The French Bistro – Riversdale Estate

Licensed $-$$$
322 Denholms Rd, Cambridge
03) 6248 5555
Open: Lunch daily noon to 3.00pm.

Set in landscaped gardens overlooking vines to the Pittwater, The French Bistro at Wendy and Ian Roberts’ Riversdale Estate is the latest vineyard attraction in the Coal River Valley.

Themed in elegant French provincial style, the interiors of the orangerie, restaurant and tasting room are lit by beautiful tear-drop chandeliers, the walls hung with specially commissioned, hand-woven Aubusson-style tapestries and, in the more masculine, clubby tasting room, you sit to taste at a marble bar or, in tutored tastings, at a magnificent central table while, in the orangerie, high tea is served in the same fine china and silverware they use at Claridge’s Hotel in London and on the Orient Express.

Taking all this in as you’re being seated at white linen-clothed tables, you have the sense of being cossetted in tasteful French luxury with the anticipation of good food and wine to come – good, traditional French bistro style food that is. Which, on the day of my lunch, was mainly, but not entirely, what was delivered.

The menu’s “classic French onion broth” was indeed both classic and very good. But then followed a roasted onion, tomato and thyme, so called, “tarte tatin” with creamed goat’s cheese, quinoa and walnut praline. Unfortunately, the pastry was soggy and, with such contrasting ingredients and so much happening on the plate, it lacked any definitive flavour or ‘French-iness’.

A similar confusion of flavours and cultural origin followed in a grilled cauliflower salad with curried Puy lentils, seared cucumber and yoghurt mint dressing, the cauliflower florets seriously undercooked and unpalatable. So it remained tasted but uneaten. As a result, I didn’t have very high expectations of the mains. But happily, things improved out of sight, almost as if the food came from a different kitchen altogether.

Surprisingly, what came was one of the most tender, perfectly cooked and rested beef sirloins of my life followed by a confit leg and poached breast of duck that couldn’t, I feel, be bettered. While the steak’s mushroom ketchup and the duck’s “a la orange” saucing could do with a bit more work and, as it were, some fine French polish, the cooking of both meats was superb.

There were other dishes that one might better expect to find in a French bistro such as chicken liver parfait and pate de campagne as part of a charcuterie plate, a seafood pot au feu in the mains and a traditional apple tarte tatin, cherry clafoutis and crème brulee desserts. To finish there were two wonderfully conditioned French cheeses.

Chef Aidan Stewart arrived from Ireland via working in London and Terrigal in New South Wales and I’m sure, having talked with Wendy about what they want, the menu will become more traditionally Frenchified, like those desserts and cheeses, as things settle down.

In the meantime, there’s an excellent listing of aged vintages of the Roberts’ trophy and gold medal-winning wines along with a carefully selected range of international wines, many sensibly available by the glass and in half bottle.

The service was great, informed and informal but totally professional which, with the fittings and furnishings and the magical views make up for any shortcomings in the food.

Onion broth $12, charcuterie plate $19, seafood pot au feu $30, duck $34, sides $8, desserts $14, 50 grams of local or French cheeses $20

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