As an enthusiast of French cuisine, I'm always on the hunt for new French restaurants to try in Sydney. Although I love trying new restaurants, there are a few favourites that I always come back to. Bistro Papillon, an unassuming little restaurant in the heart of Sydney CBD has been one of my favourite French restaurants since my first visit in 2011. Situated on Clarence Street, with a few baroque style tables and chairs outside, and a chalkboard menu on display make the restaurant relatively easy to find.
Framed French posters decorate the walls of Bistro Papillon
I had been wanting to return to Bistro Papillon for some time, and finally found an occasion to, when one of my friends remarked that he had never tried French cuisine before. I recommended Bistro Papillon as one of my top choices, and we ventured there on a Tuesday evening around 8:15pm.
Street-view of Bistro Papillon
The ambience is dimly lit, and cosy with wooden furniture and framed French posters hanging on the wall which create an authentic French feel. When we arrived, there were several other groups in the midst of dining, but it was not completely full. The restaurant is relatively small, seating around 30 people, so I'd recommend making a reservation before coming in for dinner. I'd been on several occasions and noticed that there wasn't an empty seat in the restaurant, but this seemed to be one of their quieter nights.
Outside of Bistro Papillon, a chalkboard summarising the restaurant's offerings.
After being seated, my friends and I looked over the menu and ordered quickly. For starters we had the Atlantic and King Salmon Terrine, and half a dozen Escargots. The starters didn't take long to arrive, which we were grateful for as we were all extremely hungry. Unlike other restaurants serving snails, Bistro Papillon serves their snails without the shell, making it a lot easier for diners to eat. The snails were cooked in the traditional French way: baked in a garlic, parsley and butter sauce. The sauce was very rich, and had a strong garlic flavour. We enjoyed dipping our pieces of bread into the sauce and eating it. The snails were soft and had a springy, chewy texture without being rubbery or too hard.
Escargots cooked in a traditional garlic, butter and parsley sauce.
The Atlantic and King Salmon Terrine was served with a simple salad on the side, together with a few pieces of bread. A terrine is similar to a pate, and is usually spread over bread as a topping. However, terrine is generally more firm and contains meat pieces, whereas a pate is creamier than a terrine and does not contain any pieces of meat.
Atlantic and King Salmon Terrine
The salmon terrine was firm, and had the traditional light pink colour of salmon. The salmon flavour was quite strong, making the taste flavoursome even when spread thinly over the bread.
After we had finished our entrees, our waiter cleared our plates and brought the mains not too long after. We opted for the Coq Au Vin ($36), Cassolette De Fruits De Mer ($36), and the Confit De Canard ($36).
Coq Au Vin - chicken cooked in a wine sauce
The Coq Au Vin, a classic French dish of chicken cooked in a wine sauce, is one of my absolute favourite dishes to eat, and I can never go past it on the menu even though there were so many other things I wanted to try. At Bistro Papillon, the chicken is cooked to perfection, and is so tender it practically falls off the bone. The wine sauce was bursting with flavour, and had a distinct and delectable taste of red wine. It was a very filling and hearty dish, and my two friends also enjoyed it thoroughly.
Cassolette De Fruits De Mer
The Cassolette De Fruits De Mer is French for a seafood casserole. It included scallops, squid, a kind of white fish, mussels, and cauliflower cooked in a white sauce. The seafood was tender, and was accentuated by the sauce that it was cooked in. Out of the three dishes, the sauce that came with the seafood casserole had the most subtle flavour. That being said, it was still delicious, and tasted good when dipped in bread.
Confit De Canard
As the word 'confit' means a meat that has been cooked in its own fat; the Confit De Canard was a rich dish of duck leg with a hearty sauce. The exterior of the duck leg was crisp, while the meat inside was soft and succulent. The sauce and vegetables that accompanied worked perfectly with the duck.
Although my friends and I were more than satisfied with our mains, we couldn't resist dessert. So we opted for a cheese dish, as well as something sweet. Bistro Papillon had a few cheese options, and we chose the Bleu D'auvergne ($14).
Bleu D'auvergne - a creamy French blue cheese with sharp flavour. All the cheeses at Bistro Papillon are served with a sliced baguette, walnuts and fruit.
Tarte Tatin ($15) is a caramelised apple pie and a traditional French dessert. I first tasted it on a trip to France some years ago, and have enjoyed it at Bistro Papillon on several occasions. It is always served with a dollop of cream and side of ice cream. On this occasion, the ice cream flavour was Rum and Raisin, which was an interesting and unusual combination. I'd never been a fan of rum, but I felt that the ice cream was sweet enough, without the characteristic bitterness of alcohol. It also worked well with the tarte tatin, providing a cool contrast to the soft warmth of the caramelised apples.
Dining at Bistro Papillon is always a pleasurable experience in every aspect. Not only does the food attest to authentic French cuisine cooked well, but the service is consistently warm and friendly, and the ambience is cosy and relaxed, while still chic at the same time.
Where: 98 Clarence Street Sydney NSW
Why: Authentic French cuisine
Cost: Medium range
When: Open for lunch Monday to Friday and dinner from Monday to Saturday