Saturday, September 8, 2012

Claude's Restaurant in Sydney's old days.

My introduction to the original Claude's Restaurant in Paddington was a rather demolishing interchange: “Ring-ring!”

“Eello, Clod’s Restaurang, gan aye eelp yoo?”

“May I make a reservation for this week please?”

“The restaurant is fule, and so you gannot meek a booking.”

“Perhaps for next week then?”

“You gannot meek a booking for next week since we only take bookings fortnightly in advance.”

“But next week is within the next fortnight.”

“Zee fortnight does not begin until Mernday.”

“Very well, I will call again on Monday, thank you.”

“Monsieur may call, but nobody will answer. As everybody knows, all French restaurants are closed on Merndays!”

Claude’s Restaurant was a catalyst for the serious food movement of the 1970s. It was opened by a Frenchman called Claude Corne using a very serious French mold. He offered four courses for a fixed price of $22. There were four choices in each, with optional intercourse sorbets for two dollars. Even on my meager student’s income, I ate there a couple of times each year.

Not to diverted from the food, and unwilling to deal with licensing authorities, Claude kept no cellar. Hence by bringing their own wine, patrons could save on the ordinary and overpriced vintages served in so many other establishments in those days.

Once each month, on a Tuesday, Claude would serve bouillabaisse in place of the normal fare. This Mediterranean treat obviated the need for those difficult decisions over the menu. Claude had already chosen the very best at the fish markets, and made the most excellent and balanced seafood stock. After an elegant appetizer such as asparagus quenelles, the piece de resistance was served with big bowl and bib. Although a touch more expensive, the Bouillabaisse night yielded lasting memories of the most delicate fish flavours as well as Claude's incomparable marine bouillon.

Claude's was the first place I ate parsnip puree, venison, roquette, bouillabaisse, coddled egg in aspic, chocolate indulgence cake and passion fruit soufflé. Such were, my expectations that I once mistook his mashed sweet potato for pulverised cashews!

Mr Corne sold the business (to the Pignolet dynasty) in the early 80s and moved back to France. Finding that the homeland had changed for the worse, he returned to Australia, opening a restaurant at Pokolbin in the Hunter Valley. ‘Clos de Corne was a play on words meaning ‘Claude’s paddock, pronounced 'Claude Corne’. I ate there several times in the mid-80s. It was unmistakably Claude’s, and excellent value with a ready-made cellar on site. The tables were spread out in a modern glazed barn-style building with sweeping views of the surrounding countryside and hills. A far more relaxing place to be than cramped shop-front on Oxford Street.

Written by Andrew Byrne, pen-at-large, Redfern.