The Air Raid Tavern is a quirky art deco building with an even quirkier clientele. There are some locals drinking at the bar, a few blokes in high-vis engrossed in footy tipping and the rest are there for Bistro Chez Dominique: a tiny French bistro that serves up small plates just two nights a week.
Co-owner Elsa Marie worked as a chef in Paris for many years but developed a love for Australian food and fresh produce during an internship at Turlinjah bio farm Old Mill Road in 2015. She had intended to open a restaurant in Australia with partner Julian May in 2020, but COVID-19 saw them change their plans and move to the South Coast.
Chez Dominique started as a pop-up, moving locations weekly and serving private dinners, but since late 2022 they’ve been residents at the Air Raid Tavern in Moruya, dishing up their signature produce driven menu.
“We never write the menu and then look for the produce: we wait and see what [the farms] have first and then decide what to cook,” Elsa told Region.
“I find it more stimulating in terms of creativity. We find it inspirational, that’s the way we cook.”
The menu is handwritten on a blackboard each day as a list of small, sharing style plates. The best way to experience what’s on offer is to opt for the $70 ‘surprise menu’ which consists of five courses including dessert. While the dishes may be a surprise, the provenance of all the ingredients is not: a comprehensive list of where everything is sourced is provided on the table.
Beer and wine by the glass are available for purchase from the bar, or you can pick out a bottle from the impressive collection of wines. From midrange local options to special occasion imports: the sheer amount of choice is a little intimidating! But Elsa recommends a rose or light red with the current menu, and Julian picks out a superb bottle of pinot noir from the Mornington Peninsula.
To start: melt-in-your-mouth strips of salty pancetta from Martin’s Ridge Farm in Milton, served with top-notch, house made sourdough and delicious pickles. The next dish is raw kingfish served on labneh, with cucumber and cinnamon basil. This deceptively simple dish of four elements relies completely on the quality and flavour of those ingredients, and the triumph of the dish speaks volumes about Chez Dom’s dedication to local producers.
“Once you’ve tasted this kind of produce and once you’ve worked on the farms as well you have a greater respect for the cost of good food,” said Elsa.
“Once you start [eating seasonal produce] you can’t go back to buying tomatoes in winter from the supermarket.”
The heartiest dish is a lamb navarin stew: traditionally served in France at Easter. The lamb is tender as anything, the carrots are unbelievably sweet, and a scattering of fresh herbs lightens the dish perfectly. As the accompanying salad of mustard greens dressed in a chardonnay vinaigrette is placed on the table the server explains that the greens come from ‘just over there’.
Dessert is light as a feather: soft cream with airy sponge and poached quince. It’s sweet, but not cloying and the flavours are phenomenal. Like the rest of the menu this simple dish relies on the quality of ingredients and technical prowess of Elsa to execute each element to perfection.
The set menu finishes with the only international ingredient on the menu: delicious slices of authentically French comte cheese with crackers. It’s a very French finale to a very French meal, and although tonight’s dishes were clearly influenced by Elsa’s Parisian training, the menu also often draws inspiration from Moroccan, Greek, Spanish and Italian dishes, depending on what produce is available.
The bistro is only open Thursday and Friday nights, but the ever-changing menu encourages many return visits as the seasons offer new ingredients for Elsa and Julian to work their magic.
Bistro Chez Dominique is located in the Air Raid Tavern, 13/73 Vulcan Street, Moruya, NSW. They are open from 5 pm on Thursday and Friday evenings. Follow Chez Dominique on Instagram or Facebook to keep up to date with their menus. Limited bookings available on their website for the set menu only, walk-ins welcome.
Note that the venue is cash only.