Fusing classy food with a casual pub buzz was Jacques Reymond's vision for his latest offering, L'Hotel Gitan. Monsieur Blanc has introduced a bohemian 'gypsy' twist to his long running Michelin-style repertoire. It's French food, but it's not overwhelming. Accessible and appealing, L'Hotel is the epitome of the gastropub concept he was after: refined dining in a smart casual setting. And the setting is certainly beautiful. The art deco bones of this stunning building have been primped and preened to produce a marble, brass, mirrored and tiled thing of beauty.
The waitstaff are smartly dressed and know their way around the menu, recommending appropriate combinations and a number of dishes. It is always impressive to have a desired style or flavour of wine met with a confident and perfect suggestion — and this was absolutely the case at L'Hotel Gitan.
Head chef Adam Smith and his team execute a menu that encourages sharing. There are three sections: petite, moyen and plat principal. The petite section is made up of single-serve tasters, from $3.50 for a freshly shucked oyster or $4.50 for a crisp potato croquette subtly flavoured with the smokiness of Morteau (a sausage from the Jura Mountain region) and served simply with aioli, right through to the $20 San Daniele prosciutto offering. Moreton Bay bugs are a lovely way to start. Well worth the $7.50 each with their light, crunchy tempura batter, harissa mayo, a paint stroke of baba ganoush and a sprinkling of chickpeas. Moyen offers slightly more substantial dishes, such as the seared scallop salad with salmon tartare and kingfish ceviche cured in passionfruit ($23) and Gitan steak tartare ($18): a freshly sliced beef fillet in a slightly spicy dressing, served in crisp lettuce leaves. As a plat principal, you have a choice of duck magret, a potato and Beaufort terrine, and a deconstructed Nicoise salad of tuna done three ways. You can also pick your cut of grilled beef served with fries, from $29 for the eye fillet through to $85 for 1 kilogram of Ranger's Valley bavette.
Desserts are all $16 with the exception of the cafe liegeois, a fancy pants sundae of coffee ice cream, Kahlua biscuit, white chocolate and caramelised puffed rice. Otherwise you might like a spiced creme brulee, a vacherin glace, or a simple berry tart.
The wine list features some local wines, but has a far greater variety of European labels on offer. Beer is where the attempt at neighbourhood pub doesn’t quite make it. There are only three beers and a cider on tap.
L'Hotel Gitan promotes itself as offering simple, French family fare. I'm not sure it really achieves the simplicity it sets out for — except for the sparse portion sizes — and with the refined exotic twist comes prices that really are a little high for an average family meal. But this, and the fact that the restaurant is halfway down Commercial Road between Chapel and Hoddle, doesn't stop the hordes. Do make a booking, because evenings are busy and the more casual non-reservation bar side fills up quickly. And don't expect more than a 'petite' taste outside dining times of 12-3pm and 6pm onwards.