- Edition One Drinking Burgundy & Reading the Newspaper Under a Neon Light
- Author Joshua Elias
- Photographer James Morgan
Twenty-seven years after opening, restaurant France-Soir remains a vital thread in Melbourne’s beverage culture. Owner Jean-Paul Prunetti talks us through his life and his never-ending love of the industry.
“After twenty-seven years, there are so many stories: fights, cocaine, people fucking here and there, on every table, all over the place. You build up all these memories and after a while it becomes part of life.”
If you are curious about whether or not people have ever had sex in a restaurant before, there is your answer. In fact, one particular source indicates that he has a 90% success rate of converting a date into sex as a result of dining at France-Soir. Jean-Paul Prunetti has a rye smile as this conversation proceeds. His deep raspy voice has jumped a little in tone but his brow still holds the same cool, lowly position. Despite this moment of distraction, our afternoon interview at France-Soir holds quite a serious tone. We spend most of our time trying to pinpoint how exactly France-Soir has achieved such successful longevity in an industry that eats its own and then spits them out for others to chew on. Perhaps the first answer is seriousness. According to Prunetti, people in the hospitality industry “can be a bit blasé. They can be a bit ‘rock star’. They want to know how much money they can make and how quickly they can make it. For me, it was not about making quick money. It was about making things proper.” If modesty were one of the key elements underpinning France-Soir, consistency would be another. The eatery never closes before 12 AM, “It doesn’t matter if it is dead at 10:30 PM and the restaurant is empty; we stay open. I pay my staff till 1:30 AM in the morning and I don’t close. That way you can be assured if you want something late, you have somewhere to go.” Indeed, if you are lucky enough to be at France-Soir just past midnight, you will witness the wait staff dusting themselves off for dinner together. This scene is one of the most harmonious portraits to be found in the hospitality industry.
The blue neon lights that hum atop the Toorak Road restaurant are inspired by Prunetti’s love of the 1950s, as is the name of the restaurant itself. The France-Soir title originates from a popular French newspaper, which flourished during the 1950s and 1960s. The neon light alludes to the theatre of activity occurring within the cream-coloured walls of the restaurant. Moreover, Prunetti notes, “Because I was mainly opening at night, it was the perfect name.”
The table plan at France-Soir puts patrons close together in order to encourage dialogue. “I try to encourage talking between the tables because a restaurant is a social environment. A lot of the clientele know each other.” It is not uncommon to find the former leader of the Australian Communist Party, Campbell Pretty, sitting on a table next to Bikies clad head-totoe in leather. “We have some customers that come two or three times per week, they feel comfortable here.”
“It was late at night and it was the only joint open. It was so fucking dirty. When we walked in, I said ‘hallelujah’ and (crossed my heart) hoped for the best. It was delicious. It was all raw seafood that was cured in citrus and served ceviche. It was incredibly fresh. Sometimes you expect the world and you get nothing, then sometimes you expect nothing and you get everything.” JPP