Oh Melbourne, how cultured, how divinely old and new, how wonderfully diverse is her weather. The Chameleon recently enjoyed another trip to this wonderful city that is the mecca of multiculturalism in Australia and so it was that the visit to this French inspired restaurant on Toorak Road reflected much of what this wonderfully contradictory city is all about.
Bistro Gitan was (literally) only a stone throw from where The Chameleon was staying on this particular trip (if you throw the stone that is a little bit round and it rolls along a little, perhaps helped by some moisture on the footpath, and a good arm, but I digress) and having walked past it a couple of times on previous evenings, a peek through the windows was all that was needed to lure this little critter in for a visit.
The Chameleon was very, very glad he did, as Gitan excelled when it came to the atmosphere and, perhaps more importantly, created the type of mood that fits it's Melbourne location down to a tee; urban cool, old and new, simply brilliant. Any new restaurant looking to create that 'just right' ambiance should look no further than a visit to Bistro Gitan; wonderful use of textures and layout, mixed dining options (bar style/formal seating/group seating/casual/romantic are all options) and the lighting....oh the lighting was exquisite. How can lighting be exquisite The Chameleon hears you ask? Well, Gitan had successfully created an intimate, yet lively and adventurous mood by setting the brightness low, but with intense highlights and focal points with the employment of interesting lighting. In the past, The Chameleon has raved about the wonderful atmosphere created at Brisbane's Verve Restaurant Bar Cider House but Gitan has easily overshadowed that wonderful offering. Add to this the clever rich display of wine, artifacts, a creative bar, open see-through kitchen and music that worked a treat and you get one of the best ambiances you will find anywhere in Australia. It was no surprise that The Chameleon's group had a wonderful evening.
As The Chameleon's party walked through the door, the host/owner welcomed them in with a cheeky smile, and, without appearing desperate nor pretentious (but just letting the group know that he is doing us a small favour of some sort), he found us a table. The service continued to be quite acceptable throughout the night.
On this particular evening, the Chameleon was able to run his long sleek tongue across an escargot entree, two different types of steak (one a special, the other off the menu), as well as some delectable red wine that the Chameleon tried to match to the steak.
The escargot (read: snails) was good. The unique texture, which in this case resonated as a somewhat unusual mixture of thick snot, loose overcooked tripe and melted duck lard, was quite pleasant. The flavour from the accompanying sauce was overly buttery, and the escargot only just emerged on the palate; but it worked. So a decent start to the evening.
The mains were steak; Gitan did not get this right. The Chameleon's specials menu steak came out overcooked, definitely not medium rare. The texture too was overly dry and the flavour, passable if you were sitting in a pub. That's a bit harsh to be honest, but The Chameleon expected much higher considering the prices that were paid. The side of spinach that was ordered never really got past bland. It was...spinach; and nothing else, which came as a surprise since the robust full flavours of any steak will hide untouched spinach every time. A little garlic, some chilli perhaps, just SOMETHING to give it an edge of flavour, but nothing emerged. Unhappy Chameleon.
In stark contrast, the menu steak was absolutely spot on. Cooked as per ordered, it left The Chameleon yearning for someone else's meal. The meat was soft, flavoursome and looked outstanding on the plate. It didn't cost much more than the special and was by far the better choice.
So there was some inconsistency and, for the price the group ended up paying, this is reflected in the overall score.
A word on the drinks. Bistro Gitan is very much on the expensive side. You pay top dollar for beer. You pay top dollar for wine. The Chameleon paid top dollar for both. There are no cheap alternate offerings, no 'house wine' to quench your thirst. So expect to pay $40+ upward for a basic bottle of red. The French dry chosen by The Chameleon was a very unusual spicy merlot/shiraz style, not a bad drop, but there are better sub-$20 Aussie reds that you can pick up at a bottle-o. If you are interested, there is a very good selection of premiums, reaching over $500 per bottle, which The Chameleon can not comment on for various obvious reasons.
Wow, what a glorious bistro! Highly impressive atmosphere/setup, in fact, would visit again for this singular fact alone, but there were some deficiencies in The Chameleon's meal. Getting it right on one plate is fine, but to appease this reptile, it must count on his plate. Pricey for food, a bargain for the atmosphere. 85/100