A display of brightly coloured chairs on the Cronulla corner of the highway in Mermaid Beach marks a little French café / restaurant! The bright attitude is obvious. “Here I am!” the chairs exclaim: Le Café Gourmand!
One of our fondest memories of France is wandering through little country villages, ‘discovering’ a café to enjoy a snack or to have a coffee. You almost feel like an intruder on the film set of ‘Chocolat’. Leave the rustic boulangerie, a paper-wrapped loaf tucked under your arm, add some fromage (cheese), and a ‘pain au chocolat’ from the patisserie display next door and lunch is ready. Voilà!
There’s a touch of that in Le Café Gourmand, boulangerie (bakery), pâtisserie (pastry shop), café and restaurant all rolled into one. Even more, it’s like a ray of sunshine on an overcast day.
Owner Rémi Baron is the friendly French chef with the sunny attitude. Born in Nantes on the west coast of France, he began his career in a catering company, before moving into restaurants and the Mercure Hotel chain. The decision to take a break for a year-long holiday in Australia would change his life forever.
“We arrived in Sydney, my wife and I, then went to Brisbane, but when we visited the Gold Coast I just loved it: the sun, the surf. The people are friendly. There’s a laid back attitude and less stress. I knew I wanted to stay here,” Rémi told me.
So the couple stayed, Rémi working as chef in a French restaurant. Settling down to have a family, it was time to go out on his own; to fill the market gap with a casual French café serving modern French-influenced cuisine. Four years later, Remi’s kitchen also accommodates a sous chef and apprentice!
Working from a small kitchen, Rémi’s menu carries some French favourites, a couple bridging breakfast and lunch. We notice Bacon and Egg Tartine, Galette or Buckwheat crepe, Raclette, and an omelette, but I’ve already decided on the Breakfast cocotte with mushrooms, spinach and cauliflower velvet, one of the café’s signature dishes. It’s a gorgeous little French breakfast, the cauli creamy and delicious, the egg perfectly poached and topped with garlic buttered crumbs. It’s the perfect size, surprisingly filling and (in a word) addictive! (Remi’s menu changes according to seasonal produce.)
The Main Squeeze has his usual Big Aussie Breakfast: bacon, sausage, spinach, potato, baby tomatoes, herbs and a poached egg, served in its own little pan.
‘Just lovely,” he gushes, between mouthfuls.
Another meal at the café is lunch with a girlfriend on the sunny verandah. We’re ‘light lunch’ girls, Steph and I, ducking around the meat and salad filled baguettes in favour of the salads. There are three choices: Prawn and mango, Chicken with parmesan and pear, and Confit duck and blue cheese.
Of course I choose the duck. I’m intrigued, guessing how the duck will be served. It’s a generous slice of confit duck terrine marbled with a swathe of blue-vein cheese, sitting astride a rocket, hazelnut, apple and poached egg salad.
There’s always room left for a French dessert! We look at the Café Gourmand dessert plate, an assiette of three desserts and a coffee, but Steph has seen a dish which takes her eye. We share a warmed Chocolate Fondant for dessert, oozing lava of chocolate across the plate, its richness balanced by a serve of carambar and caramel ice cream. Oh my!
Talking to Rémi later on, I’m interested to know what changes he’s made to the menu to fit the Australian dining scene.
“Yes, I use French techniques in cooking, but in France, there are different greens. I’d use radicchio maybe, instead of the rocket. Also, I would have used celeriac instead of cauliflower in the cocotte. [More recently, celeriac has become more readily available.] Here some produce is hard to find and very expensive. I want to make simple dishes at the right price.”
There’s no mistaking the French touch. The food is delicious, embellished with the classical techniques of a French chef. All bread, croissants and terrines are made in house by Rémi, as well as delicious little tarts and cakes. Fully licensed, four-course specialty dinners are held several times a month, advertised in the restaurant and on social media, as well as private parties.
“I wonder how many people drive past this place every day without knowing…” the Main Squeeze muses. “You should tell them ‘Open your eyes!’”
Understated and underrated, Le Café Gourmand is simply a little French gem!
36 Cronulla Avenue, Mermaid Beach, Ph: 07 5572 7793
Open: Tues – Sun 7am – 3pm plus special events
NOTE: This review has also been published on Blank Gold Coast.