Sunday lunch: La Petanque, Main Ridge

HERE at La Petanque, there is a dusty piste and a few sets of well-weathered boules at the ready — and even a Frenchman at the helm. But that's as far as the slow country images go in this tres smart, albeit relaxed, restaurant that serves modern cuisine from the south of France.

Everything in this European-style barn is spot-on, with great attention to detail. Tall-stemmed glasses gleam on crisp, white table linen. Attentive apron-clad wait-staff don't miss a beat as they serve the intimate group of some 40 diners inside and a sprinkling outside seated under market umbrellas.

So good is this escape to France that the owner, Philippe Marquet, is planning to close his stable doors in July to extend the dining space indoors, add an external deck and move the piste under the trees for those who like to toss a few boules between courses. The wine list has 600 labels but a Miceli Iolanda pinot grigio ($9 a glass, $36 a bottle) takes our fancy while we peruse the menu.

Cleverly, they offer a choice of two dishes from the a la carte menu of half-a-dozen entrees, mains and desserts for $59 and any three for $79. Since we've been watching our weight but don't want to miss what's on offer, we choose one entree, to share, individual main courses and then a dessert to share.

The warm salad of local summer vegetables with herbs from the garden and roast pepper and tomato gazpacho to start is an artistic and tasty triumph.

My husband's Port Phillip Bay snapper fillet is pan-fried on one side and served on chickpea puree with tomato, white peach and cucumber salad — a refreshing summer combination.

My Flinders Island rack of lamb is perfectly pink and deliciously Provencale with confit shallot, ratatouille-stuffed zucchini flower, black olives, roasted garlic and thyme pesto.

We order the tarte fine aux pommes of Red Hill apples with mild spices ice cream and caramel sauce early and don't have to wait the 20 suggested minutes.

Reviewed by Tricia Welsh

La Petanque, 1208 Mornington-Flinders Road, Main Ridge, 5931 0155. Open Wed-Sun noon-3pm; Fri-Sat, 6.30pm-9.30pm. See Melway 190 D8. To stay: nearby options include Morning Sun Vineyard, Georges Boutique B&B, Cedar Croft