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Our Favourite French Restaurant

The more things change, the more they stay the same, and that’s just how we like it at SIP. Photos: Lucky 8.

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There is a bottle of Chateau d’Yquem 1811 up for auction in the rarified rooms of Christie’s auction house. The bottle was purchased for the enormous sum of US$117,000, earning Christian Vanneque a place in the Guinness book of World Records for the highest price paid for a bottle of wine. It wasn’t his first accolade. The bottle was to be opened in August 2017 to celebrate 50 years since he earned the title of the youngest sommelier in France, in charge of the world’s largest wine cellar at the famous Tour d’Argent in Paris.

Unfortunately, Christian stepped over into the great bar in the sky before the time came. His brother Daniel, who worked alongside his brother from the tender age of 14, decided that drinking it alone simply wouldn’t be the same and it was re-destined for another special occasion. As this has passed, so too has management of the French brasserie, SIP, for which Christian is also rightly famous. Fortunately for all of us it remains in the family and is now run by Daniel.

There is an echo in the room. The sound of laughter, glasses clinking and an old friend who has passed into the land where great sommeliers go is remembered in every great glass of wine, every enthusiastic bite of foie gras. Christian Vanneque and his brother Daniel have lived and breathed wine from an early age. SIP has just celebrated eight years of serving up traditional brasserie food to an ever-growing number of admirers. Experience shines in every part of this intimate Seminyak bistro and although it is almost two years since Christian stepped out from behind his much-loved wine bar, his memory keeps it alive and his brother Daniel has adopted it.

“It was what I had to do. My brother and I lived and breathed restaurants our whole lives. When he became sick, I sold my restaurant, Ginger Moon, and came in to take over SIP and care for my brother. This is a family restaurant and here we treasure experience, we offer something that we are passionate about and our guests feel it and can taste it in every bite,” he explains.

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Alongside Daniel is the chef who has toiled the kitchens since SIP began eight years ago. Patrick also has a wealth of experience to bring to the table including his time at a three Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris. His potatoes are inspired by Maxims Paris, his duck a l’orange transports you to a little French village and his legendary foie gras rarely reaches perfection in his mind, “I keep on trying”.

Beside the honest and authentic French brasserie food, Daniel and Patrick banter like family. Daniel plans to introduce a Tour de France menu with regional specialties every two weeks. Patrick says he’s mad. “Where will I find the ingredients, it’s impossible?”

Patrick has a streak of madness himself. At a recent Chaine de RÔtisseur dinner to celebrate World Chaine day, Patrick proposed his deservedly famous Grand Marnier soufflé for dessert. “Impossible,” said the organizer. “Yes,” replied Patrick. And so it went, another piece of SIP history was created, as 45 perfect soufflés emerged simultaneously from the tiny kitchen. The audience of serious foodies applauded. “Magnifique” is what Patrick has to say, admitting that all the while he was staring into his ovens praying for success. He may be getting on but like the wine, he just gets better.

This, says Daniel, is part of the success of SIP.

“We may all be getting older but we have experience. We have worked in some of the best restaurants in the world, we have eaten in the best, we understand exactly what it should taste like and that is what we bring to the table. It is honest and good and absolutely authentic.”

Despite having eaten there more times than I can count, I will never pass up the chance to savour the experience of slipping into the leather banquettes and opening that menu, and so I did once again for this review.

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In absolute reverence to the core of the brasserie menu, our meal began with a creamy, perfect slice of foie gras, served simply with brioche toast, imported butter, cubes of port wine jelly and a simple mesclun salad dressed with a mustardy vinaigrette. A simple pinot noir by the glass from the extensive wine list was slightly chilled and the perfect accompaniment.

It went equally well with the next classic course, steak frite. A beautiful rib eye, beaten, seasoned and perfectly charred to reveal a medium rare centre, which was as close to perfect as it gets. I exchanged my chips for the layered potato Maxim, which Patrick says are a “disappointment” as the potatoes here will never measure up. News to me, I dream about these. Alongside was a pot of creamy béarnaise sauce that the humble chef also claims he is still trying to perfect, but the Belgian butter he discovered has made it “better”. The experience shines in this simple sauce, the tarragon cuts through the richness, never overpowering the sublime blend of ingredients. It was still on my palette after I had finished.

I craved the soufflé for dessert but bowed to my dinner partner who wasn’t keen. Instead we had the largest puffed up apple pastry I’ve ever seen, way too much after all we had eaten but moreish nonetheless.

The softly lit dining room filled, the small bar surrounded by shelves of wine attracted friends who had dropped in to say hello, share a bite and gossip, it was all very French. A large table of Asian diners sat beside us and clearly had been here before, ordering up their favourites quickly. And Daniel and Patrick worked the room effortlessly, passing by to chat, to pass the time, to check on our meal and our wine, like members of a very comfortable family.

Christian meanwhile overlooks the restaurant, photographed with a bottle of his favourite wine. The 1811 may be gone but immortalized is a more recent vintage of the same wine, encased in glass, temperature controlled, a wine to open for the future, 10 years perhaps of the brasserie that keeps on going. Lunch or dinner, guests choose the prix fixe menu or splurge on á la carte. The prices are generous, the wine list is the envy of many larger establishments and the service is genuine. Walking home along the busy Seminyak main drag after dinner, satisfied and indulged, my daughter informed me that had she paid, she considered it worth every cent. I have to agree. SIP is a keeper, it’s ours and we love it almost as much as they do.