A lucid dream of a souffle stars in a most confident retinue of big flavour bistro classiques.
PM24 occupies a rather un-Melbourne space. That is, it is easy to find, neither behind a hidden door, sunken in a basement nor secreted down a laneway. Situated between the hum of the theatre district and the bright lights of the Federation Square precinct, it faces a constant stream of vehicles and is noticeable from afar by the gleaming window frontage and a broad monochrome signboard. Contained within an E-shaped lay-out, PM24 is all traditional Parisian bistro. A thousand shades of brown. The severity of utterly spartan furnishings (dark wood chairs, cool marble tables, austere grated windows) and the glare of the open kitchen and a bar exposed to the watchful eyes of patrons, are offset by blood garnet banquettes and medieval wrought-iron chandeliers ensconced in the soaring ceilings. Noise levels are high, bouncing between the high ceiling and the stripped hardwood floorboards.
MoMo & Coco have visited several times for after-work and weekend dinners. PM24’s a la carte menu did not diverge from its traditional agenda — all your bistro classiques were there — eg, escargots, steak frites, tartare, and a frightfully expansive cheese selection. Over several visits, we can now specify that our favourite savoury dishes include starting with the Charcuterie Selection ($25) of a most appealing diversity and generosity; the Cheese Souffle ($18) which could replace a main in its absolute decadence; the lighter Confit Duck Salad ($20) tossed with a melee of saute mushrooms, frisee salad and a poached egg cracked upon its greenery tangles; and of course, we cannot fail to mention the much-talked-about Rotisserie Chicken ($39.50), a big-boned bird basted in lemon, rosemary and that distinctive mix of a good dose of pepper and salt. It sat on a gold-toned bed of vegetables, surrounded by a moat of sauce. A generous main that could be shared between two persons, it is the antidote to all those Petri-size dishes circulating within far too many Melbourne restaurants today. However, one cannot forget that for $39.50 at your local supermarket or butcher etc, one could buy a full-size chicken or two that could feed a party of four or more. Question therefore, value? Special mention to the wine list — PM24 is unreservedly, the place to dine with those who can appreciate some very fine vin.
PM24 offers four desserts, plus an ice cream option and a plate of bite-sized sweet nibbles. The desserts will tug the heartstrings of a traditionalist dessert-lover, and/or true Francophile. The frivolity of deconstructed desserts or otherwise “modern” desserts have no place at PM24. The “Crepes a la Minute” ($16.50), whether in its salted caramel or its chestnut variations (the two versions that MoMo & Coco have sampled) are probably a PM24 dessert that we will bypass in future. They were a large, delicately-folded package with a dollop of creme fraiche or vanilla bean ice cream on top. Hard to fault — they were executed with ideal thinness, albeit with a slight parchment texture and taste. We just love Le Triskel‘s crepes better…and for less than $10.00.
The “Pain de Perdu” ($16.50) was a autumn/winter seasonal dessert, although we have seen it appear on the specials board on the occasion. It proved to be true to its description — a breakfast dessert served at dinner, no more and no less. A few logs of buttery brioche with creamy ice cream and a tumbler of chocolate whipped to an airy mousse. Acceptable, but not unforgettable.
The “Nougat Glace” ($16.5) was a square of soft nougat parfait embedded with little nuts and glace fruits. By itself, not much to scream about. It was accompanied by a mini-tumbler featuring a shallow layer of tick vanilla custard, finished with a swirl of sharp raspberry “espuma” (also known as “foam” or “mousse” in non-industry vernacular). We do think that this little tumbler outshone the nougat glace itself. Also, we do think that the forceful flavours of a grigottine or two may have asserted this dessert on our memories just a little more.
If there is one dessert that you must order at PM24, make it the “Passionfruit Souffle” ($17). Tangy passionfruit sauce cascaded down from the souffle’s centre to pool at the bottom of a white ramekin filled with a billowing souffle tower. On two samplings, it was never eggy (the misfortune of far too many souffles in Australia), with its epidermal layer just slightly crusted over. It came partnered with a white chocolate sorbet, delicately sweet relief rather than being overpoweringly saccharine.
In its early days, service at PM24 was a bit stilted. However, over the past year since opening, the staff have become a little more hospitable. Friendly without artifice, prompt without hurry, intuitive without intrusion. There are no real issues to note.
Similar to another French bistro CBD counterpart (Bistro Guillaume), the glamourous waterfront predecessor to PM24 relocated and relaunched in 2011 to embrace the more rustic roots of French gastronomy and restaurant dining. But a change in circumstances does not necessarily mean a change of character. Although it is no longer a fine-dining option, PM24 has retained, to some degree, the sophistication of its predecessor. Offering French bistro dining that is distinctively more elegant and refined than that plated up at most other Melbourne French bistros (similar in style to PM24 is South Yarra’s A La Bouffe), PM24 turns out a confident retinue of generously proportioned, big flavour bistro classiques and one very lucid dream of French dessert traditionalism in its souffle (other desserts are forgetable, though). We do miss the former bourgeois PM, but we quite like this more accessible PM24. All in all, it will probably outlast the many over-hyped restaurants and food trends bombarding Melbourne.
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: PM24 Bistro, 24 Russell Street, Melbourne CBD, Vic 3000.
- ☑ Budget: $$$.
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: Restaurant dessert. Neo-classical French.
- ☑ Must-eat: The “Souffle.”
- ☑ The short and sweet story: A lucid dream of a souffle stars in a a confident retinue of big flavour bistro classiques.