With the quest to find new and interesting restaurants, meals, flavours and other food experiences, one can often take for granted the simple and the familiar. With the cornucopia of dishes from various cuisines from around the world conveniently at your disposal within a few city blocks, why would anyone in their right mind settle for something so pedestrian, so familiar as a sandwich and a coffee?
Perhaps because it is familiar, it is uncomplicated, and when it’s done well, such as this baguette sandwich from Le Grand Cafe, it is just good.
Le Grand Cafe, an establishment that is a part of Justin North’s Becasse restaurant group, is located within the Alliance Francaise Sydney building, appearing and operating more like an upmarket cafeteria than a cafe.
Arriving after the lunch rush, the cafe-teria was rather quiet and laid back; almost serene. It was the perfect time, the perfect environment, to clear one’s mind, catch up on the day’s news, as well as events on social media over coffee and a bite to eat.
Menus are conveniently located on every table to peruse at your leisure. However, you’ll need to get back up and make your way over to the service counter to place your order.
Keeping things simple, I went for a Freshly Baked Filled Baguette ($11). There are a small number of pre-made baguettes to select from the display counter filled with various French charcuterie & cheeses. In this instance, the filling was duck confit with cornichons, salad greens & mayonnaise on an untoasted baguette. There is also the option for having it toasted, but I’d went with the staff’s recommendation, having no personal preference either way.
Whilst I’d not had duck confit in baguette form, the taste & texture was on the whole familiar, reminding me of a good tuna salad sandwich but without the fishiness. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way; quite the opposite actually.
There’s a certain finesse required to harmonise simple flavours and textures in a way that doesn’t seem pedestrian or boring. The supple chewiness of the baguette, the rich well-seasoned duck preserved in its own fat, the light crispness of salad greens, the occasional crunch with hit of vinegary sweetness from the finely diced cornichons (pickles), along with a superb, creamy mayonnaise which brings together and compliments the other elements. It works for me as the flavours & textures are simple, unassuming, and no one element dominated over the others.
Did I mention that the mayonnaise was utterly superb?
There are plenty of items that you may expect to find at a French cafe, such as the Croque Monsieur (toasted ham & cheese sandwich; $10), Pain au Chocolat (chocolate croissant; $5), and the Croissant with Ham & Cheese (a croissant with, well, ham & cheese; $6). There’s also a Duck Liver Parfait with Cornichons & Toasted Brioche ($12) which sounds interesting too. I might have to order that the next time around.
If a simple, unassuming lunch is what you’re after, as well as a reprieve from the hustle & bustle of the city to clear your mind and unwind a little, this isn’t a bad place for it. Whilst some may question the price tag for what is essentially a fairly simple sandwich, I would wager few who have tried it would argue that it didn’t taste good.
Le Grand Cafe
257 Clarence Street, Sydney
(02) 9267 1755