Archive for the ‘French’ Category

Felix, Sydney

April 13, 2011

Ash Street, Sydney

I love a good brasserie. It’s where Sunday’s should be spent (& most other days). However in Australia they are few and far between. They are as much about atmosphere as they are the food, a place to while away the hours with a loved one or friends. We’d been to Ad Lib Bistro a few times and our last meal disappointed a bit through a sense of calculation and slight price gouging. That’s the thing about brasseries, they can be a little roguish. But charm can cover a lot of flaws.

Which brings us to Felix, a brasserie modelled on a New York brasserie, itself modelled on the Parisian original. Created by the Merivale Group it has been generating a fair bit of buzz, which is not necessarily a good thing. I generally give Merivale venues a wide berth on Friday nights, but here we found ourselves.

First impressions though are great. Expansive & buzzy with dark red walls and chequered tiled floor. The bar is welcoming, but packed. We are able to find a place to perch and the Friday night ritual begins – A Martini.

Opting for a Vesper this time, it’s a mellower martini, which makes a change. Very good though and the sequence of decent martinis continues.

We subsequently move through to the dining room and settle in, feeling buoyed by the Friday night atmosphere. This place is doing what it’s designed to do. A glance to the sizeable seafood bar, means it doesn’t take much to decide it’s fish for me tonight.

Our waiter is slick and French we soon get our bread.

It’s suitably moreish. The butter is excellent and more is ordered as our dinner progresses.

We get stuck into the meal when first courses arrive – terrine of ocean trout

It’s glorious and fresh. The trout is lightly poached, well set in the wobbly jelly with a hint of lemon & thyme. It’s a dish to savour.A few cornichons always go down well.

Vanessa plays it safe and goes for the chicken & barley broth.

Although it has slick of oil, it gives way to a very clean and vibrant soup helped by the lemon so that it’s not weighed down by normal associated heaviness.

Main courses. Skate with burnt butter, capers and caramelised witlof

Served ‘off the bone’, it’s a very traditional dish with only the witlof a nod to Australia. It’s a fine meaty fish, well cooked. The butter can be a little overwhelming, swamping everything, but the capers & witlof rescue the dish creating a pleasing balance.

Vanessa ultimately ends up with the lamb pie, sauteed mushrooms & tarragon jus. She had ordered the pork belly with grapes, beetroot and fennel. We love a bit of pork belly, but this piece was gelatinous in the extreme and not particularly appetising. When our concerns were voiced, our waiter quickly replaced the dish with the lamb pie, even supplying some complimentary garlic mash. It was a problem well solved. Mistakes happen in restaurants. It’s how they’re solved that matters and this was a good example of how to turn a negative into a positive (& a reason to return).

The pie itself is a good French rendition – good melting chunks of lamb in a rich gavy. In truth it’s not a dish to get really excited about, but it does exactly what it says on the tin and fits the bill. It’s nicely satisfying.

We close the meal with a shared dessert – lemon pudding:

It rich and sharp. The pudding is deliciously light and spongey with the fresh cream providing the cool counterpoint. It does not last long and is pronounced a winner.

And so the Felix proves a bit of a hit –  good atmosphere, good service. The food is comforting and well executed. It’s where the basics are done well. Though the basics do go up to a fruits-de-mer, so there’s always a reason to return. The overall vibe is exactly what you want from the a place like this. Though the bill has a knack of mounting up, you don’t begrudge it. Nor will I a return visit.


Becasse, Sydney

November 14, 2010

204 Clarence Street, Sydney

I’ve been a happily married man for two years now.  We were wed in Sydney and have now been living here for a little less than a year and a half. But I do have some unfinished business. Becasse was our first meal together as a married couple, a day after the wedding, but we were too tired to have the full degustation, so we had to return and a dinner with a couple of good friends provided the perfect excuse.

So a few weeks ago we found ourselves staring down the barrel of one of the most interesting tasting menus I’ve seen for a long time. We’re sat upstairs and the lighting is a little low, which creates a relaxing atmosphere, but not great for photos.

We start with a canape of goats cheese and olive on bruschetta.

There’s no need to think too much about this, but it was a nice little bite that prompted the ordering of a nice bottle of Chardonnay.

Bread is a selection of 3 – baguette, pumpkin bread and rosemary bread.

The rosemary bread is the hit of the evening. It seems that all of us around the table are particularly partial to a bit of rosemary. The offering of further bread does not get refused. We all have trouble restraining ourselves from gorging ourselves.

The amuse is an heirloom tomato salad.

It’s sweet and subtle. You can’t beat a flavoursome tomato. It is a joy that is increasingly rare to find. Like other dishes it did not last long.

We start proper with a salad of marinated heirloom vegetables with sugar snap mousseline and black olive.

Many chefs are taking a leaf out of Michael Bras’s book demonstrating their culinary skill with seasonal vegetables and the individual preparation of. I really appreciate these dishes since they show how great vegetables can be. It’s another, if not comprehensive example. Very good. It does makes me think of eating more salad (though the thought doesn’t last long….)

The next course is marinated yellowfin tuna and shaved Wagyu with white asparagus, mushroom and a chilled consomme.

This is a superb course, but again it’s surprisingly mostly about the vegetables…While I enjoy a bit of surf & turf, it serves to accentuate the delicious accompaniements.

The multi-dimensional aspect of the cooking continues with confit of blue-eye and smoked scallop with sauteed cuttlefish, cauliflower and buckwheat.

Unlike the recent scallop dish at Assiette this is a balanced and light dish. Arguably it has a little too much sweetness going on, but the meatiness of the blue-eye brings it together. The fish is served to the point and it’s beautifully succulent.

The meal is slowly building in substantial courses and our last fish course is Roast mulloway with king prawns, soubise puree and smoked crustacean emulsion..

This is a lovely seafood dish to end on. To be honest, not sure what the soubise is but the fish and prawns are well cooked, with good al-dente vegetables. The saucing and emulsion bring everything together to create a taste of the sea. A cliche, but true.

The meat courses begin with caramelised suckling pig and braised pork tail with parsnip and compressed apple

Again, no complaints. Far from it. The pork has been given due cooking time, so the meat is soft and yielding. It’s partnered with an unctuous pork tail. Everybody enjoys it. It’s heartening to see that nose to tail eating is catching on. The parsnip & apple might look a little pedestrian, but their preparation makes it engaging and interesting.

There is a choice for main course – ballontine of guinea-fowl or the option that the whole table chose: Pot-roasted shoulder and fillet of lamb with goars curd, broad beans, garlic and rosemary.

The different cuts of lamb provide good contrasting textures. The accompaniements are great, even though they’re Atkins friendly. It’s a very enjoyable plate of food.

We settle in the for the final stretch – a palate cleanser of Champagne creme chiboust with orange, lavender and kiwifruit

The palate cleanser moniker probably plays down the course. It’s a good mix of fruit with the champagne providing a bit of zing. The lavender doesn’t overpower or make me think too much of old people. It does the job of setting the scene for the final course, though we are approaching fullness.

We have two options for dessert, which we both order: I cling on to the banana creme brulee with salted peanut brittle and milk coffee sorbet..

It’s a very American dessert, nicely presented. The milk sorbet collapses into the brulee when the brittle is broken. Everything you could want in one dish, save chocolate, which brings us to the other dessert.

If there was a dish that didn’t excel in this meal, then this dish was probably it. 70% bolivia chocolate and caramel cadeau with vanilla and milk sorbet

I couldn’t fault the ingredients. It’s just the dish didn’t excite as much as the description. Too much chocolate to caramel ratio, I think and there’s the milk sorbet again. But as dishes to end a meal on, it’s not something to complain about.

We persevere with the final petit fours… Fini.

To be honest, I’ve never thought Becasse one of Sydney’s leading restaurants, choosing to place it behind the likes of Marque in consideration. But this meal was excellent and one of the most enjoyable I’ve had in Sydney. The company no doubt was a significant factor, but the cooking consistently impressed with great individual preparation of the various components, brought together with good attention to detail and a clear desire to delight the diner. The care given to vegetables here was of particular note.

It must be said that the service was not the most attentive, which is probably excaberated by the dual-level dining room. It was noticeable, but not something to get annoyed about. It made a fine evening last even longer (4.5hrs!). But I probably wouldn’t change much, which I why I will look to return sooner rather than later.


Assiette, Surry Hills

November 14, 2010

48 Albion Street, Surry Hills

I’d been wanting to come here for a while, partly because it was difficult to get into, no doubt due to the ease of online booking. It’s a rising star with two hats and a well priced menu.

So we finally made it on a Saturday night and clearly had the tasting menu on our minds.  It’s a small venue with a classic decor of cream and dark woods.

The menu follows are set formula. We start with an oyster with vietnamese dressing:

It’s similar to what we ate at Tetsuya and the fragrant dressing lifts the oyster, creating a very pleasant introduction to the meal.

The sashimi course is next – kingfish with pea shoots, quail egg and wasabi cream

It’s fresh, clean and is really rather good. The fish is sufficiently meaty and its well enjoyed. The wasabi is restrained and doesn’t overpower the fish. It doesn’t last long.

The next dish further lifts our spirits  – Cured Malborough salmon with prawn beignet, pink grapefruit, mandarin and fennel

It follows along a similar vein of the previous dish. It is a delight, the sharp fruit cuts through the deep fried prawn and the salmon provides a solid moreish base from which to savour the dish.

Next up rather scarily is a vegetarian course. Goats cheese with beetroot.

Not the most inspiring plate of food to see on a menu, but you’ve got to find some balance. I almost tried to substitute it. I have issues with beetroot which hark back to my childhood, but it was worth persevering. It was simple with good sweet and salty flavours. None the worse for it. It set the scene for the heavier dishes to follow.

Terrine of rabbit and quail with smoked breast and fig follows.

It’s a rich, earthy dish. I love terrines, but they normally only belong in casual saturday lunchtime dining. They’re good at accompanying a decent glass of wine. Ordered in a restaurant as an entree they are always a little disappointing – lukewarm and never as interesting as hoped. But as a part of a tasting menu, I’m content. Rabbit is much under-rated with a good depth and the sweet accompaniments provide the necessary balance. Again it’s another calculated dish, but none the worse for it. My wife, not normally a fan of this kind of food, enjoys it. Enough said.

The next plate, was one we were really looking forward to – Pan fried dory with seared scallop, onion bhaji, cauliflower puree and mango chutney

It also turned out to be one of the most disappointing. It’s a deconstructed curry of sorts and while the previous dishes were well composed, this dish was really out of whack and just didn’t come together and proved a jarring point for the whole meal. The individual elements were mostly all there, even though the scallop was extremely rare, but they were all so separate and nothing tasted particularly compelling. It desperately needed a sauce to bring it together. Instead the overall sensation was one of graininess and a slight greasiness.

The main course did though help to restore the meal – loin of lamb with shoulder

To be honest I can’t remember the individual components of this dish, but I can remember it tasted good and had the pre-requisite of rich and deep flavours, accompanied with a decent glass of Shiraz. It helped finish the main meal on a high.

And on to the cheese course – cheese with pear puree and toasted fruit bread

The trend at the moment is to have a creamed soft cheese. It’s an example of chefs messing with something very simple & straightforward. Not sure I see the point. It doesn’t improve the taste. It just makes it easier to spread on toast, not that it was a problem or even the way that cheese should be eaten. It’s still good though and the pear puree is a welcome departure from the normal honey.

Anyway, the pre-desert – GrannySmith apple jelly with vanilla syrup and apple granita

Nothing to complain about. It’s cleansing, flavourful, despite the ice and goes down well. It prepares us for the final course:

Banana mousse with white chocolate ice cream and peanut brittle

Very American – it has a couple of my favourite things on one plate – bananas and peanuts. I can leave the white chocolate. But it’s a nice pudding and it creates a few smiles while cracking the brandy snap. And puddings should be all about smiles.

It was a good meal, with very competent cooking. Immediately after I remember feeling a little underwhelmed by the dinner, but that was mainly due to the ‘curry’ course and nothing that truly wowed, but that’s being harsh. It was on reflection a good meal with on the whole, very well constructed dishes that ate very well. It represents good value for the price and I can see myself returning at some point, whenever that may be.

Ad Lib, Pymble

July 22, 2010

1047 Pacific Highway, Pymble

I’ve been living in Turramurra on and off for several months. It’s a lovely leafy area, but seriously lacks good eating, so when Ad Lib opened in the immediate area it was like an oasis in the desert and had to be tried.

It’s a good old (but modern) french bistro – the sort of place which is perfect for a weeknight meal when the idea of cooking is too much to bear. It’s going to be very successful in this neighbourhood I think…

The restaurant has a great feel about it, as every bistro should – buzzy, loud and a touch frenetic. Service is unsually enthusiastic and you can’t help but know you’re going to have an enjoyable evening.

We start with coffin bay oysters, which are deliciously creamy without the huge hit of iodine. My kind of oyster.

I take the unusual step of starting with goats cheese tarte, which is as we all know a quiche, but written in a way which is easier for men to order. It’s oniony without the heavy-handedness of too much cheese. It’s actually pretty light.

The wife goes for onion soup. This is all about the beef stock and it’s deep, sweet and harmonious. The sort of dish that only comes from long slow cooking. Clearly it’s not exactly difficult to do a good onion soup, it just takes the application of a time and a bit of love. But it’s surprising how a lot of places, try and cut corners.

She follows up with a good tranche of fish on a bit of potato puree (which is clearly why she chose it..) It’s a confident and simple dish. It’s what good bistro cooking is all about. It goes down well.

I (clearly making up for ordering the quiche) go for the steak tartare. It’s a favourite. Again not a complex dish, but requires good ingredients and a bit of attention. It’s well mixed with a nice hit of tabasco. The only downer (if I recall correctly) is the lack of frites… This is criminal. Tartare, frites & a glass of brouilly is the proper combination.  Looking at the menu now, this has not been rectified, thank goodness.

Instead of the absent frites we opt for a recommended cauliflower gratin. It’s the only let down of the meal. The gratin is gloopy and hasn’t become as one with with the cauliflower. It’s more cream than is strictly necessary without savouriness of cheese (wow, can’t believe I said that).

We skip dessert, since it’s a school night, but are nicely satisfied with our meal. The place is still hectic as we leave and we know we’ll be back. Every neighbourhood needs a place like this. It’s just sods law that we’ve since moved away from the area…. We’ll just have to find an excuse to be back in the neighbourhood.

Bistro Ortolan

November 8, 2009

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.