Behind the thick red velvet curtains of Madam Rouge Bar + Bistro is a room filled with olde world French posters and antique candelabras dripping with molten wax.
Designed never to see daylight, the dimly lit French-inspired decor reeks of good times, long nights filled with laughter and love, and food that will have you coming back for more.
It takes over the space in the M&A development on McLachlan Street in Fortitude Valley, just a short walk from James Street, which was formerly occupied by Jamie Webb's Spanish-inspired Gordita.
Madame Rouge is a new venture from Mary Randles who has ventured into the world of hospitality by the side of one of Brisbane's most experienced and awarded chefs, Philip Johnson. After two years as front of house manager at e'cco bistro, Randles was ready for her own project.
Although Madame Rouge is a fictional comic supervillainess and a master of disguise, the name has much more significance for Randles. Her inspiration came from 13 years spent in Brittany from the age of 21-years and a little bistro she frequented. Although she could speak no French, the proprietor made her feel so welcome. Randles loved her for that and dubbed her Madame Rouge for her red fiery hair. It was sitting in this dark and grungy restaurant that she first came to believe that she could 'do' living in France.
Step inside and you could really be in another continent. A large u-shaped bar dominates the room and cosy seating lines the wall with perfect alcoves for courting couples. I predict this will be a popular first date destination.
The decor has a staring role in this restaurant and Randles scoured Brisbane's antique shops for fixtures and fittings. I doubt you'll find many silver candelabras for sale this week.
The menu includes plenty of French favourites and leads with share plates that could be entrees or combined to make an entire meal. We sampled a rich gruyere beignet that came with a dill pickle and strong smear of dijon mustard and boudin noir - thin slices of black pudding with perfectly seared scallops on a bed of celeriac puree.
Its a big help that husband Philip Johnson is French trained and has classic French cuisine at his heart and soul according to Randles. "It's a match made in heaven," she says.
K2 ordered steak frites and was impressed by the tender meat that arrived accompanied by hand-cut fries. Just as well I ordered my own fries as there was no way he was sharing these crisp, long chippies. My duck was moist and full of flavour, sitting on a bed of du puy lentils and kale.
The meals are well sized but we managed to find space for desserts, a flat apple tart with calvados ice cream and a nougat glace which was sort of like nougat ice cream with fresh raspberries.
The 50s style music here is loud but surprisingly it's still possible to hear what your partner is saying, a very pleasant difference from many other restaurants where it's almost impossible to maintain a conversation.
Madame Rouge is open Tuesday to Saturday for dinner and lunch on Sunday.
Ed+bK rating: 4 stars
It's very early days for Madame Rouge but it has all the ingredients for continued success.
Bottom line: share plates $6 to $25, mains $36 to $70 (whole chicken); desserts $15
Best tip: There's a parking station under the complex and three hours free parking is available when you dine at Madame Rouge.
What's your favourite French food? Leave a comment below.
Disclaimer: Ed+bK was a guest of Madame Rouge.