Lex comes from a Mauritian family who all speak French and have French and Indian flavours in their cooking. They’re a beautiful family and his Mum and grandmother are both fantastic cooks! We’ve tried out a couple of French restaurants in Sydney and Lex and I have also been to Paris together. My issue with French food is that I never know what to order – but I kind of like that in a way, a nice surprise when the waiter puts your plate down on the table! Lex and I went to Sel et Poivre (his Mum says this translates to ‘salt and pepper’ in French), with my Mum and Dad. My parents had never been to a French restaurant before and they had an upcoming trip to Europe planned, so it seemed like the perfect place. We sat outside and even though there was a drizzle of rain during our visit, it was great to feel the vibe of Darlinghurst and watch the interesting characters that passed by. Lex and I also visited again by ourselves and sat inside, where it was loud and vibrant.
The restaurant is family owned and run, and the owner is so quirky and welcoming that he’s a large part of the reason you’ll want to go back again. He free pours wine quite generously too which is a bonus! Everything about Sel et Poivre screams authenticity, from the waiters, to the menu, the wine list, the pictures, even the magazines in the toilets are French! The staff are knowledgable and happy to assist first timers and those not so familiar with the French cuisine. They describe their food as traditional French, from “creamy sauces” of Normandie to Provençale of the East South of France and “the cassoulet” of the South West of France. The food is well prepared and served with precision and care.
What we ordered
For the entree we ordered the Escargots gratinés au beurre d’ail – gratinated snails with parsley and garlic butter. Initially I was hesitant to try snails, but I do believe we’re so fortunate to live in a city with such a variety of cuisines, that it is important to eat authentically. To my relief I discovered that snails aren’t too bad when covered in garlic and butter! A bit like chicken maybe? Just close your eyes…
We also ordered the Tomates Boccocini avec basilic et huile d’olive australienne – Bocconcini cheese and Roma tomato with basil and first pressed Australian olive oil. The best way to describe this dish was the Italian version of bruschetta – without the bread! That’s probably a contradiction as now I’m thinking the word bruschetta might translate to bread in some way, but basically it was beautiful fresh cheese and tomatoes on a plate. Easy and delicious!
For the main there were two options I was struggling to choose between, luckily Lex ordered one of them so at least I could taste it! Lex chose the Joue de bœuf braisée, sauce vin rouge et pommes-frites – deliciously slow-cooked marinated braised beef cheeks with a bacon, cognac and port sauce and frites (of course!). This had me wishing I ordered that (and I did the next time we went!). The beef was tender and so flavoursome. Every bite seemed more delicious than the next. The sauce was rich and the kind of thing I wanted my fries to drown in (and they did). Definitely an amazing dish, and a safe dish too – nothing too out of the ordinary but unique enough to claim French food as your new cuisine of choice. I ordered the Blanc de volaille grillé aux petits poireaux, sauce Ravigotte – grilled chicken breast, spring leeks, mash potato and Ravigote sauce. The chicken was presented on my plate as a series of bite-sized pieces with leeks and sauce on each piece. The mash potato was underneath, soaking up the flavours. The Ravigote sauce really made this dish – its a classic French sauce that is similar to a vegetable broth. The chicken was cooked to perfection. Although not as heavy on the flavours as the beef cheeks, it still was a beautiful dish that left me feeling full and satisfied.
The prices at Sel et Poivre are reasonable too. The mains are roughly between $25 – $30 and the portions are generous. However, it really is the atmosphere of this place that adds the most value. As mentioned previously the owner and waitstaff are enthusiastic, knowledgable and welcoming – they make you feel as though you are sitting around the family dinner table. Whilst the waitstaff all have strong French accents, so too do the patrons. This is the place where the French community of Sydney come to dine – and as Lex says, thats a good sign!