If you’ve been lucky enough to set foot in Brittany (or Bretagne) in the west of France, you’ll know that the coastal town, with its moody yet laidback beachy vibes, bears some likeness to our own beloved Ninch.
Cesar Henry noticed this resemblance, too.
“Especially the weather,” he says. “Lots of rain.”
The Brittany native and mind behind new Mornington bistro Ouest France (which means, and is pronounced, ‘West France’) has created an establishment that both transports diners to the French coast and connects them with gorgeous local produce.
“I want them to feel that for one dinner or for one lunch they left the Peninsula and went to a little, small town in Brittany and disconnected for a bit,” muses Cesar. “A little escape.”
Locals may know Cesar from his creperie, Souer, which stood for a year on the site where Ouest France can now be found. Others may recognise him from his front-of-house roles further afield at Melbourne’s iconic France Soir, followed by Balnarring restaurant Le Bouchon.
In his new venture, Cesar has enlisted the help of his brother, Oscar — a passionate chef who’s been training in French kitchens since he was 14 and worked in Michelin star restaurants back home. Oscar landed in Australia — and Ouest France’s kitchen — in July.
Ouest France creates a more gourmet, sit-down experience — although both crepes and galettes still appear on the menu. (Fun fact: Brittany is not only the birthplace of galettes but also the striped t-shirts and yellow raincoats we often associate with France).
Patrons can expect rustic, authentic coastal French decor and a menu featuring simple, classic yet exquisite fare. Dishes are carefully prepared in the traditional French style — think eye fillet with pepper sauce, duck à l’Orange and fish with white butter sauce.
Naturally, the dessert menu features crème brûlée. “Otherwise everyone’s upset!” says Cesar.
For Cesar, one of the most important aspects of the restaurant’s offering is its wine list, which boasts a diverse range of organic wines from boutique French makers.
“I’ve got very special bottles with grapes that you don’t really find anywhere — especially on the Peninsula,” he says.
While the 18-seater restaurant is brimming with cosiness and charm, there are also 18 seats on the terrace outside, which catches both sunsets and the afternoon sun.
The great news is that the restaurant is now open from midday and serves cheese and charcuterie boards (as well as a lunch menu), so you can spend the afternoon lazing and grazing with a glass of hard-to-find French wine.
Whether you’re after some fresh and delicious comfort food, or a Francophile looking for a place that’s so Frenchy, so rustique, Ouest France will hit the spot. Consider it your portal to Brittany.
“That’s, in some way, what hospitality has to offer,” says Cesar. “You can be back in the past and also taken to another country.”