Our first rendezvous with Vince de Soyres and Thomas Cauquil happened underground. It was in 2014, in the cellar of Naremburn’s Flat Rock Brew Cafe where the pair – Vince the brewer and Thomas the chef – served up a memorable degustation with colourful pairings that shone through the dim light of the barrel room.
Besides thick accents that clearly marked them out as French, there was no suggestion the two had any association beyond working at the same place. It wasn't until much later we found out that not only did they know each other but they had done for some time, as far back as hospitality school in their homeland. It was there they’d discovered a mutual appreciation for consuming good things and undertaking epic journeys; where most people are satisfied with a brisk walk or biking to work, they would do things like climb Mont Blanc or cycle from Paris to Istanbul.
During this time, Vince was learning to brew in Lyon while Thomas steered a path towards gastronomy, racking up experience in the kitchens of Michelin star restaurants. Their career path was being neatly laid out but that adventurous streak kicked in and they decided to travel to Australia, though not by the most direct route.
They plotted a path through Kamchatka, walking more than 700 kilometres along the remote Russia peninsula where serene scenes are punctured by ferocious obstacles ranging from exploding volcanoes to roaming hordes of wild bears. What brought them this way was Lapérouse, the French explorer who famously sailed from Kamchatka to New South Wales in 1788 and missed beating the First Fleet to Botany Bay by just a few days.
Loosely following his trail took them several months and, when they made it to Australia, the pair packed away their hiking boots and picked up where they’d left off: finding work in breweries and kitchens. That was where locals first gave them the affectionate sobriquet “Frenchies”. Thereafter, the name stuck everywhere they went, so when they made the decision to launch a business of their own they knew what to call it.
Labelling the business Frenchies also neatly summed up what they wanted to achieve with their venture, showcasing Gallic heritage and French fare under the banner of ‘bistronomy’, in other words gastronomy in a bistro setting – in even simpler terms, it was high quality food at affordable prices. To accompany this they would attach a brewery.
As they began assembling the bits and pieces required of the new business, not least a place to put it, Vince began gypsy brewing in different spots around Sydney to launch Frenchies beer and get some runs – and the odd competition medal – on the board. The beers he opted to make were generally French or European inspired and stood out from the crowd because they didn't necessarily follow it; the IPA, as an example, uses French and German hops rather than the more fashionable New World varieties.
After encountering a few hurdles trying to secure the right place to build a home, they found their sweet spot in The Cannery Rosebery, a piece of urban redevelopment where a host of young, likeminded businesses are housed in one large space – think provedores, designers, bakers, coffee roasters, a distillery, a cooking school and more.
In mid 2017, Frenchies’ brewery was installed, the kitchen completed and the bistro readied to welcome guests. Into the dining areas, both upstairs and down, came oak tables with a personal connection, the wood having been felled from the forest behind Vince’s father’s home in the Loire Valley, turned into timber at the local mill in exchange for a few offcuts then shipped off to Sydney. The pièce de résistance of the set is a six metre, twenty seat dining table for which the phrase "long lunch" might have been invented. If you can organise yourself nineteen friends the chefs will customise a menu for the occasion – a suckling pig, game bird or cured fish, for example – otherwise it's more a case of tucking into whatever’s been chalked up on the bistro menu.
That menu changes often so don’t expect to find the same thing on the board every week, let alone every day. Thomas’ approach is reminiscent of the way one ought to go about their own grocery shopping; seeking out things that are in season, look fresh and inspire you to create a meal around them. Each and every day a different five course menu made from local and seasonal ingredients is available for $75, while for an extra $20 you can get beers paired with each course.
If you’re not up for a full meal, sit down at the bar and indulge in French staples like terrines, pâté, pastes and cured meats – all of which the kitchen team makes on site – plus a cheese selection that’s exactly what you’d imagine a place of this lineage should have. The name of the game at the bar is to mix and match a few small items, though you can save yourself the trouble by just grabbing a platter.
And while you're there it’d be rude not to try a beer or three – after all, it’s made just a few metres away so you’ll hardly find another restaurant in Sydney with beer that’s fresher. With a core range of kölsch, an American pale ale that uses what you might term retro hops and two contrasting biere de gardes, it’s a selection that’s versatile enough for standalone drinking or proper food pairing. You can add to that a continual cycle of limited releases and experiments, such as the fortified beers made in collaboration with their neighbours at Archie Rose.
Taking a trip to Frenchies brings to mind that common lament among dedicated beer drinkers, whereby restaurants do themselves a disservice by offering immaculate meals only to present a beer list made up of generic lagers. It goes without saying that you'll find no such problem at Frenchies. Indeed, good food and good beer is made to look so easy. In a city where brewery food more often than not means food trucks, Frenchies’ fine fare is something altogether different and welcome.