Le Bon Ton | The Verdict

By Tash Sorensen
21st Feb 2014

Eighteen months ago, I had one of those truly memorable dining experiences. The venue was Chingón and I'd had such an unexpectedly amazing evening that I went out of my way to congratulate and thank owners, Will and Mick Balleau. Upon waving goodbye, my own clumsiness caused me to trip on my own two feet, resulting in a split eyebrow, forever cemented by an incredibly attractive passport photo.

I recently learnt the same brothers were behind Collingwood's newly opened bar and eatery, Le Bon Ton. A high capacity smokehouse that also features an oyster and absinthe bar and an incredible selection of craft beer, I knew I was booking a one-way ticket to flavour town.  

Arriving at the previous Hell's Towers Saloon site, I was greeted by a familiar smile peeking through a distinguished auburn beard maintained by one Mr. Will Balleau. His guided tour meandered through the aptly sized venue, segregated into multiple nooks appropriate for the various New Orleans-inspired food and beverage offerings showcased at Le Bon Ton.  A quick run down of their concept and I immediately remembered why these New Mexican masterminds have nailed it in hospitality; they're sensationally hospitable.

I immediately noticed certain design aesthetics not dissimilar to previous Balleau projects. Le Bon Ton's combination of open brick and deep red rendered walls allow blue and yellow toned artworks to pop.  Further impressed by the carved wooden ceiling lining the common bar, I learnt it was an installation by the team orchestrating the refurbishment.

Left to venture on my own, I made conversation with Jeremy Sutphin, the man behind the Texan smoke barbecues. Discovering he was raised in the southern state, I quickly questioned if Jeremy knew the Balleau boys from across the Pacific, but instead he laughed and told me how great he thinks their tacos are.

Sutphin uses four kinds of Australian hard wood for the smoking, including cherry wood for the ever-popular pork sausages.  The smokers cater for the carnivores among us, with a 14-hour mesquite-smoked Riverina grain fed Angus beef brisket offered in half or full pound serves.  

The food at Le Bon Ton is not restricted to the barbecues. A completely separate kitchen creates an extensive menu until late. Aside from the staple Texas chilli cheese fries and buttermilk soaked chicken, the sous chef's wife also prepares a selection of homemade pies for consumers.  Banana cream and peach cobbler flavours capture my attention.

Diners are seated in an avenue of space running along the far left of the building. Cute candles and a long horizontal flowerpot aesthetically balance the rustic mahogany tones and lead into the open courtyard. Astro-turfed, it fits roughly 30 people and makes for a perfect evening setting. At the time I visited, there was an abundance of gen-ys socialising under the string of fairylights – a subtle feature carried over from Chingon.

The wealthy choice of craft beers ensured pints were full of locally and imported brands. Acclaimed barman, Evan Stanley, nominates the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale as an evening starter. The venue is the first in Victoria to boast the North Carolina brew as a permanent tap, something they're understandably proud of.

Stanley also highlights the Blue Moon and Miller's Genuine Draft as American imports, but strongly encourages punters to try the Ruby Tuesday or Mornington options as well. If you're feeling fancy, the ex-Black Pearl and multi award winning cocktail wizard has constructed a winning venue-appropriate cocktail list. It naturally incorporates a Sazerac, a New Orleans classic, widely acknowledged as the world's first cocktail.

To those unfamiliar, a bump of absinthe is required in the creation of a Sazerac and, therefore, this drink somewhat intentionally ties the common bar and designated oyster and absinthe den together nicely. The classic absinthe fountains on display will be put to use on a legitimate selection of quality pastis and absinthe. The set up encourages consumers to be educated in foreign drinking trends, as the team is so switched on to what they're doing.    

In all, Le Bon Ton is a beautifully presented flavour haven and I would strongly encourage anyone in the area to pop down and "laissez les bon temps rouler", ie. let the good times roll. 

Le Bon Ton
51 Gipps Street in Collingwood
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All Image Credits: Tash Sorensen, The Urban List

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