Sprinkling magical fairy dust on your head is passe. It's now the age to sip and drink this mysterious concoction and brace it up with a spectacular meal
By: Karishma Parkash
Posted on: December 10, 2011
Sprinkling magical fairy dust on your head is passé. It’s now the age to sip and drink this mysterious concoction and brace it up with a spectacular meal.
Replacing Churchgate’s iconic Sundance Café, Chez Vous is Mumbai’s initial French bistro doling out authentic cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In all simplicity, a bistro is a small, casual eating establishment known for serving hearty, simple fare along with wine. With all its makings from original Parisian incarnations, you will agree that it is a perfect and warm French bistro, but at the same time, has the makings of a fancy, but small restaurant. Making Mumbai his home due to its vastness as a metropolitan city with an indescribable energy that he loves, Frédéric Fernandez, Director - Chez Vous French Bistro, is all out to deliver a complete French dining experience to the people of Mumbai. Over a meal with him, I got a better understanding of the cuisine, the restaurant and explored French food! “The people of Mumbai are vibrant and well-exposed to many aspects of western culture and thus I wanted to bring the food from my country, that I personally love, for them to experience,” he said.
Chez Vous not only serves authentic French cuisine but also an exclusive list of French wines and a cocktail menu with quintessential French spirits like Chartreuse, Absinthe and Eau de Vie. Keeping our accents and perfect 10 pronunciations on one side, we joined Fernandez on his attempt to illustrate that French food has no nationality and is affable. “The restaurant has been well received since it was launched last year. I had a challenge when I came into this market since there were no gourmet French restaurants in the city, and therefore, people were unfamiliar with the cuisine. I brought classic French cuisine to Mumbai using authentic ingredients imported from select regions in France,” he said. He wants Mumbaikars to experience true French cuisine and enjoy it in a place that’s warm, welcoming and reminiscent of France. But, does he succeed in his endeavour? Let’s find out.
An undiscovered love
A swift glance at the welcoming little bistro next to Eros will give you instantaneous feelings of affection and warmth. Chez Vous means “at your place,” therefore Fernandez wanted to create a welcoming and homely environment for his clientele. And that’s exactly what he has done. “The setting of Chez Vous French Bistro is simplistic and sophisticated. We play classy jazz and French music from 30s to 60s and have typically French décor items (antique lamps, absinthe fountains, poster), bringing a touch of France to Mumbai,” he explained. The restaurant earns its brownie points and looks chic with white walls, black furniture and absinthe green as its colour palette. Don’t forget to notice the unique table mats and the posters on the walls.
Sceptical about French cuisine? Don’t be. Leave your preconceived notions at the door. You never know, you may discover a love for French cuisine that you never knew you had! If you are well-travelled and well-versed with the cuisine, I assure you that this is a place where you can relive your French travel escapades. After a fun exchange of words, I could feel my senses being stimulated by the delicious smells and appetizing sights around me. As if on cue, the waiter handed over the drinks menu to my companion and me and we spent a good 15 minutes pondering over it. Being apprehensive about authentic French cuisine, Fernandez took the reins and decided to step in and help us with our order for the evening.
Fabulous selections of wines to please almost all preferences, I went with the Chartreuse Verte on Fernandez’s recommendation to please a slightly sweet tooth. I strongly advise anyone and everyone to try the Absinthe which my companion had. It is an experience you must have for yourself. While personally preparing the drink, Fernandez shared that Absinthe can be had at Chez Vous in various ways - as a cocktail or with an Absinthe Fountain. I recommend the fountain and you too would give it marks just for its exciting and novel concept. The absinthe fountain is a large jar of ice water on a base with HYPERLINK "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spigot" \o "Spigot"spigots. A sugar cube soaked with Absinthe is first placed on a slotted spoon which is then placed in a glass containing absinthe. Watch your gaze as the sugar cube is then set ablaze and water is dropped onto it from the Fountain to ‘beat the absinthe’ and to enhance its flavours. This allows a more even displacement of the sugar in the absinthe which slowly changes colour and turns cloudy. This cloud is what gave Absinthe the name: The Green Fairy.
Absinthe contains a lot more alcohol than most other liquors so ensure you drink it responsibly. Actual content varies by brand, but many absinthes are nearly twice as alcoholic as, say, scotch, gin or vodka. So long as you remain attentive of absinthe alcohol potency, the Green Fairy will prove the most agreeable of companions. So drink up and be prepared for an unforgettable experience!
An active appetite
After the drinks, the expert stepped in again to help us with our starters. I had the winter black truffles scrambled eggs (scrambled eggs infused in truffle oil and served with winter black truffle ‘Tuber Melanosporum Vitt’ shavings). Being very hesitant at first, I was extra cautious with the taste only until the million flavours burst on my tongue and I felt a sense of relief and solace with the cuisine. If you want spiced up eggs, this is your dish. My companion went with the Crabe à la Créole on Fernandez’s recommendation which was fresh crab meat infused in thyme and rosemary and Cajun – a specialty from the French Caribbean islands! It was the perfect blend of flavours and was very well presented which feasted the eyes as well as being succulent to the taste buds.
The staff too was extremely attentive and helpful, which seems contrary to general notions with regard to French food and help. Aiding in an enjoyable experience and making sure all the customer’s needs were taken care of, I would definitely return to the place just to be warmly served by the staff again. The staff has been well trained on the nuances of French cuisine and culture which was evident in conversations with them.
On offer at dinner will be dishes like crab Creole, beef terrine, coq a vin and grilled fish. They have got a duck liver menu and a black winter truffle menu which gets you to think a moment before deciding. Finally, I went with the roasted Camembert in honey & herbs which was a full 250g piece of Camembert Issigny Sainte Mère AOC slowly baked in honey and breadcrumb in its wooden box and served with crusty ‘mouillettes’. One word describes it the best: Delicious! My only complaint would be the million calories consumed, but I would definitely return to satisfy some cheesy cravings. I recommend sharing the portion with someone unless you are hungry to another level because the cheese can get quite heavy and filling.
My companion was advised to go with the pan seared pomfret on a bed of mash potatoes infused in truffle oil which was served with winter black truffle shaving served with a sauce beurre blanc and caviar sevruga. He claimed it was a precise balance of flavours with each flavour representing its individuality to the taste buds. Freshness and aroma of the ingredients promise to whet the appetite to an extent that will definitely leave you wanting more.
Besides being good at whipping up exciting dishes in front of an audience over weekends and handling the restaurant, Fernandez also designs dishes for the restaurant. “Our main inspiration is happiness. Our ultimate goal is to trigger huge smiles to our guests. The ingredient is always king in our cuisine, with humility; we try to enhance it and reveal its best. A dish not only needs to look good but taste good and also be true to itself. Our menu is a subtle balance between tradition (Onion soup, Beef Burgundy, Coq au Vin, King prawns flambé, Crème brûlée…) and creation (Pan seared duck liver à la Tatin, Peanuts duck liver crème brûlée, hazelnut & Roquefort ravioles…),” he said.
As if the food wasn’t enough, Fernandez whipped out amazing desserts that pleased all our senses. We sampled the Profiterolles which was a choux pastry filled up with iced whipped cream, topped with hot dark chocolate and served with white chocolate custard. Next we had the almond based fruit tart which was a crunchy tart with soft almond based, creamy ‘à la minute’ whipped cream and fresh seasonal fruits. We topped this off with the Bernard Callebaut Chocolate Fondant - the famous melting chocolate dessert served with a soft and warm Madeleine and vanilla ice cream. With something to satiate the sweetest tooth on the planet, this is a good joint even just for a late night dessert craving.
With a perfect balance between French cooking tradition with a solid understanding of high quality ingredients (duck liver, black winter truffles and more) and a strong mastery of cuisine techniques (stock based sauces, meat/fish/vegetables cooking techniques, pastry techniques), I hope that this restaurant will go far and open up the doors for culinary diversity in the country.