February 7, 2024

The secret’s out about this French charmer in a Mornington Peninsula business park


ReviewEating outBalnarring

Le Bouchon offers a classic Gallic dining experience that rollicks and garlicks in all the right places.

Dani Valent

February 7, 2024

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1 / 6Le Bouchon French restaurant is a local favourite in Balnarring.Simon Schluter

2 / 6Pork terrine with chicken liver, port and prunes.Simon Schluter

3 / 6Tartare de poisson.Simon Schluter

4 / 6Blue cheese salad.Simon Schluter

5 / 6Le Bouchon’s cassoulet with roasted pork belly, pork sausage and confit duck.Simon Schluter

6 / 6Crisp, fluffy profiteroles.Simon Schluter


In the villages of the Languedoc in south-western France, cassoulet is an argument as well as a meal. People may agree it’s a humble stew of white beans and meats, cooked in an earthenware vessel. Beyond that, it’s up for debate.

Some will include sausage, duck, pork and its rind. Others add mutton, goose, even partridge. Many recipes call for breadcrumbs, but some cooks think that’s sacrilege. They probably concur on one aspect, though: cassoulet is a rib-sticking winter dish.

Let me say this to every French gourmand: beware Balnarring in summer, where Australians call for cassoulet even as their cheeks are tinged with sunburn.


Like the restaurant, the cassoulet is popular year-round.Simon Schluter

You see this phenomenon at Le Bouchon, a delightful French bistro that hit the spot when it opened as a 30-seater 10 years ago. Three years later, its tenancy was renovated and it’s now a thrumming 80-seat site of Gallic charm in the Mornington Peninsula town’s business park.

On the porch and inside the dining room with its bentwood chairs and wood-panelled bar, people “monsieur” and “madame” their way through a classic dining experience that rollicks and garlicks in all the right places.

Owner Stephane Saleres is from cassoulet country in Gascony. He worked for celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson in London before moving to Australia, managing a restaurant on Hayman Island, then settling in Melbourne and working at south-side institutions Chez Bob and France-Soir.

His vision here is similar. Together with longtime chef Antoine Corre (from Brittany, ex-Bistro Guillaume, not afraid of butter), and an excellent team, they hit all the right notes from freshly shucked oysters to house-made pâté to the kitchen’s own crisp, fluffy profiteroles.


Tartare de poisson with olive tapenade.Simon Schluter

Pork terrine is laced with chicken liver, port and prunes to create a lovely balance of sweet and sour, succulent and soused.

There’ll be “tartare de poisson” as a special: mine was sea bream, chopped through parsley oil and served with Nicoise olive tapenade. You’ll find exemplary snails, steak frites and creme brulee.

And what of the cassoulet? It’s a charmer, made in batches and assembled in an earthen dish to create a manageable bistro serve. The cannellini beans have soaked up meaty juices but still have bite. There are roasted pork belly, pork sausage and confit duck, gently tinged with tomato and pastis.

Crisp, fluffy profiteroles.Simon Schluter


Le Bouchon is one of few Peninsula restaurants busy all year, partly because it offers BYO on Tuesday and Wednesday ($15), but also because the service is smart and accomplished.

Hands are shaken, bad schoolgirl French is praised and children are indulged. Most importantly, the place runs like a beautiful machine, its engine tuned to hospitality. It feels like a room full of smiles.

The low-down

Vibe: Confident and charming

Go-to dish: Cassoulet ($47)

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More:BalnarringLe BouchonVictoriaFrenchBYOAccepts bookingsLicensedDate nightGood for groupsOutdoor diningReviews

Dani Valentis a food writer and restaurant reviewer.




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