My paternal grandparents love food in all forms. I'm pretty sure I inherited my food enthusiasm direct from my grandpa. I'll often think of nice new restaurants or interesting types of cuisines that I think they'd like. It's rare for my grandparents to find something they want to try on their own so when my dad told me they really wanted to visit this French restaurant in Tamborine Mountain, I was intrigued.
My grandparents found out about La Ferme Provencale through a local free Chinese-language newspaper. This deterred me because I couldn't imagine why a really good and confident French restaurant would find it necessary to advertise to Chinese locals/tourists. I did a bit of Googling and discovered La Ferme had reasonable reviews. Some good, some bad, but good enough that we decided it was worth trying.
After a couple of failed attempts (due to weather etc) we finally made a booking a couple of weekends ago. It was actually raining on this day too but the closer we got to Tamborine, the more it cleared up. Marc and I underestimated how long it would take us to drive there so we arrived 30min after the rest of my family.
La Ferme is very charming on first sight. It's a standalone building that gives off a bit of a Mediterranean vibe. There were indoor tables bust most people were sitting in the courtyard. I went for a little stroll before settling back in my seat. There's plenty to look at here with a small rose garden and fountain behind the courtyard, plus an expansive area of land that's been utilized as an organic garden. The website explains that much of this produce is used in their dishes. I found olives, avocado, banana and some citrus trees.
There seemed to be just one hired waiter for the entire time we were there, although (presumably the owner/chef and husband) came out to help on occasion. As such, service was slow throughout the courses we had. I think that's alright for people on dates who can sip wine and chat but as a group of very familiar family members, we got bored of each other quick. Two of our table ordered coffees but these were long gone before our first course was brought out. I tasted a bit of Marc's cappuccino and found it to be quite milky.
The menu comprises of a brunch section that had finished by the time we got there. Lunch dishes included some entrees/light mains, mains and specials from a blackboard. There isn't a huge selection of actual mains to choose from, which I see as a a negative. Of our table of 6, most of us either chose the lamb or beef, with my mum being the adventurous one and choosing salmon. There were plenty of entrees to pick from though, so we selected a bunch of these to share.
Foie gras - with jam and brioche toast
The first dish that was brought out was the foie gras. It was served lightly grilled on toast with a jam and fresh figs. This combination of flavours and textures was va va voom. I hadn't tasted 'actual' foie gras before but duck liver pate on many occasions and this stuff was much richer and tastier. It's not something you could stomach on its own but together with the crunch of brioche toast and sweet jam, it was heavenly.
Warm French goats cheese salad
I next sampled the goats cheese salad. This was a very simple cos lettuce leave salad accentuated with tiles of goats cheese topped croutons. As a big fan of goats cheese, I liked that component of the salad. It was a very soft and mild goats cheese that was easily palatable. The rest of the salad was unremarkable.
Escargot with garlic and herb butter
Something my grandparents was really looking forward to was the escargot. These were served grilled with garlic and herb butter, along with some dipping bread to soak up the butter. I don't really 'get' the appeal of escargot. This is not the first occasion I tasted it and felt unimpressed. It wasn't bad but it wasn't something that I feel deserves its gourmet status. The rest of my family seemed to like it and praised the tenderness of the flesh. My mother asked the staff whether this snail meat was fresh but (unsurprisingly) it is imported frozen from France. In an embarrassing saga where my dad wanted to keep the shells for home decor but was then told then he was not allowed to do this because the shells were "the restaurant's property", we deduced that the shells must be reused like cutlery. I'm not sure how I feel about this.
Pulled pork with apple slaw
The pulled pork was one of the specials of the day. I found it strange that pulled pork was a menu option at a French restaurant. I'm sure this is just my ignorance at work but with the Southern American food movement in Brisbane, I can't help but associate pulled meat with Southern cuisine. This version had adequately tender pork but no notable flavour. The coleslaw was OK but too creamy and rich for my liking. This is a dish that could easily be reproduced at home.
Side of zucchini
After another long wait for our mains, we were thrilled to see plates being carried in our direction. The first items that were placed down were a large mound of zucchini and potato. We didn't order any sides ourselves so I believe these were complimentary additions to our mains.
Side of potatoes
I find this to be a lovely touch by the restaurant because as simple as vegetables may be, it really rounded off our meal and gave the impression of a hearty feast. I liked the softness of the zucchini although it was a tad too lemony. The potato was delicious
Lamb shank - melt in the mouth lamb shank served with rich tomato and mushroom sauce, finished with a touch of brandy and cream
The lamb shanks were placed down first so I stole a bit from Marc's plate. It was visibly very, very tender. Forget pulling the meat off with a fork, it could just as easily be pried off with the back of a spoon.
Texture shot of lamb shank
Texture aside, I thought the sauce was quite tasty too. The tomato and mushroom elements reminded me of a stroganoff, which is one of my favourite comfort dishes.
Saumon en Papillote sauce Tartare - salmon gently steamed, served with house tartare sauce
I next tasted my mum's salmon dish. We had debated over the menu description because I thought tartare meant it would be raw but it also said 'lightly steamed'. Now I realize they just meant tartare sauce. It arrived as a fillet of par-cooked salmon. I found this to be the most disappointing of the mains. I've only had cooked salmon done well on the rarest occasion and this was definitely not one of those times.
Boeuf bourguignon - rich beef stew, 24hr slow cooked in red wine
Myself and my grandparents all ordered the beef bourguignon. This was another example of perfectly textured meat. In fact, the memory of how tender and gelatinous each morsel of beef was is still imprinted in my mind. It haunts me because I actually attempted to recreate this dish later in the week. My honest opinion is that the texture of beef at La Ferme was beyond perfect but it was another dish that was lacking in flavour. My own version had knockout flavour but whilst the meat was slow cooked and very tender, it just wasn't the same. We thought La Ferme used beef cheek so I picked up the same cut. In any case, kudos to them for achieving that.
I've had plenty of time to gather my thoughts on La Ferme Provencale and form a neat opinion. To be sure, it was not as bad as I expected it to be. I thought the restaurant would be a tourist trap or novelty for locals who are not actually familiar with fine dining and French cuisine.
I imagined that any success it had whatsoever was due to location, not food. To a large extent, I stand by that opinion. La Ferme wasn't a disaster but there is no way that menu and that execution could survive in the Brisbane dining scene, let alone a bigger city like Sydney or Melbourne.
The stand out dish was the foie gras, which I feel is more a compliment to the ingredient than to the restaurant. The lamb shanks and beef bourguignon had achieved perfect texture but like many of our lunch dishes, the beef severely lacked flavour. Service was friendly but painfully slow. I've seen the owner of La Ferme reply to some negative online reviews and one of their arguments is "you thought the food was sub-par yet you finished everything". I can imagine that being applicable for our table because we polished off everything. My response to that is my family are working class and we don't waste food! Also, whilst the dishes were nothing special, they were still perfectly edible. I will say that the thought of escargot shells being reused left a bad taste in my mouth.