Forget stuffy French fine dining; a new cool kid is in town offering diners fantastic French food with a contemporary twist.
Is it a gallery, restaurant or bar? I don’t care as long as the food is this good. On my recent trip to Adelaide, I checked out the latest talk of the town – Cliché Exhibition to find out what the fuss is about.
The site is the former D’Artagnan, nestled in the heart of North Adelaide on O’Connell Street. Blurring the lines between gallery, restaurant and bar, the establishment is named after the first Exhibition Cliché in the Wonderful Winkler Gallery, which features 24 local artists on site. But enough about the art, I care about the food…
Enter beneath the red neon sign and through the wooden doors and you’ll be greeted with a contemporary French bistro, a space where eating and art happily co-exist like one happy family. Unusual filament globe lighting and upside down tree structures dangle precariously from the ceilings: this is a venue which isn’t afraid to have a bit of fun.
By 8pm the restaurant is buzzing with a healthy energy, which goes only with good food and good company. The two level restaurant has a bar on both levels – the most striking being the wrap around bar on the ground floor, stocked with an impressive horizontal wine rack. Eagerly under the watch of the French Bulldog (one of the many imposing art pieces at the Winkler Gallery) we were seated at the raised bar table with a birds eye view over the action below.
If you’re expecting French fine dining at Cliché Exhibition you’ll be bitterly disappointed. But if you put your expectations at the door, you’ll soon be amused by the pun filled package of delights. And you’re in good hands in the kitchen with the likes of Nu Suandokmai (Golden Boy) and Greggory Hill (Lucky Lupitas) at the helm. The menu is designed to share and easily divided into shared entrees, larger plates and sides.
To start, a stick of freshly baked baguette accompanied by Pepe Saya’s delicious churned butter, followed by Winkler’s Wonderful Potted Duck Pate ($12) – a nice looking ensemble of potted duck liver parfait, relish, pickles and oven dried breadsticks. The pate had a beautiful texture and a great depth of flavour, without it being overpowering.
An edible garden like dish followed – affectionately called Coquilles Colour-Field ($16). The scallops were perfectly seared and just cooked, resulting in wonderfully plump, juicy morsels, which rested on neat zig zag of fluorescent green pea puree. Beads of salmon roe were elegantly arranged on top of the scallops, while the crispy enoki mushrooms added an interesting textural contrast, which brought together the flavours of the dish.
The duck a l’orange ($15) paled in comparison with the previous dishes. The modern take on an old-fashioned favourite comprised of strips of duck breast topped with an orange and prune sauce. The hero of the dish should have been the duck, which was overpowered by the sweet, thick and rather gluggy sauce
The Porc Me ($16) on the contrary was a delight. Succulent pieces of crispy pork belly were neatly assembled on the plate, on a bed of sour cabbage, greens and pickled radishes.
Another standout on the main menu is the Cheeky Beef ($25), which is full of palate popping flavour. Melt in your mouth style beef cheek was slow braised to perfection – resulting in wonderfully tender gelatinous meat. Impossibly crisp kale chips were a nice accompaniment to soak up the burnt onion aioli and saffron eschalot.
Of course, it would be rather sinful not to finish a French dinner without dessert. A vanilla creme brulee ($12) achieved a beautifully golden sheen from being torched – the caramelised top layer cracked like glass with a small poke of a spoon, revealing a sumptuous velvety custard underneath which oozed unapologetically through the caramel. Perhaps the side of vanilla ice cream topped with fresh strawberries was a little superfluous, but hey I’m not complaining.
Another signature on Cliché’s menu is the Lemon Curd Soufflé ($14), baked to order in 20 minutes. The voluptuous soufflé rose elegantly over the ramekin with an impossibly flat top leveled off by a knife and lightly dusted with icing sugar. It is one of life’s joys to tap the top of a soufflé to reveal a pillowy, feather light centre. Enriched with zesty lemon curd, the soufflé was quite sweet, accentuated by the slightly runny centre. I would have liked an extra minute in the oven but I hear that’s how many French soufflés are designed so who’s to argue with that?
The Final Verdict
It’s great to see Adelaide pushing the boundaries when it comes to contemporary dining. It may be a little cliché but as far as French dining goes, it’s damn good value for money.
Value for money: 8/10
26 O’Connell St, North Adelaide 5006