Petite, the new French-inspired bistro and wine bar from the Happy Boy team, makes a splash in The Valley

It’s a French affair at Petite, Fortitude Valley’s striking new dining destination. The newest culinary concept from the team that brought you Happy Boy and Snack Man is riffing on French bistro culture, serving a free-wheeling menu of divine dishes alongside a keenly curated list of French wines. Come and take a look inside …
Jun 14, 2024, updated Jun 14, 2024

Cameron Votan doesn’t know whether to call Petite a wine bar or a bistro.

“They both come with connotations,” admits Cam. “Like you can’t have a full meal at wine bars, or you can’t just drop into a bistro for a wine. I think [Petite] is neither and both at the same time.”

It tracks that Cameron and his brother Jordan’s newest hospitality venue defies easy categorisation – the Votan’s East Street empire was built on a knack for crafting concepts that boast a recognisable silhouette, but are imbued with enough quirks to make them distinct and singular. Take Happy Boy, for instance, which emulated the raucous dining halls of Hong Kong, but fused the model with a zeitgeist-igniting focus on boutique Australian wine. Then there’s its moody neighbour Snack Man, which took Chinese street food and served it in a small plates-style format alongside a wine list that dug deep into the unheralded growing regions of Europe.

Petite, which officially opened to the public this week, is the Votan’s fourth Fortitude Valley venue after Kid Curry, which transformed last year into Nice Thai and then Mini (a now-closed pop-up bistro that doubled as a proof-of-concept testing ground for Petite itself). It occupies the final tenancy along the Cam and Jordan’s East Street domain – a striking spot perched at the intersection of East, Ann and James Streets. Previously divided into two closed-in tenancies, Petite’s build was, by far, the Votan’s most ambitious undertaking. To hear Cam tell it, the entire exercise was a gamble – one he wasn’t sure would pay off.

“We took it relatively on spec that we could achieve what we wanted to accomplish,” explains Cam. “We knew we wanted to go with a mezzanine, we knew we wanted to go floor-to-ceiling windows and we knew we wanted to create a big bistro with an open kitchen and bar feel, but it wasn’t clear that it was all possible.

“There were so many walls and ceilings – actually peeling it all back and working out what was possible with our builders was a months-long process, even after we demoed.”

Based on the reactions from early guests, the gamble has paid off big time. Petite is a stunner – a glass-encased space with high ceilings, a marble-topped bar, an open kitchen and a mezzanine-level private-dining area. Sharing the same minimalist utilitarian aesthetic of its siblings (and linking to the heritage air-raid shelters that occupy East Street’s other end), Petite’s design makes a feature of the site’s load-bearing concrete pillars and exposed steel supports. While Petite doesn’t shy away from raw materiality, it has been softened with elements that harken back to its French inspirations.

“The minimalism was a touchstone, keeping the industrial elements bare and exposed,” says Cam. “But when we were looking at the space with no decor or decoration, we realised it needed that element of softness and class.”

That soft touch comes in the form of bentwood chairs (a ubiquitous fixture of countless Parisian bistros), leather banquettes, blue rugs, curved cornices and a pair of vintage 1960s Murano glass chandeliers that were pulled out of a mansion in Lake Como. At night the lights dim and the space comes alive. Diners congregate at the bar, at tables scattered across the dining floor or at booths by the window – watching as cars blur past, onwards towards the bustle of James Street or The Valley.

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While Petite’s fit-out may have had an element of uncertainty, one thing that the Votan’s weren’t leaving to chance was the venue’s cuisine of choice, which – from day one – was going to be French.

“We knew we wanted to do French, because French food is, for me, the pinnacle of restaurant cuisine,” reveals Cam. “There are so many similarities between the Chinese and the French, from their fascination with sauces to the fact that they’re both codified – the Chinese have universities of cooking, just the same way they have the colleges of cooking in France.”

French food was already familiar territory for the brothers, who operated Greenglass on George Street in The City from 2016 until it closed last year. A more faithful rendition of a classic French bistro than Petite, Greenglass drew in a clientele that favoured a traditional format of entree, main and dessert, as well as a more conservative selection of wines. It’s a more free-wheeling affair at Petite, which offers a menu of 20 dishes that can be ordered in any configuration.

“[Petite’s menu] can definitely be navigated in that traditional way, but we let it be more free-flowing,” says Cam “Each of the 20 plates on the menu could be eaten by themselves, but more often than not we’re hoping that people take a sharing approach.”

A quick glance will be enough to clue diners in on the menu’s flow, which moves from small portions to large. Baked scallops, kingfish carpaccio and goats cheese croquettes lead into steak tartare with gherkins, confit yolk and pomme gaufrette, onion tarte tatin with creme fraiche, and potato pave. Then, the pan-fired gnocchi with comte cream, crispy cordon bleu and pan-fried fish with beurre blanc sauce act as a stepping stone towards what might be considered Petite’s mains – confit duck with potato mash, braised lamb with mint peas and confit-garlic cream, and two kinds of steak with fries (a grilled wagyu bavette with cafe de Paris butter and a grass-fed eye fillet with pepper cognac sauce).

“The dishes come out quite plainly and elegantly simple, and the beauty of that is the wines just look much better next to them,” explains Cam. “Instead of being stuck hoeing at your one single plate, you’re going to have plates coming at you in waves and you’ll be sharing them and discussing them and discussing the wine – all of that stuff becomes part of the night.”

As one would expect from a venue that purposefully blurs the line between bistro and wine bar, vino earns top billing alongside the fare.“I believe the best bistros are the ones where the plates are simple, the flavours are delicious and there’s no fetishisation around ingredients,” says Cam. “But the key is that the food is never, ever consumed sans wine. It is intimately, instinctively and intuitively matched – it’s almost unquestioned. I think that works really well with us, because all of our restaurants have a laser focus on wine.”

At Petite, however, Cam and Jordan spotlight wine in a way that they haven’t done before. On the other half of the one-page menu is a list of 20 wines available by the glass. Each drop has been selected as the ideal pairing for the dish it sits directly opposite, but the options immediately above and below are also favourable matches. The selection is, as one could guess, entirely French. With the croquettes you might try a savignon blanc from Thomas-Labaille in Sancerre. When you move onto the fish, you can switch to a rosé from Domaine Gueissard in Provence. By the time you get to the steak, the silky syrah from Domaine Andezon in Rhône is recommended.

“I think 70 percent of our cellar is French, so being able to show off our wine alongside the food it was meant to be served alongside was an absolute no-brainer,” says Cam. “[Petite] follows that bistro style – we’re saying, ‘Here’s what we’re loving, come and grab it’.”

Petite’s by-the-glass list is bolstered by a one-page selection of grower champagne and cremant (which includes four options by the glass) and a double-sided A4 menu that lists Cam and Jordan’s obsessions or current interests. Right now you’ll find a curated selection of Loire Valley whites, Rhône Valley reds, wines of the Jura, the greater Burgundy area (from chablis to beaujolais) and a bunch of all sorts that don’t neatly fit into a category. If you have a particular taste, you can tap into Snack Man’s broader list of around 700 cuvees. A clutch of classic cocktails – think French negronis, Kir Royales, old fashioneds and martinis – are available alongside a trio of beers.

If you think this is a lot to get through, you’d be right. Thankfully, Cam and Jordan have planned for this.

“We’ve decided very early on that we want people to enjoy the full menu and the full wine list, and I do think that takes more than the normal two-hour sitting that most restaurants accommodate,” says Cam. “On our booking platform there is an option you can check which allows you to choose to have the table for the whole night.”

Petite’s addition to East Street is a watershed moment for the Votans, who have spent the past eight years carving out their own pocket on Fortitude Valley’s fringe. With each opening, they’ve gifted diners another piece of themselves – an earnest expression of their tastes, all for making Brisbane a more fun city to dine in.

“What we’re trying to do is make some things that are uniquely available in Brisbane and on East Street,” Cam explains. “And what we put back into the Mini space will, again, be another step in that direction. What we’ve tried to forge on East Street is a little island of unique, credible, thoughtful things, which have all come from our hearts.”

Petite is now open to the public – head to the Stumble Guide for operating hours, menu details and booking info.

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