Montrachet night

The bucket list items to eat at Montrachet, one of Australia’s best French restaurants

Brisbane has always boasted a classy clutch of French restaurants. Maybe it’s the Gallic imports who are behind it — they still regularly arrive in Brisbane, attracted by the Queensland sun and a laid-back way of life. Or maybe it’s because locals have a particular fondness for classical European cooking.

Shannon Kellam has another theory. “Most of the French restaurants in Brisbane over the years have been chef-owned,” he says. “That’s really important. In a French restaurant you have to be a host. You welcome people into the dining room and you interact with your guests.”

Kellam is no different. When he’s not working the pans he can regularly be seen wandering the floor of his own 55-seat restaurant, Montrachet, which he co-owns with his wife, Clare Wallace.

The chef-owner model has always suited Brisbane’s dining scene, which for years balanced glitzy inner-city showstoppers with intimate spots hidden away in the city’s undulating suburbs. That’s where Montrachet started, in an old heritage-listed shopfront on Paddington’s Given Terrace.

After opening in 2004 it quickly became a local institution, Brisbane’s very own slice of France with frosted windows, red leather banquettes, marble topped comptoir and crisp white tablecloths.

Bucket list dining

Dining room | What to order at Montrachet Brisbane

Montrachet’s menu is built on classic French fare such as steak frites, seafood bouillabaisse and crème brûlée, but over the years Kellam and Wallace have pushed their food into more adventurous territory. Every Saturday, Kellam is let off the chain for the Montrachet Supper Club, when he puts his mastery with French cooking (the guy has twice represented Australia at the Bocuse d’Or world chef championship) towards creating special one-off degustation menus.

In late 2017 Kellam and Wallace transposed Montrachet to new digs on King Street. The buzzy precinct with its bars, cafes and a hotel is a world away from sleepy Paddington, but inside the restaurant not much has changed. There’s still the red leather and dark timber, the mirrors and the fresh flowers. And there’s still the iconic comptoir, which remains a favourite with Montrachet’s dedicated gang of solo diners.

Still, what do they come to eat? We wanted to find out, so we sat down with Kellam and put together the ultimate bucket list of his best menu items. Consider the following your Rosetta Stone for dining at one of Australia’s very best French restaurants.

Entree

Salmon | What to order at Montrachet Brisbane

Open the menu in front of Kellam and he immediately points towards the top of the entrees: low temperature-cooked Ora King salmon with a pear and young fennel salad, shaved walnut and a riesling sabayon.

Kellam takes the salmon and cures it for 12 hours in salt, sugar, citrus fruits and pastis (an anise-flavoured apéritif). Then the fish is portioned and cooked at 55 degrees for four minutes.

“The salmon is like butter in your mouth,” Kellam says. “Then there are the different elements of pear and fennel, with the shaved walnuts and sabayon. To have all those things perfectly cooked with salmon is amazing.”

To wash it down, Montrachet sommelier Alexis Rojat recommends a light, fresh sancerre from the Loire valley.

Souffle | What to order at Montrachet Brisbane

If you want to eat a true Montrachet Brisbane icon — opt for a double baked soufflé with crab meat, gruyère cheese and a light cream bisque.

“It epitomises old world French cooking,” Kellam says. “There’s the cheese and the pastis in the sauce and all those flavours linger in your mouth. There’s the fat content but the soufflé itself is very light.”

The dish is so roaringly popular that some guests order one for entree and a second for mains. The key to their enjoyment, Kellam says, is that it’s very hard to eat quickly.

“You’ve got that hot bubbling sauce,” he says. “When people are excited about something, they eat it fast. But you can’t eat a soufflé fast.”

Just make sure you have some baguette handy to mop up the aftermath, and maybe a glass of chablis with a nice bit of texture, Rojat says.

Mains

Steak frites | What to order at Montrachet Brisbane

Kellam’s first recommendation for mains comes down to just two words: steak frites.

It’s a classic at any self-respecting French restaurant but particularly at Montrachet, where the stories attached to the dish are as good as the meal itself. Kellam’s favourite: an interstate corporate who arrives solo every week, sits at the comptoir and orders this Black Angus eye fillet with its generous side of house-cut fries, finished with either a bearnaise or green peppercorn sauce.

Kellam uses Queensland beef, grain-fed and dry-aged for two months. As for the frites, the restaurant is frying Kestrel potatoes right now but that can change week-to-week, depending on the season. The secret to finding the perfect spuds? A picker at the morning markets with a saccharometer to measure sugar content. Very clever.

A wine to take on this heady classic? Rojat leans towards reds, recommending a Saint Emillion merlot blend.

Still, if steak feels too easy, Kellam has a back-up – seafood bouillabaisse, built from a recipe he developed for his first Bocuse d’Or appearance in 2013. It takes a traditionally robust and strong Marseilles-style bouillabaisse and refines it so you can taste just about every element that goes into the dish. As for what Kellam throws in there? It depends on what fresh market fish is being dished up for that day’s specials.

For vino, go for a grenache blanc blend from the south of France — a wine with a bit of weight but that still retains some minerality.

Dessert

Chocolate de Passion | What to order at Montrachet Brisbane

Montrachet Brisbane arguably saves the best for last with the chocolat de passion, for which Kellam won an award at the 2010 Trophée Passion dessert competition in Paris. Think, Grand Marnier brulée, passionfruit curd, chocolate hazelnut praline mousse and strawberry sorbet.

It sounds like a heavy weight — and at $20, it’s priced like one — but it’s the dish’s surprising lightness that makes it so special.

“You feel uplifted and fresh,” he says. “It manages that by balancing the correct amounts of trimoline and glucose along with acid and citric acid from the fruits, as well as the fat of the chocolate … It’s light and refreshing, like you ate a piece of fresh fruit to help with your digestion. The dessert does the same thing and that’s what blows people away.”

By all means wash it down with an espresso if you must, but Rojat recommends a Coteaux du Layon sweet chenin blanc from the Loire Valley to send you on your way for the night.

Sounds about the perfect way to end a meal to us.

PS. Find out where Shannon chooses to eat in Brisbane when he’s off the clock here.

Have you eaten at Montrachet? What’s your favourite dish?