Finding France in Sydney with Maeve O'Meara

Julia Child said in her book, My Life in France, "...Our first lunch together in France had been absolute perfection. It was the most exciting meal of my life..." and so has begun the story of many a devoted Francophile, including my own dear Papa. To celebrate his birthday, what better present to offer than a day of finding French gourmet delights across Sydney.

Unlike many suburbs of Sydney, which are buzzing cultural food hubs (such as Earlwood/Marrickville being the  'little Greece' of Sydney, Haberfield home to Italy, Auburn for Turkish food, Cabramatta for Vietnamese cuisine etc) there is no one 'little France' in Sydney. The French community of Sydney, its cafes and restaurants are spread out across many of Sydney's "little villages" or suburbs.  Setting out to find these gems, we jumped on a bus early on Saturday morning at Sydney's Central Station. Greeting us, our guides for the day were Maeve O'Meara - the Sydney food legend, author and presenter of the wonderful series of 'Food Safari' programs, along with Alex (fluent in several languages and abounding with foodie knowledge) and Peter, the bus driver and sommelier for the day.

First stop of the day, suitably for breakfast treats, was Textbook Boulangerie Patisserie. This haven for Francophile's has been open for just over a year. Early on a Saturday morning, there was a throng of fans huddled around the glass counter filled with super glossy airbrushed creations, sparkling with a hint of silver leaf. The more traditional Francophile's amongst the fans were arming themselves for the weekend ahead with fortifying buttery croissants, aromatic coffee and divinely crunchy baguettes to go. 

We ordered our coffees for the day and then joined pastry chef John Ralley, who provided us with a hands on demonstration of how croissants come to be - everyone in our little group had a go at stretching and rolling the buttery layered dough. From this French staple, John then took us on a creative journey demonstrating how his 'Willy-Wonka style' cherry ripe pain au chocolat is made. Next came the tastings, a wonderful selection of glossy petite fours including Textbook's slick take on traditional apple crumble. Fruit filled Danishes were next, made from the same dough used to make the croissants, then it was time taste a little of the wonderful baguettes - the closest thing to French bread that I have ever tried outside of France, incredible!

Heading across town, the next stop for the day was at Darling Point's Gourmet Life.  This store was a beautifully arranged Aladin's Cave of French (and European) gourmet delights. The proprietor John regularly imports a range of wild and cultivated mushrooms direct from France - from chanterelles to ceps. Excitingly, truffle season was just about to begin with the famous truffles of Alba destined to arrive at the store in the coming days.

Gourmet Life also had an amazing selection of French cheeses, caviar, flavored olive oils, a full range of the 'Terre Exotique' herbs and spices (displays of which I always salivate over at length, when in France) to name but a few of the French products. John and Maeve took us through a tasting of different vingarettes - raspberry, mango and tomato and basil, all hailing from the region of Nice in France. Next came some hugely aromatic truffled potato chips that were dangerously moreish. These were closely followed by a generous slice of baguette topped with pungent, salty Roquefort  and good dollop of sweet onion confit.

After all of the generous tastings, it was time for a little shopping. We stocked up on some Provençale truffle infused olive oil, and while you can take a Greek husband on a French food safari, there was no stopping his urge to buy three large tins of exceptional Greek olive oil from Gourmet Life. Having tried the amazing A L'Olivier 'Tomato & Basil Fruit Pulp' Vinegar during the tastings, I also had to purchase a bottle for my pantry at home. This taste of 'summer in a bottle' is fast becoming an essential in our house and I don't think it will be long before I am back at Gourmet Life to stock up on another bottle. It's perfect drizzled over a little buffalo mozzarella and rocket, but even better with oysters, a recipe for which is below.

Next on the schedule for the day was a stop at Brasserie Bread in Banksmeadow. The enthusiasm shown for making beautiful artisan bread in this bakery is truly contagious. On this visit, we got to learn all about their new single origin bread. As we learned, the single origin bread was all about grain that originates from a single source, in this case the Southern Flinders Ranges of South Australia. Generous tastings of a variety of breads followed, but their new single origin sourdough, with sprouted wheat was a real highlight and my favourite. We made a purchase to enjoy later that evening  - along with just a little fromage.

After Brasserie Bread we headed across town to Pyrmont for a stop at Vic's Meats at the Sydney Fish Markets. This is definitely the place to pick up all you need to make classic French dishes from the classic steak and frites, to pork rillettes or braised rabbit with mustard. In addition to checking out their great selection of meats and game we were also offered the opportunity to see the fascinating skills of butcher Troy at work, as he artfully and speedily took a whole side of beef down into various cuts. More tastings were to come and there were many contented sighs from our fellow tourists as they tucked into slow cooked beef brisket straight from the onsite smoking machine.

The short ride from Pyrmont to Rozelle took us to our next stop at the Essential Ingredient. While we admired an impressive and beautiful collection of French cookware, from the classic De Buyer copper pans and cast iron skillets, to colorful Le Creuset pots and stylish Laguiole cutlery, we enjoyed a glass of champagne with the traditional accompaniment of Fossier rose biscuits from Reims, followed by an incredible oozing soft French cheese.

Just when we thought we couldn't eat anymore, it was time for lunch at La Grande Bouffe.  A voluptuous chicken liver parfait, complete with cornichons and onion-red wine reduction started off proceedings, with a choice of chilled Riesling, Loire valley rose or cotes du Rhône. This was followed by a crispy skinned salmon with a classic beurre blanc sauce and fresh peas cooked with lardons.

The final course of fromage followed at the amazing Formaggi Occello in Surry Hills. Here, the lovely Sogna took us through a tasting of some classic French cheeses including an amazing Roy des Vallees (or ‘King of Valleys’) a firm cheese containing a blend of sheep and goat's milk and an incredibly super stinky Epoisses from Burgundy - a strong cheese lover's delight.

After we finished our cheese and said our goodbyes to our fellow tourists, we lingered a little longer to talk with Maeve about her other upcoming tours, there are so many fabulous choices on offer. One thing is for sure, before we embark on our next tour, I'll definitely be coming back to visit many of the French safari finds. In fact, Formaggi Occello is dangerously close to my office and I know I will be back for a visit before you can say - bon appetite!!

To join the next French Food Safari of Sydney, visit Gourmet Safaris or phone (02) 8969 6555.

Provençale Oysters

Oysters in whatever guise make a luxurious appetizer, but even more so when you add a touch of the South of France with A L'Olivier 'Tomato & Basil Fruit Pulp' Vinegar. If you are not a fan of lightly cooked oysters, a little drizzle of this vinegar over fresh oysters (as shown above) is also fantastic.

24 fresh oysters on the shell            
2 tablespoons A L'Olivier 'Tomato & Basil Fruit Pulp' Vinegar
30g French butter             
4 pieces of pancetta (or French style lardons), finely sliced             
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Rock salt

Arrange the oysters on a bed of rock salt in a large, shallow, heatproof dish. Combine the A L'Olivier 'Tomato & Basil Fruit Pulp' Vinegar and butter in a small saucepan. Heat until the butter melts and the mixture begins to bubble. Remove from the heat. Spoon a little vinegar and butter mixture over each oyster. Top evenly with the sliced pancetta and season with sea salt and pepper. Cook under a preheated grill for 2–3 minutes, or until the pancetta is crisp and golden.

1 comment

  1. Hello Mrs M. This looks absolutely extraordinary. Where do I sign up!? Gorgeous photos...I will be dreaming about the bread and cheese.


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