ON THE PLATE: French Onion Soup served on a trip down memory lane
The way we eat today, and the way we have so wholeheartedly embraced the cuisines of many cultures certainly makes for a plethora of delicious food for us to enjoy.
I’ve just finished reading a marvellous book – Mirka & Georges: A Culinary Affair by Lesley Harding and Kendrah Morgan (Miegunyah Press, 2018) – it’s a tribute to the contribution that the very remarkable Georges and Mirka Mora made to the dining scene, and indeed the art scene, in Melbourne in the late 50s, early 60s.
Georges and Mirka were newly arrived from France via a side step to New York.
As newlyweds, with one small son in tow, they fell in love with Melbourne and certainly Melbourne fell in love with theMora’s.
Artists gravitated to the Mora’s and the couple soon recognised that their hospitality and cuisine were marketable.
Mirka Café, a coffee lounge, opened in the Exhibition Street in 1954, and was the first in Melbourne in which patrons could eat at tables on the pavement in the Parisian style. The café became the watering-hole of Melbourne’s avant-garde and was truly successful, Café Balzac in East Melbourne was their second enterprise.
Georges and Mirka eventually relocated their business, to the “seedy” side of town, by opening the Tolarno Restaurant and Galleries in 1965.
It was bohemian, the talk of the town, and their customers soon followed them, keen to enjoy the delicious, French-styled cuisine, served so stylishly, with the evercharming Georges as maître ‘d and the effervescent Mirka charming everyone.
My own memories of exotic dining and food adventures are linked to cafes that once operated in Geelong such as the Kit Kat Restaurant, McCann Street in the city.
McCann Street is gone now as part of the Market Square redevelopment.
David’s Charcoal Grill at the top end of Moorabool Street was like our local version of the quite famous Vlado’s in Melbourne. It primarily served only charcoal grilled steak, and yes there were red gingham tablecloths adorning the tables.
Suzette’s was yet another dining adventure. An exquisite chef, Suzette operated out of a disused petrol station, patrons drawn in by her wonderful food, not at all concerned about the venue in Moorabool Street near the Barwon River.
Eventually, she moved to Pakington Village, and this same address has been witness to very fine food since the days Suzette held reign at the stoves. (The space she occupied is now Tulip Bar & Restaurant).
This cold snap has me hankering for soups and while I’m on this trail of memorabilia and French cuisine, I’m wholeheartedly making a big steaming pot of traditional French Onion Soup.
It’s all golden, and luscious with loads of caramelised onions, beef stock and served with a crouton of melted gruyere. It has fortified us for years.
Onion soup was considered “food for the poor” as onions were plentiful as they were easy to grow. I have copied out the recipe printed in the Mirka & George book and will share it with some additional notes here.
And as its 2019, I also had a peek at Google and found the “best ever French Onion Soup” recipe via Epicurious.
Epicurious is quite an amazing website, one that I visit when I’m curious about ingredients particularly.
The additional information I garnered in regard to maximising the flavour of the onion soup is to ensure you really caramelise the onions to extract depth of flavour.
This can take 40 minutes – not the usual 10-15 minutes we are used to in these days of ‘speed’ in everything!
If you think back, there was a time when ‘slow’ cooking meant exactly that, with large, heavy pots simmering ever so gently on the hearth or wood fired stoves!
French Onion Soup should be silky, hence the long slow sautéing of onions, and do serve it with a really good baguette, one that has a bit of body to it and is not all “airy” and delicate.
I hope it warms you and that you also meander back through happy food memories while dining on a hearty bowl of home-made soup, whatever is your personal favourite!