Chef Azem Dzevlan fell in love with French food on the first day of his apprenticeship at Hawksburn institution Bistro Thierry. “I started in a French kitchen and French cuisine has always pulled me back,” he says. “You can’t beat the classics.” That strong pull is the impetus behind Normandy Wine and Grill, his new 35-seat restaurant in Windsor.
Normandy melds traditional French bistro fare with modern interpretations. “Steak frites is our focus. I love my beef,” says Dzevlan. “We’re using Cape Grim, the best grass-fed beef we can offer in Australia.” Prime cuts are served with frites and a choice of bordelaise or bearnaise sauce.
Along with bistro classics, including duck leg confit and mille-feuille, Dzevlan is also doing a few things his own way.
“Some French sauces can be a bit heavy, so I might pair them with a lighter dish.” He points to Skull Island tiger prawns, which he daubs with the same garlic butter that might otherwise drown snails.
“Another example is sauce vierge, an old-school sauce with tomato, shallot, olive oil and lemon juice,” he says. It’s usually served with shellfish. “I’m using that with our kingfish crudo: the acidity works well with the delicacy of the fish.”
But you don’t need to commit to a slab of meat to visit. “We open from 4.30pm, so if you want a glass of wine, some olives, oysters and anchovy toast, we welcome you with open arms,” he says. “Whatever you’re after, I want Normandy to feel friendly, cosy, warm and not too stiff.”
Window bench perches are a lovely spot for a casual bite; white tablecloths and dark finishes give the rest of the space a classic, clubby feel.
Manager and sommelier Jeremy Letur has previously been on deck at Stokehouse, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and L’Hotel Gitan; the pair met when they worked together at Bistro Thierry. “It’s great to have someone French out the front,” says Dzevlan’s wife Aisha, who works behind the scenes at Normandy.
The restaurant’s name doesn’t point to a particular regional focus but recalls fond memories for the Dzevlans. “Normandy is known for butter, cheese, apples and Calvados,” says Dzevlan. “We’ve travelled there a couple of times and we like the area a lot.”
I want a small, strong team where everybody stays for a long time and gets looked after.Owner-chef Azem Dzevlan
Dzevlan worked on and off at Bistro Thierry for 13 years, with stints at Maha and the Mornington Peninsula’s Le Bouchon in between. He left Hawksburn to open Black Gold, a Richmond brunch spot, seven years ago. “The cafe is great but I always had that passion and drive towards restaurant food and I knew in my heart that one day I’m going to give it a go and have my own restaurant,” he says.
Old boss Thierry Cornevin was one of the first to congratulate Dzevlan on the opening of Normandy Wine and Grill. “He’s been great,” says the nascent restaurateur, who dines at his old workplace frequently. “He is the best boss I’ve worked under. He looks after his staff, it’s like a family and that’s what I want to recreate here. I want a small, strong team where everybody stays for a long time and gets looked after.”
162-164 High Street, Windsor, 03 8529 3309, normandywinegrill.com
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