French connection: Meet DUCKFAT, the new perspective-shifting concept from La Belle Vie team

How well do you really know French food? Most fine-dining fans are well-versed in France’s excellence when it comes to haute cuisine, with its fastidious presentation and meticulous technicality. But what about the more casual end of French cuisine? Brand-new eatery DuckFat is giving diners a glimpse at the possibilities of French fare without the white tablecloths, serving up the likes of buttery escargot, steak frites, French-style pizzas and foie gras in a grungy, pink-accented space in Newstead. Come and take a peek …
Apr 19, 2024, updated Apr 19, 2024

When I ask Simon Lambert – one of the brains behind Bardon’s elevated restaurant La Belle Vie – for his thoughts on what Australian diners miss when it comes to French cuisine, he stresses that the glamour of France’s high-end gastronomy tends to distract from the country’s true culinary variance.

“French cuisine is really in a box, in a lot of people’s minds,” says Simon, who is a veteran of fine dining, with experience working in Michelin-starred restaurants in Montpelier and Courchevel. “They think French food is like this or like that – it’s hard for them to see all the diversity that it can offer, but French cuisine can go from very casual to formal to extra-fine dining.”

Simon, alongside business partner Behrooz Farahnakian, is looking to flip the script on French cuisine with DUCKFAT. The brand-new eatery opened in the final days of March, with the duo lifting the cloche on an edgy modern-industrial space at Haven Newstead, previously home to Salt Meats Cheese.

Here, the duo are attempting to subvert the silver-service connotations associated with French food, redefining the cuisine as something approachable and affordable but, above all, still absolutely delicious. It’s a bold pivot for the duo, whose Bardon restaurant is beloved for its faithful adherence to the strictures of French finery.

But only a few weeks in and it seems that locals have been warmly receptive to the pair’s paradigm-nudging intentions.

“At the start, you really don’t know if people will respond well, exactly,” says Simon. “But some people that have come back already – like two or three times a week – which was the goal, because [DUCKFAT] really breaks this image of formal dining in Brisbane.”

DUCKFAT’s subversion of – and cheeky irreverence toward – French culinary traditions is mirrored by its decor, with art prints (vandalised with vivid graffiti) suspended amongst a canopy of pink-leaved trees.

With room for 100 patrons spread across a central dining area, street-side dining along the building’s Cunningham Street axis and a casual undercover terrace area furnished with high tables, DUCKFAT does away with frills and unnecessary frippery. It’s punchy, fun and flexible – a joint specifically designed to cater for a broad array of wants, from simple drinks and snacks to leisurely lunches and celebratory feasts.

“I think there’s been a bit of a change in dining habits post-COVID,” says Behrooz. “If you want to go to a nice restaurant, you have to have a booking and you have a limited sitting of 90 minutes or two hours. With this place, we wanted to make a bit of change.”

“We really blend styles – like the fit out, we’ve got some classic artwork but with graphics on it,” adds Simon. “I think what will succeed here is catering to a very wide panel of people – people who want to come and celebrate a wedding anniversary or people who will just come on a whim on Sunday night when they don’t know what to do.”

Overseeing DUCKFAT’s menu is La Belle Vie head chef Samuel Perrin, an accomplished chef who trained under legendary three-Michelin star chef Alain Ducasse. His mantra when morphing French flavours into a casual and modern offering was to strip things back, keep it simple and make it sharable.

“We’ve tried to keep a sense of really classic French food, but very nicely done without too many little things on the side that sometimes are useless but really to get a nice flavour and twist as well,” says Samuel.

DUCKFAT’s menu bucks the conventional entree, main and dessert format in favour of an offering that is fluid and fun. The snack seekers can flit in and peck at the likes of DUCKFAT’s charcuterie board (piled high with ribbons of Serrano jamon, saucisson sec, fresh goat cheese wrapped in salmon gravlax, Mediterranean octopus and French cheese), divvy up a glistening cylinder of knife-cut beef tartare (topped with a gooey egg yolk) or take turns pulling apart one of DUCKFAT’s signature pizzas, known in France as flammekueche. These light and crispy variations come topped with the likes of caramelised onion, anchovies and olives, Roquefort, Abondance and mozzarella, or crème fraîche, onions and lardons.

If it’s a date night, carving up some baked camembert and lathering it on rosemary-infused honey sourdough toast is a great starting play. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, opt to split a serve of escargot in shell stuffed with garlic and parsley butter.

Mains can be shared or enjoyed solo, with quintessential French dishes like slow-cooked beef cheek bourguignon, black mussels served marinière style with fries and magret de canard (duck with honey sauce and roast potatoes) featuring alongside a clutch of salads (including salade Parisienne, salade à la Grenobloise and salade oceane).

“What we really wanted to do is offer an option for every taste,” says Simon. “Come and try some pizza, a big salad, some raw plates, some slow-cooked food, some steak.  We really have a wide panel of every type of food.”

DUCKFAT also offers a short lunch special menu Monday through Friday, featuring steak frites, Parisienne salad, a rotating pizza, and a $19 plat du jour.

When it comes to the wine, DUCKFAT (naturally) leans French. Organic and biodynamic wines are a focus, with a short number of options plucked from most of France’s essential growing regions. “[We didn’t] want to go too wide on the list,” says Simon, who mentions that the price range encompasses a swag of economical options and one or two with a weightier price tag.

“We’ve got [something from] Loire Valley, we’ve got the Rhone Valley, Bordeaux and Alsace.” As for cocktails, DuckFat’s signature sips draw influence from iconic French dishes. The Quack – a riff on an old fashioned – mixes duck fat-washed bourbon, Grand Marnier, orange bitter and orange foam as a homage to duck a l’orange.

Meanwhile, the Bliss uses apple tarte Tatin for inspo, weaving together spiced rum, caramelised apple puree, sparkling apple juice and cinnamon syrup.

DUCKFAT is now open for drinks, snacks, feasts and celebrations – head to the Stumble Guide for operating hours, menu info and booking details.

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