I’ve walked past L’Hotel Gitan on Commercial Road in Prahran, many times. Weekly, in fact, when I was stalking last season of The Block, Today Tonighting on graffiti wrap and Neale Whitaker sightings, as it’s just across the road.
There’s always people spilling outside into the courtyard (which, to be clear, is not much more than a few curb-side tables) but it’s never ranked highly on my ‘must eat at, or I might die’ register. The pub persona and huge Carlton Draught piece de resistance on the exterior led me to believe that it was just another Prahran pub akin to the Windsor Castle and Flying Duck Hotel. I was flying wrong.
What’s L’Hotel Gitan’s story?
A year after closing his popular namesake Windsor restaurant in 2013, celebrated chef Jacques Reymond came out of retirement and teemed up with three of his children to plate up this foodie’s gold pit and serve it onto Melbourne’s dining scene. And the old Prahran pub, previously known as Hotel Max, is certainly a new man after its Extreme Makeover.
Testament to Reymond’s influence, L’Hotel Gitan is a gastro pub that has combined French flair and fine dining with its Art Deco roots. The formal bistro dining space is stylish, with white tablecloths, marble, original French café chairs and an open kitchen centrepiece that’s bigger than Justin Bieber’s fan base. The kitchen, or fishbowl, is manned by head chef Adam Smith (a Reymond protégé) and is adorned by thick brass bulkheads, a rotisserie and lots of baguettes.
While the long, intricately-tiled front bar is much more relaxed and reminiscent of the original pub, with booth seating and high tables, yet it still has elegant copper and brass detailing distinguishing itself from the Windsor Castle. It’s clearly a popular spot for Friday after-work drinks and a relaxed schooner-drinking Bachelor Sam Wood, who was there the night I visited enjoying a beer with a mate; no Snezana.
Dress code: no shorts and thongs
I probably should have warned Jude, thy husband, that this wasn’t the venue for shorts and thongs. I didn’t. And he consequently felt very uncomfortable amid the formally-dressed clientele, behaving like he was wearing Tony Abbott-sized Speedos, refusing to remove his legs from the safety of the table.
So what is the dress code? It’s somewhere in between BBQ with friends and black tie dinner. Not super fancy, but not super casual either.
An Alice in Wonderland epicurean feast
Choosing what to order off the quite comprehensive menu, which is coupled with an additional specials blackboard, is troubling. I did sit there staring at it like I’d earlier sat there staring at Sam Wood wondering whether he had a spare rose on him. There’s also an extensive wine cellar and wine list, which only adds to the complication.
Finally, Jude and I agreed to settle our differences and share a banquet made up of the petit calamar a la plancha (poorly translated to grilled small calamari), san daniele prosciutto (which needs no introduction) and king brown mushroom bark with gruyere (a fancy tempura-type mushroom pizza) that came with an amazing jus vinaigrette that I’d happily bathe in, for entrée. All were ahhh-mazing! An honorary mention must also go to the bread, which tasted as good as anything found in a Parisian boulangerie. Main was the Ranger’s Valley Bavette (flank steak), with onion rings, French fries and a leaf salad.
Feeling like I was a blown up Violet Beauregard from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory after all of that, I probably didn’t need dessert but when I saw that my favourite words ‘citrus’ and ‘berries’ were involved, I involuntarily boarded the dessert train. The problem was then choosing between the caramelised lemon tart, with passionfruit bavarois, orange and crispy meringue; and a mille-feuilles of fresh berries, with pistachio crème diplomate and raspberry sorbet; so I went about convincing Jude that he was a closeted berries man (he’s not), so that I could secretly have them BOTH. I don’t think he bought it but I also don’t think he wanted to argue with a sugar-craving wife, so gave in and I got to try the two. The deception was totally worth it because they were as delicious as a rain-strewn Ryan Gosling.
L’Hotel Gitan is…
Don’t be fooled by the Carlton Draught sign. While L’Hotel Gitan might look like a pub on the outside, inside it’s an Alice in Wonderland epicurean feast. And there’s not a parma in sight.
While I’m going to get an F on my Zomato report card for having not discovered this place sooner, L’Hotel Gitan deserves a solid A. The food is quality fine dining without the pomp and circumstance (that’s more likely to be found at sister restaurant Bistro Gitan in South Yarra). The ambience and interior, with its roaring 20s design smarts, creates for a relaxing experience (except if you’re wearing Speedos). One that set us back $150 after all of the above, plus two large beers and a glass of wine.
Just be warned, on this particular (warm) Friday night, the place was heaving. A booking is a marvellous idea, and you can easily do this on L’Hotel Gitan’s website – just look for the big neon book now button. If you want something more secluded, I’d recommend one of the two private dining nooks, with The Copper Suite seating up to 12 and The Booth seating up to four, as the noise volume is at a Hawker Hall level.
The waiters (who were mostly French, or they just have very good faux French accents) were almost as good as the desserts. They were as attentive as a husband who’s in trouble for forgetting a wedding anniversary, with drinks arriving within 30 seconds, napkins promptly folded (and found when I’d disgracefully dropped it on the floor), and the bathrooms were even discretely pointed out, which meant I avoided my normal game of hide and seek with the Ladies.
Overall, L’Hotel Gitan is a proof pudding that looks can be deceiving.
L’Hotel Gitan | 28 Commercial Road, Prahran, Victoria
Phone: (03) 9999 0990