Man, I don’t know anything about eating in France. Maybe Brisbane’s handful of French-ish eateries are in fact a lot like the ones in Paris; perhaps the people of Lyon enjoy the same privilege of queuing for overpriced meals that local punters at Cirque do. Perhaps creaky suburban bookshops in Reims serve coffee in bowls just like in our own cafe Bouqiniste.
However, if French dining is anything like the experiences portrayed in Woody Allen’s rather flopworthy recent film, ‘Midnight in Paris’, then Brisbane remains resolutely Brisbane-ish in its provision of foreign experiences. Unlike the cobblestones and nostalgia and faint kitsch of Allen’s France, eating at Australian restaurants is mostly still a very Australian experience.
Case in point: Saturday morning. There are reasons Chouquette draws crowds, but instead of spacious café quaintness and bubbling French debate, the crowd occupies what feels like a large corridor, and the man sitting next to us is telling his daughters how he’s likely to ‘get shitfaced and spew his guts up’ tonight. Key entertainment is watching local millionaires try to parallel-park their luxury German sedans. Chouquette’s urban setting might best be described as ‘roadside’, with an ambiance that seems about as French as a box of Marlboro cigarettes.
Sometimes, a place has food so good that none of this matters, and this is absolutely the case with Chouquette. I have never before enjoyed a sandwich quite so much as I did yesterday. The Merlo-brand coffee is strong (if not the smoothest, still good quality potent stuff) and the baguettes are absolutely superb.
The croissants are also quite possibly the best in Brisbane, being fresh and rich and beautifully crunchy. Even the macarons, which usually repulse me, are quite irresistible. In spite of the way this spot seems to attract the wealthy, it is one of those rare places where you can get breakfast for two for less than $30 and still feel pretty spoilt.
If the standard breakfasts are not enough to leave you exhausted with culinary pleasure, the assorted pastries and desserts are also pretty incredible. We splurged $6.50 on the ‘Mont Blanc’, a soft yoghurt cheesecake on a rich berry-and-almond base, topped by beautifully fresh raspberries and coulis. Making cheesecake out of yoghurt means it’s much lighter than normal cheese-based versions. This enabled the flavour of raspberry to come through without being overpowered or diluted in the way that stodgier cakes might so. The Mont Blanc was a sublime end to an already impressive meal, and was so beautifully presented that we had neighbouring diners staring over at it longingly.
It seems that the common factor in Chouquette’s consistently brilliant food is quality. No corner appears to have been cut in making each dish. The ingredients are top-class, with immense skill and care going into each construction. Accessing this level of quality may require you to briefly cohabit with Gazza and overhear his weekend plans while he coddles his shih-tzu, but the first bite of your baguette will make it all worthwhile.