Ah, France. The land of mimes, chopsticks, and specific types of alcoholic beverages that no one else is allowed to make. It’s the only country to have made the mark of a kiss type and their somewhat elitist attitude towards great food is legendary.
The French do not have a strong immigrant culture, many preferring to stay within the borders of their own country. Just like Australia or America, they also have everything. Stunning beaches, breathtaking mountain ranges, vibrant and bustling cities, and highly refined food and wine culture, the rest of the world doesn’t offer them much that they can’t find at home.
Instead, they export culture. All French is considered the ultimate in quality and craftsmanship and their lifestyle is the envy of the rest of us. Fresh bread every morning, coffee and pastries all day and world class wine late into the evening. We aspire to do as they do in France.
As a result, the French Australian scene is not as big as, say, our Italian or Chinese offerings. This seems to be changing, however, as a wave of new openings across the city seems to be preparing us for a Francophile revival. From crêpes and steaks fries, to snails and coq au vin, French expats in Sydney and French-inspired chefs have brought us the best the country has to offer and we’re here to savor it all.
These are the best French restaurants in Sydney right now.
First of all, we have one of the most recent openings in Sydney. Porcine is named after the French word for “cochon” and, as you may have guessed, pork is the name of the game here. Owner and chef Nicholas Hill and Harry Levy have transformed the former Micky’s Cafe on Oxford Street into an elegant wood-paneled establishment and, with their stripes earned at Michelin-starred and Michelin-starred restaurants in Sydney and London, it’s clear that they are serious.
Every fortnight, a whole pig is delivered to the restaurant and each part is used to create ham, pork spreads and, of course, pork chops. It’s a heavily carnivorous affair, although there are vegetarian options. The bistro offers BYO and is located in a prime position above P&V Paddington, a bottle shop selling the best natural wines and minimal intervention, so you’re spoiled for choice. Or ask the team here to recommend something from their strong selection of French drinks.
Bistro St Jacques
The little red bistro on rue Pitt in Redfern has been serving its loyal clientele for nine years with a fine selection of unpretentious and honest delicacies. Le Bistro St Jacques is another entry into the “timeless” French bistro experience with lighter finishes using traditional classic French techniques. Their menu inspired by the south of France means less butter and cream and more olive oil, seafood and fresh vegetables.
It’s about creating “food that people eat over and over again,” owner Gary Prebble tells us. Seared Scallops with Mushroom Duck and Gruyere have been a favorite from the start and they also offer a good selection of natural, low intervention and organic wines. French cuisine is notoriously hostile to herbivores, but Bistro St Jacques also offers vegan tasting.
Felix is pretty much the closest thing you can get in France without pulling out your passport. Surrounded by shelves of wine and under the glow of chandeliers imported from France, you can choose your meal in the ice-cold bar of fresh seafood which is the main attraction of the place. It’s Merivales that takes on French luxury and offers extravagant dishes like whole lobster, prime rib and two kinds of caviar. Next door is Little Felix, a Parisian-style underground bar specializing in 1920s-inspired cocktails and treats.
Included in our list of the best in Potts Point, the local French Bistro Rex has been making waves in the area since 2018. It’s an easy European hangout, the kind of place where you can read the newspaper (maybe in a bowler hat) over a light deli lunch or sip an old-fashioned Rex the evening before a show. Executive Chef Jo Ward is a butcher’s specialist, which means their cuts are top notch and their fried steak is some of the best in town. Using some of the best local Australian produce, the Rex team pride themselves on being able to offer the best of France in a New World setting.
When owners Ludo and Xavier met in the UK, they frequented a French bistro in Bath called Papillion. Coming to Australia, they opened their own restaurant of the same name as a tribute to the place they loved and to classic French cuisine in general. “We’ve always kept it simple,” Ludo tells us. “Old recipes, grandmother’s recipes, but also French classics. This is our concept.
The walls inside are decorated with emblems of their decades of travel and hospitality work, telling the history and history of the place, and the arched column entrance is the perfect place for a French experience. With ingredients sourced from France and Sydney’s markets and butchers, the duo pride themselves on simple French classics like duck confit, beef bourguignon and snails (“some love it!”). It is a warm and warm place, perfect for a winter feast.
Hidden among the clamor of the Spice Alley is a quaint French restaurant named after the sea urchin boy in Wretched. That being said, the food is a far cry from French street food and the menu is packed with classics like pork confit, creamy muscle bowls and a massive 450g chateaubriand. It is certainly a refined French experience but quite healthy in that. The staff are friendly and attentive and will be happy to guide you through their menu and suggest wines to accompany each dish. The grand finale is Crêpes Suzette flambées: a bowl of freshly made pancakes swimming in a grand Marnier sauce and slices of orange brought to your table and set on fire. It’s as boozy and heady as you might expect.
Beginner Bistrot 916 nails the French atmosphere – something hard to describe but impossible to miss (it could be the candy pink tablecloths). The recently opened dive into French seafood is led by chef Dan Pepperell of restaurant Hubert and fame at 10 William Street. He’s heavy on French specialties, not shying away from things like escargots and lamb brains while being bold enough to tackle a range of fried dishes that leave very little room for error. The wine list is, as you would expect, filled with new offerings from the regions of Burgundy, Champagne and Châteauneuf-du-Pape as well as a few local stellar drops.
With a fairly ordinary exterior, the Bistro Cocotte manages to surprise and delight at every turn. It is owned and run by a Korean-born chef who has been passionate about French cuisine since childhood and who honed his skills for ten years in France, earning a Culinary Skills Diploma at Le Cordon Bleu and working in restaurants across the country. Everything has been prepared to bring you a truly French experience, seen through the eyes of an enthusiast with something to prove. Indeed, Cocotte has become a favorite business among locals since it opened more than five years ago. Its range of classic French dishes is executed with flair and emphasizes rich and complex flavors. The tuna pancake and double spinach and camembert soufflé are particularly spicy here.
The Renaissance Pâtisserie And Café
Les Roches and Waterloo
What would a French presentation be without at least one pastry? The French are arguably the most famous for their pastries and the idea of being able to have dessert for breakfast.
The Renaissance at The Rocks and Waterloo has been in the same family since it opened in 1974 and has a quintessentially French touch. Its austere interior makes it seem like you’re shopping for jewelry on the Champs-Elysées, except behind the glass is a range of exquisitely designed cakes and frozen treats. The main area gives way to a lush pink courtyard at the back, featuring another French specialty: the lazy coffee session over endless coffee and pastries. It’s a good time. The croissant as an art is very difficult to master. The perfect balance between crunchiness, softness and a detachable texture must be achieved. Get off early and you might have the chance to see a true example of the craft.
At the top end of Bourke Street is a little home away from home tucked away behind a few potted olive trees that looks like a direct graft from France itself. LoLuk Bistro is owned and managed by two brothers who arrived in Sydney from Provence with their backpacks and no idea of hospitality. Since 2016, they have made LoLuk Bistro one of the pillars of French culinary culture in Sydney.
Their ‘just like home’ philosophy means ‘to feel at home’, and they tell us they ‘try to bring as much of Provence to Sydney’ as possible. On the menu, recipes from their grandmothers’ cuisine such as lavender crème brûlée and duck breast accompanied by homemade Provencal gnocchi. On Tuesdays, they make bottomless raclette, which means an unlimited mountain of liquid cheese over vegetable or meat dishes that are just as indulgent as they sound. Go with the classic French onion soup to start, you won’t be disappointed.
The underground swing feel of Restaurant Hubert is a must-have for all Sydney locals who want to get their Gatsby going. They describe it to us as a ‘post-war French bistro’, which sounds like something we could do with as the pandemic subsides. Hubert is brought to you by the boys behind some of the best places in town including Shady Pines, The Baxter Inn and 10 William Street. With live jazz echoing around the mahogany walls throughout the week, you really find it hard not to have a good time here.
Guests are invited to relax at the bar and sip champagne or savor the extensive French feast on the menu. The star dish here is the chicken fricassee which is steamed until “juicy and tender, fried for its golden crispy skin, then served over a rich bread sauce.” The bar actually holds the title of the largest collection of miniature spirits in the southern hemisphere, totaling 4,000 bottles purchased from a private collection. It is a beautiful place and the perfect place, as they say, to “linger until late at night”.
Now discover the best Chinese restaurants in Sydney or the best Greek restaurants in Sydney.
Image credit: Restaurant Hubert, Bistro St Jacques, Merivale, Gavroche, Jude Cohen, Daniel Boud, Swillhouse