Bistro Ortolan

134 Marion Street, Leichhardt

As part of our journey around Sydney’s best restaurants, this place was always going to be on the list. It has also polarised opinion among fellow bloggers with it’s full-on degustation.  We decided to check it out for ourselves, venturing on a friday evening.

It has the feel of a good neighbourhood restaurant – a small place with a warm welcome. With 2 hats proudly displayed you know all the focus is going to be on the food, with no million dollar view to speak of.

A well made martini (it was friday night) set the evening off well and it didn’t take much persuasion to tackle the tasting menu:

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We began with an iced tomato essence with a coffin bay virgin (?!) oyster. It certainly awoke the tastebuds with an oyster that delivered an extremely strong & iodine taste. No bad thing, especially with the accompanying drink providing a good antedote with a sweetness that brought the mouth back to the party.

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The first course was a brandade of salt cod & fennel salsa with poached egg (with gold leaf on top) accompanied with brioche and a caviar cream tuile. It was a well presented dish, which could be summed up in one word – comforting. It all came together in a creaminess which didn’t really make the most of the distinct ingredients.

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Next up was a delightful pappardelle of blue swimmer crab and a fat scallop in a seafood bisque. The scallop was generous, well seared and a perfect doneness and it contributed to a great dish, with the only frustration being the dish it was served in. It wasn’t exactly cutlery friendly.

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The fish courses finished with butter-poached fillet of Blue-Eye Trevalla with baby squid and pea ‘risotto’ – the risotto being made of squid. Again it was a well executed with the fish perfectly tender. I enjoyed the ‘rice’ as well and thought it an interesting idea. The runner beans were noticeable by their ordinariness amongst the indulgence.

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The Pot-au-feu of organic Burrawong chicken with foie gras and Jerusalem artichokes. This was another earthy dish. The chicken was excellent with a good ‘jus’ (what’s with this obsession with serving jus after the dish has arrived the table?).  The other ingredients could only pale into comparison.

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The final main was loin of venison came with bone marrow gnocchi, wild mushrooms (including a quinelle), white asparagus, cafe-de-paris croquette (v. strange) a skinned tomato and a celeriac puree. Wow, it was a lot to get through. Lots of good flavours – they we’re just not able to be distinctive or work in harmony. In many ways it’s like Real Madrid’s constant purchasing of galaticos with the expectation they’re all good enough to play as a team.

You can’t fault the generosity though.

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The cheese course signified the final stretch of the meal. It was a welcome sight after the amount we had eaten so far. The roquefort was excellent quality & temperature, yet pretty powerful. I could only eat it with the fine accompanying honeycomb and walnut toast to balance the flavour. Tellingly it was one of the few dishes which worked as an overall plate of food

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We had a welcome break of 10 minutes or so before the palate cleanser desert arrived of citrus fruit with grapefruit & wild lemon sorbets. It served a purpose, but it was a dish that did nothing for me since one of the few foods I have an aversion to is grapefruit (that & licquorice)

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The final course (phew!) was a good spiced chai souffle, rhubarb & custard tart with rhubarb sorbet. The souflle was lovely and I dug the tart. It was a good sweet end to the meal and I was grateful that it wasn’t rich chocolate!

We valiantly finished the excellent petit fours, paid our bill and struggled outside for fresh air. My wife pronounced our dinner as one of the best degustations she’d had, but at the time I felt a little disappointed, thinking it as a collection of dishes which overwhelmed through technique without a narrative or theme running through it.

Yet writing up this report, it’s a bit harsh to critique excellent technique and a restaurant which puts a lot of effort into its food. It is to be applauded. Yet for this restaurant to be really good it needs to be a little more restrained and confident in what it puts on the plate. Less can be more.


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