12 April, 2007

Madame Sousou

231 Brunswick St, Fitzroy; 03 9417 0400

When I first walked into Madame Sousou, I was surprised at how small it was. It came with such recommendation, and hence expectation, that I’d built it up to a dimly lit, cavernous, gourmet restaurant filled with whispered conversation. Instead, the restaurant space is very French bistro – all the wall space is covered, either with decoupaged old-style advertising prints, or matted sketches. The striking iron chandeliers throw out a yellow light, giving a smoky, mysterious, expectant atmosphere. This was helped by the steady, but manageable flow of custom – from a group of six, to couples taking their time, to lone diners sufficing with an entrĂ©e and glass of wine – which encouraged everyone to just stick to their own pace. The black awnings outside, with a white relief of Madame herself, the soft yellow light inside and the comfortable bench seats make this an approachable restaurant, despite its higher-end menu.

There was a lot of tempting food to choose from on said menu. Undeniably French, with lighter starters showing a bias towards seafood, and heavily flavoured meat-based mains. Starters included an exceptional plate of calamari – very tender, smallish pieces deep fried in a light crispy batter, served with garlic aioli - quail with raisin sauce, or bouillabaisse. Most ranged from $16-20. For main I went with the Cassoulet de Canard – twice roasted duck served with haricot beans and pork sausage ($30). The duck meat was tender and covered by a wonderfully crispy filament of skin. The beans had taken on a lot of flavour from the pork, which itself was fairly mild. However the dish was let down a little by oversaltiness – whether from the beans or over-marinating the duck I wasn’t sure. The gnocchi with roasted pumpkin, pinenuts, sage and buffalo mozza ($25) sounded promising, but was a little disappointing with fairly bland, square-cut gnocchi, and a mere smattering of sage, where a bit more herbage could have really lifted the flavour. Overall the mains sounded quite heavy on paper, and while well cooked, the flavours hadn’t been handled as delicately as they could have been to make wonderful dishes.

There is an extensive bottled wine list, the majority coming from France, and with only around half a dozen in total by the glass. We enquired after one of the wine specials – a Craigs Hut 2004 Sangiovese ($36) and while our first waitress couldn’t assist, the ‘second barperson’ was able to give us some more information on origin, and importantly, a taste. The wine had a very clean nose, was slightly drier than some Sangioveses, but a wonderfully full mouth taste that allowed it to match different dishes.

The flow of diners show Madame Sousou is a popular place, and it perhaps provides a useful option in Brunswick St of an accessible European class restaurant. Its menu reads well, in terms of the flavour complements it describes for each dish (though it does help if you like meat and seafood). Some that we sampled, such as the calamari, really were standouts, whereas others could do with just slightly more attention to make this an exceptional dining experience.

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