It had escaped our attention that a French cafe had opened on Brunswick Street in Fortitude Valley, until we happened to wander by on the hunt for a redeeming dessert to mitigate a less than stellar dinner. The French Food Shop has moved into the space once held by a hot dog vendor, and, as it turns out, has actually been there for a couple of months or so now. The owner later told us that over the time there, they have been making changes to the appearance of the place, particularly the less obvious front, which may be why it hadn’t really caught the eye before.
Currently, there is a quaint display of French wares in the window, so it resembles a deli. You can buy some of these provisions to take with you if you want. The service area is visible just beyond that, and they have it clearly signed for either takeaways to one side, or the direction for seating to the other side.
We were greeted at the door as we hovered over the menu near the entrance, and swayed by the list of sweet crepes and desserts, and the promise that they did indeed have good desserts, followed the waiter in (who turned out to be one of the owners).
The interior is interesting, probably from improvising on what was left from the previous tenant’s fitout. There are striking Holland-orange shipping container doors you pass as you enter, and at the back of the cafe space. The lower half of the inside walls is covered with black tiles, and an orange strip runs along it, in a similar shade as the container doors. The top half of one of the walls is white, with France-related pictures hung against it. One of the other walls has wallpaper that looks like old pressed metal tiles, and candles with melted wax on a ledge along it. The high ceiling is painted black, and the floor is polished concrete. Is industrial kitsch a design theme?
French music was playing at a comfortable volume (it was a woman singing what sounded like an old folk song in french). This was interspersed with the intermittent revving of Fortitude Valley traffic, but still a more pleasant atmosphere than a number of the other establishments in the area.
There are separate menus for lunch and dinner. There are many overlaps, but their quiches, croques, sandwiches, and crepes are only on the lunch menu. Other items like escargot, scallops st jacques, and cheese and charcuterie boards are only on the dinner menu. We were already filled up with dinner, or we would have had some of those savoury dishes. We did have room for dessert, at least. We picked the crème brûlée, the dark chocolate mousse, and although, as said, they usually only do crêpes at lunchtime, they did let us order one of the sweet crêpes.
The dark chocolate mousse was rich, the right balance between light and dense, and definitely chocolatey. It had just a hint of sweetness. Definitely decadent.
The crème brûlée had a cracking caramelized top. It had a nice vanilla flavour, and custard sweetness. You could see the bits of vanilla bean through it, hence the aroma (no fake sweeteners here). It wasn’t quite set at the bottom though. It was smooth otherwise.
When the owner came past the table to ask how the desserts were, we gave him our honest feedback about the crème brûlée. He told us that they had been adjusting the recipe and the cooking times. To our surprise, he returned a little later with another ramekin of crème brûlée. He told us that that was from another batch they had done later in the day, that had been cooked a little longer. That was less sweet than the previous one, but still with good vanilla flavour, and had set better.
From the sweet crêpe options, the chestnut cream and nutella crêpe was chosen. The crêpe was thin, as it was meant to be. It was quite prettily presented, with a zigzag pattern drawn across the top in Nutella. The chestnut paste sandwiched in between had a light flavour, subtly sweet, reminiscent of lotus paste, and unexpectedly complimented the Nutella.
The French Food Shop has proper french food, and while we only had desserts this time, I think the mains would be just as authentic. The owner was lovely, and it is great that customer feedback is taken seriously, unlike at some other places. It is not quite what you’d expect to find amidst the more drunk people-targetted food at that end of the Valley, but it is refreshingly different, and worth the trip to. It does also operate as a wine bar on Wednesday to Saturday nights, if you need a non-food reason to go.
Price point: Croques, quiches, sandwiches, and salads at lunch $10. Dinner entrees $5 to $14. Dinner mains $18 to $25. Desserts $9. Sweet crepes $5 to $8. Savoury crepes $7 to $13.
Value: Pretty good.
Address: 356 Brunswick St, Fortitude Valley
Phone: 07 3252 7535
Website: The French Food Shop