Some years back, Christian McCabe left behind successful restaurant Matterhorn, in Wellington, to try his luck across the Tasman. That first venture was the celebrated, though now closed, Town Mouse in Drummond Street, Carlton. Along with Town Mouse chef and co-owner Dave Verheul (a Matterhorn alumnus), McCabe branched out further, and more boldly, in 2016….
La Buvette could not proclaim its Frenchness any more emphatically, with the retro-Parisian exterior a striking blue that could have been lifted straight from The Tricolore, and name and purpose stated in classic script font and oh-so Gallic drop shadow. Yes, it’s immediately clear what you’re in for at La Buvette. Well, to a degree.
That overlay is no gimmick, with owner Dominique Lentz able to claim this identity as a birth right. The foundation concept was to bring the French approach to aperitifs to Australia, interlocking food and wine inexorably. As it should be. No, this is no theme bar, but rather a very strong cultural statement, fusing the old world with the new, of tradition coming full circle to embrace the unvarnished and unpasteurised spirit of today’s best artisans of food and wine.
The wine list has a natural focus, with both French and Australian wines featured. The offer runs to about 150 bottles of limited and typically hard to find gear, with five of the scarcer bottlings rotated through the by-the-glass list, complementing the main offer of 15. Those specials are all zero-addition wines, and they’re available by the half glass. In keeping with the ‘apero’ theme, La Buvette also carries an exhaustive range of classic and hard-to-find Aperitifs. Kronenbourg ‘1664’ is unmovable from one of the three beer taps, but the other two are rotated on a weekly basis.
The food is intrinsically French and Australian at the same time. French by design, and largely Australian by derivation, with locally made charcuterie complemented by a tight menu centred around local produce. Lentz draws the line at cheese, however, with the French flag waving proudly over most of the fromage selection.