My French Melbourne: authentic French cuisine at Le Café Flo

MyFrenchLife™ - My French Melbourne - Le Café Flo

A quaint little café in Melbourne’s northern suburbs is keeping the Francophiles happy. Run by veteran restaurateur Florian Dijuet, his namesake Le Café Flo does French Melbourne oh so well, boasting gourmet homemade French fantasies with the hospitality to match.

MyFrenchLife™ was delighted to chat with Monsieur Flo about his latest venture into the Melbourne food landscape – and we were even a little shocked at his choice of specials!

Tell us the story behind Le Café Flo. What inspired you to start a French café in Melbourne?

After 15 years managing iconic French restaurants in Melbourne, I wanted to get back to working for myself, [which I had] previously done in my hometown, La Rochelle, before moving to the magic of Oz.

I’ve always loved the northern suburbs, [which are] populated by diverse cultures with so many interesting people. I knew I was ready to create a local and social gathering atmosphere, similar to what you can find in authentic bistros in France, when I discovered the Le Café Flo space in Thornbury.

Why did you decide to move from France to Melbourne? What was the most challenging part of adapting to the Melbourne lifestyle?

I started to travel overseas very early during my [studies] – it is part of the food industry. Then, 15 years ago, after a bit of travel around the world, I wanted to settle somewhere and [chose] to go back to Australia (after a previous one-year trip in 1996-97) at the end of 1999 for an overall much better quality of life. That can include a lot of things: work [opportunities] and salary, the possibility of saving (which is not so easy in Europe), wide spaces, a relaxed attitude and mentality, security, easy administration, a young and emerging culture, etc…

The most challenging part to adapt [to was] the language, of course – or at least [it was] for a few months – but also [different] habits of consumptions, which are so different [to those] in France. When [you’ve just arrived] and get asked, with a very fast and strong accent, for a lemon, lime and bitters or a strange Australian red wine name, you have to ask [people to] repeat many times before understanding!

What is a typical day like at Le Café Flo?

We start very early at 7am during the week [to serve] the tram crowd going to work, [who are] mainly locals and regulars with whom we have a very personal relation. Good coffee is so important for Melburnians, and a delicious pastry for the ones who skipped breakfast. Then, the fresh veggies delivery [arrives], we start with the quiche du jour and plan the rest of the [day’s] preparations before a busy lunch.

MyFrenchLife™ - My French Melbourne - Le Café Flo

A constant flow of customers come and go, staying for a drink and a bite, catching up with friends or relaxing to good French music. We’re also open for dinner on the weekends and we’re getting very popular with the locals [who are] looking for hearty and traditional plats du jour at good value in a unique French ambiance.

I do have more and more French people coming over to my café because they know that [it’s the] closest quality of product you can get compared to French products.

Tell us more about your team. Is it mainly a French team or international? Why is this?

Chefs are French because they already have a lot of French cooking basis, but I could do with non-French. [The] floor staff is also French as I want to create, as close as possible, a French bistro atmosphere, and my current barista is from New Zealand as it’s very hard to get French people who can make coffee to a Melbourne standard.

More and more French people are moving to Melbourne. Why do you think this is happening? Do you have many French customers? 

I do have more and more French people coming over to my café because they know that [it’s the] closest quality of product you can get compared to French products.

French people are much more open to travel nowadays and [the] European economic situation is so tough that [there] are more and more people choosing to live overseas. And Australia has always been a dream destination for French people.

What do you love most about Melbourne? And what do you miss most about France?

My answer will be the same for both, I love Melbourne for its diverse forms of cultures, with everybody getting along together with no problem, and I miss France for its unique culture, [which is] much more Latin. The arts scene in Melbourne is very active, rich in diversity and so different [to the one in] France – [Melbourne’s is] maybe more contemporary. And so many options to go out are available.

Of course I miss my French family and friends but Skype helps a lot – I can even now Skype with my 90-year-old grandmother in her retirement home!

MyFrenchLife™ - My French Melbourne - Le Café FloDo you serve any specialties at your café? Is there something that people really seem to come back for? Why do you think this is so?

We offer a big choice of dishes in our menu, with many specialties. We do have a great selection of galettes (buckwheat savoury crêpes) as well as sweet ones (crêpes). We also do baguettes sandwiches with excellent bread, eggs in many forms, classic dishes like [the] croque-monsieur, ham and cheese croissant, charcuterie platter, and of course a lot of delicious pastries. But we’re also turning to restaurant dishes just like a French bistro with casserole plats du jour like Beef Burgundy, veal blanquette, rabbit and dijon, etc…

What are your three most popular items? What is your favourite?

[The] smoked salmon galette (with spinach, herbed goat cheese and fried egg) and La Montagnarde galette (bacon, potato and caramelised onions) are very popular but my favourite dish is a new addition to the menu, which I used to serve a lot at my family bistro in France: a mixed salad with sorbet. We already have the smoked salmon salad with Tasmanian smoked salmon, tomato, potato, and homemade lime and ginger sorbet, but I love the smoked chicken one with tomato, fresh apricot, toasted almond flakes and homemade apricot sorbet. The combination with salad and sorbet is delicious! 

In Melbourne, do you have a favourite boulangerie, fromagerie, café, patisserie, boutique…?

Like Mum, I can drive kilometres for good bread. I am very happy with Noisette bread which I sell, but I also like [baker] D. Chirico bread (even if it [has an] Italian owner, but [it’s] made by a French friend of mine!). I also like the macarons made by my friend Josephine (which I sell too). My favourite French chef in Australia is the lovely Philippe Mouchel, but he’s not operating at the moment. I also like to hang around La Niche to have a glass of wine with my friend Anthony and listen to some great live music.

Address: Le Café Flo, 709 High St, Thornbury VIC 3071.
Opening hours: Mon – Wed between 7.30am – 4.30pm, Thu – Fri between 7.30am – 8.30pm, Sat 8am – 8.30pm and Sun 9am – 4.30pm.

What are your favourite French spots in Melbourne? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @myfrenchmelb!

All images courtesy © Florian Dijuet.

About the Contributor

Julia Greenhalf

I'm a Melbourne based intern, editor, blogger and language lover. I indulge in too much social networking, often finding myself behind a camera lens. During my studies I have been lucky enough to combine my craving for all things French with a desire to let it all unfold out into the online world. Find me on Twitter and Google+!

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