The French End of Bourke Street and more…

Our French Gourmet Safari in Sydney is a day of la belle vie and starts at two beautiful small businesses in Surry Hills. 

We’ve always thought they’re situated in such a perfect part of this inner city precinct, with a wide street, pretty trees and a cool neighbourhood vibe.

Formaggi Ocello

We arrive early at Formaggi Ocello the jewel box of a boutique dedicated to cheese. The lighting is lovely, the first breath as you walk in the door makes your knees weak… and we love the sensual delight of visiting before they’re officially open to enjoy a guided tasting with Sogna Ocello who founded the business well over 20 years ago with her husband Carmelo.

Sogna and Carmelo started as cheesemongers in inner city Fox Studios market and North Sydney produce market in 2001. They established a store in 2008 and now have over 200 local and international cheeses in their store, all carefully sourced and cared for in special maturation rooms with specific temperature and humidity conditions.

We love the series of simply exquisite tastes that Sogna curates, all served at the right temperature and accompaniments – some cheeses have a light drizzle of truffle honey, others are served with cornichons or dried fruit logs. Here’s what our guide Alejandro Schneider has to say: “The world of cheese is magnificent to discover, and nowhere is there such a choice of quality cheeses as at Ocello. Just like we keep a good wine cellar, Ocello keeps cheeses until they are just right for enjoyment.”

Look out for Sogna’s clever cheese and wine classes that are all online – guided tasting in your own home!

Lavie & Belle

The other lovely business we visit on our French Gourmet Safari is the charming oh-so-chic bakery Lavie & Belle with its gleaming glass cases full of croissants and pastries, macarons and madeleines; the shop filled with the aroma of just-out-of-the-oven baguettes. The staff are French, so being greeted with a French accent also makes you feel like you’ve stepped from Sydney into Paris. 

The baguettes – which have recently been immortalised by UNESCO as one of the world’s intangible treasures – are superb, baked right through the day so when you buy them, they’re usually still warm from the oven.

The owner is Alexandre Montlucon, who fell in love with Australia when he arrived on a gap year in 2010, taking time away from his financial studies. He returned to France, graduated and became a wealth manager and lived a life “in suits” for the next 3 years. He hated it and came back to Australia to seek his fortune.

Luck and timing had him working in a cafe and being sponsored to study as a chef, later working at Lavie & Belle in another location in Surry Hills. He took over the bakery in November 2020 “right in the middle of the pandemic” and decided it needed to move to really succeed. He found the dream spot at the top end of Bourke Street.

The staff baker, Paul, and pastry chef, Clemence, came with him… along with the huge oven (which was moved by an enormous forklift along the sleeping streets of Surry Hills in the early hours).

The secret of the baguettes? “The right ingredients used well”, says Alex. There are at least 4 resting periods for the bread dough before it’s shaped and slashed with a fine blade. Seeing Paul handle the dough with such care and respect makes you realise that for him (and all top bakers), what he does is a truly skilled profession.

For our French Gourmet Safari we taste baguettes and one beautiful pastry made especially for our group – it may be chouquette or mini Paris Brest or madeleines. Alejandro Schneider looks forward to this every month “There is something primal about bread, the mere smell draws us in. France has perfected its own version to the point of making it a sheer delight. Many people can’t wait until they get home and I see baguettes that have been nibbled at only minutes after being bought.” 

We love the care that goes into everything made at Lavie & Belle, and having Alex and Paul ready to chat with our guests. And they love the many new connections and sharing stories: “Being part of the Food Safari is, for me and for us, a great chance to show our work to a larger range of customers from NSW and our new products and specialties.” 

Gourmet Life

We then journey into the beautiful boutique of high end ingredients at Gourmet Life. They fly in caviar and truffles, exotic mushrooms, asparagus and cheese, as well as the best quality olive oils, vinegars, chocolates, coffee, cured fish, herbs and spices, sweet treats and more. We always taste a number of carefully prepared ingredients here and enjoy founder Josh Rea’s stories of the producers and how he has found them.

What started as a small enterprise in a garage is now a supplier of some of the top restaurants. We appreciate the time and care that goes into our French Gourmet Safaris visits. 

Vic’s Meat

Next its a visit to another supplier of high end restaurants: Vic’s Meat in Mascot. Here, we learn about different cuts of meat, grass and grain fed meat, and how to find the best meat for a classic beef bourguignon, perfect steak and more. We love this family-owned business and the welcome from a family member every time we visit.

Chefs Warehouse

We then explore the brilliant Chefs Warehouse with all the utensils and gadgets you’d ever need to create the best French food – from pastry brushes to whisks (no French kitchen is without a whisk!) plus crepe pans, high-end casseroles for slow cooking, piping bags, clever finds.

French Gourmet Safari guide Alejandro Schneider and David Bitton, who hosts our French lunch

And more…

We are adding a champagne tasting to this safari (more details to come) before we slide into the oh-so-French realm of chef David Bitton who creates a special lunch for our Safari guests every time, with a glass or two of wine, of course. Chef David always makes an effort to come and welcome our guests at the cafe he opened in Alexandria wth his wife and business partner Sohani in 2000.  A perfect end to a magic day!

Book now

Join our French Gourmet Safari in 2023: Saturday 11th February, Saturday 11th March, Saturday 15th April, Saturday 13th May, Saturday 10th June or Saturday 8th July. Book here

Or view all our upcoming local Gourmet Safaris here

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