Words like ‘institution’ and ‘iconic’ get tossed around a lot, and not always with deep justification. But France-Soir, near the top of the Toorak Road hill in Melbourne’s South Yarra, has earned both of those monikers, and some time ago. It is indeed an iconic institution, and an establishment with a loyal following that few…
Before launching Le Rebelle in 2019, Sarah and Liam Atkinson had certainly done some yards. Over the years, the pair have worked at some of Perth’s hottest destinations, including, collectively, at Print Hall, Star Anise and wine mecca Lalla Rookh. The husband and wife duo had also previously teamed up to open Miss Kitty’s Saloon in 2012 as co-owners. But it was after Liam helmed the kitchen at the much anticipated but ill-fated spin-off of Balinese institution Ku De Ta that they called it quits working for others, and Perth is the better for it.
Sarah and Liam took up the lease on the old Circa site in Beaufort Street, Mount Lawley, in 2019, putting into place many years of dreaming and planning. Those plans were very much forged from visits to New York, where restaurants like Balthazar had made a substantial impression.
The room – segmented into a snacking and drinking space at the front, bar and high seating in the middle, and a dedicated dining space at the back – rings many old-world dining bells, with black bentwood bistro chairs, leather banquettes, parchment-hued plaster and enough copper and sombre timber to transport you to the old world.
And though the vibe at Le Rebelle is very much French bistro, it’s no Gallic photocopy. “We like to call it French-ish,” says Sarah. “Imagine a French restaurant in the middle of NYC dropped in the middle of Perth. We use high-end local Australian produce in a fun and classic French way with our own twists.”
The menu charts a course that gives substantial comfort, but stainless-steel sauce jugs brimming with bearnaise sauce beside a mound of fries don’t make this a regular steak frites joint, not by a margin. Yes, steak tartare, duck liver parfait and côte de boeuf are all present (alongside the signature crab toast), but they’re delivered with a modern sensibility and subtle reinvention, invested with a wealth of cooking experience without the need for showing off – confident cooking, in short.
On the wine front, Sarah started with a carefully curated list of 50 bottles, but that soon blew out to over 100, when that constraint held her back from including some of her favourite producers and styles. She now runs “the fancy list”, a handwritten document of limited gems that get crossed out when exhausted.
“The list leans to the old world, especially French, but I try to showcase smaller local and Aussie producers,” Sarah says. “The majority of wines on offer are lightly handled and not overworked, but I try to avoid wines that are a little too funky… I like to have the fruit shine. And I try to get in fun, bistro style (glou-glou) wines that are accessible, along with a few serious bottles on hand.”
In short time, Le Rebelle has become both a local favourite and destination dining. “Our ultimate goal is for people who come in our doors to have a good time!” says Sarah. “And on top of that, we wanted to create a space where you can feel like you are anywhere in the world.”