A Tiny Place Cafe

BYO $-$$
20 Francis Street, Battery Point
03) 6225 6771
Open: Breakfast and lunch Wednesday to Sunday from 7.30am, Dinner Friday and Saturday.

After seven years as the executive chef at MONA’s The Source, it took Philippe Leban half a year to negotiate the regulatory red-tape hurdles before opening his own 32-seat place seven weeks ago. But he obviously used those six months well for, with stylish period furnishings, interesting knick-knacks and fabulous chalk designs-on-blackboard walls – created by his Vietnamese partner – right down to the patterned satin napkins and French Laguiole cutlery, he’s created the most charmingly elegant café in town.

It’s the sort of place that romantic couples and stylishly dressed ladies in for their morning’s Parisian hot chocolate would delight in.

The breakfast, lunch and dinner menus reflect Leban’s wide international experience with kitchen sojourns at three Michelin-starred L’Aperge, l’Astrance and the Hotel Plaza Athenee in France, Quay and Guillaume at Bennelong in Sydney and at Hamilton House on the Bund in Shanghai where his kitchen assistant was Robert Kariuzawa who followed Leban to the Source and now to A Tiny Place.

It’s this experience that makes his menus most interesting and the food very different, quite unlike anywhere else in the city. “There’ll be generosity, and there’ll be familiarity in some of the dishes too”, he says. “And we are aiming for simplicity and fresh, clean and authentic flavours”.

Anyone for wonton soup for breakfast?

If not, then there are also the choices of a rolled herb and cheese omelette, toasted brioche, porridge with poached fruits, freshly cooked honey madeleines with house-made sloe berry jam or congee with salted fish or blackbean garnish and a Shanghai breakfast pancake with sweet and salty sauce, spring onions and coriander.

At dinner, the menu leans more towards Leban’s French heritage in dishes such as a cheese and mashed potato aligot, a traditional beef rib and chicken pot au feu and a deconstructed cassoulet of duck confit.

But, apart from the duck cassoulet and a confit of ocean trout, the lunch menu is a pan-Asian array of ingredients, flavours and cooking styles. A prawn congee of prawn stock spiked with fish sauce and topped with coriander and fried bread and shallot crisps was unctuous and wonderfully satisfying. On the other hand, a dish of steamed pork and chestnut meatballs sounded interesting and was attractively presented before the flavours fell well short of expectations.

And I felt much the same about a traditional Vietnamese Bun Bo Hue soup which was authentically rustic with tender lumps of braised beef, pork skin and rice noodles in what I expected to be a beautifully fragrant and refreshingly spicy chilli and lemongrass broth which, while pleasant enough, turned out to be inoffensively bland.

The most enjoyable dish at lunch was a dramatically coloured serving of spanner crab in tomato sauce with good, black, squid ink linguine, one of the better spanner crab dishes around.

A coffee sorbet, lemongrass anglais and bitter chocolate dessert didn’t do much for me and the cheeses from Italy, Spain and France in their conditioning cupboard that greets you on entry, would have been a much more pleasing choice.

< Congee $18, meatballs $21, Bun Bo Hue $23.50, crab pasta $28, dessert $13.50 and cheeses $7.50/30g

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