cosy and that courses are well timed and delivered while still sizzling.
Mere Catherine brings a touch of Provencale soul and Parisian flavour to all who crave something French here in Sydney. It may not have the stateliness and impressive history of La Mere Catherine in Paris’ Montmartre but something they do have in common is that they serve damn good, unpretentious bistro classic French fare at decent prices and “rapidement!” but of course. So next time you crave some delicious, homely and very cliché French cuisine with service that is hard to beat and don’t suffer from claustrophobia or anxiety from being in a small, relatively dimly lit space then Mere Catherine will certainly impress and steal your heart. Mere Catherine calls to mind a lovely French quote “La bonne cuisine est la base du veritable bonheur”. This translates to: Good food is the foundation of genuine happiness – to which I will add as does the hospitality and ambience of where you dine as well. Dear readers, are you entranced by Mere Catherine of Potts Point inspired by France?
Mere Catherine : 166 Victoria St, Potts Point T: 02 9358 2000