Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Guillaume, Paddington - 12 September 2014

Guillaume Brahimi may have been unceremoniously dumped from his old Bennelong site in the Opera House in December last year in favour of more casual dining, Guillaume has now reopened in the Eastern Suburbs. Ironically the Opera House trust is still going through a tender process to fill the space vacated by Guillaume. Opera House's loss is Paddington's gain.

Guillaume is housed in a terrace that was once Darcy's, an Italian institution for 40 years
Unfortunately I never got the chance to eat at Guillaume's restaurant in Bennelong.  A table during their final hurrah was the hottest ticket in town so my last ditch attempt to secure a reservation of course failed. Not wanting to miss out again, I called the new Guillaume on the afternoon reservations became available (in early July), only to be told the earliest Friday night booking was 5 weeks after the opening day (which I obviously accepted).

The beautiful dining room on the ground level. There's more dining space upstairs.
Guillaume is said to have found inspiration for his new restaurant from his visit to London-based Aussie Brett Graham's restaurant, The Ledbury, last year. The Ledbury is a 2 Michelin star restaurant serving sublime food in a light, elegant and relaxed dining space in the posh suburb of Notting Hill. I was lucky enough to be able to meet Brett after my meal at The Ledbury in October last year and he mentioned to me that Guillaume had dropped by just the week before. It turns out that this was the visit that inspired Guillaume to create his own take of Ledbury in the equally wealthy suburb of Paddington!

Some of the Matisse artworks on display
The food at Guillaume is very French (obviously) and classical (if you want creative, adventurous "contemporary" cooking, you are looking in the wrong place). There's an a la carte menu (one course $48; two courses $75; four courses for $135) and an 8 course degustation menu for $175. We opted for the degustation menu and with advance notice, an 8 course vegetarian menu was prepared for my wife.

Iggy's bread and Myrtleford butter
To start the meal we were served complimentary sourdough rolls from Eastern suburbs favourite bread maker, Iggy's and cultured butter from Myrtleford

Amuse bouche
Amuse bouche - spanner crab, avocado mousse, finger lime, coriander & Crystal Bay prawn
For amuse bouche (served with caviar spoons of course), I was served a bowl of hand-picked spanner crab, with avocado mousse, pearls of finger lime and coriander arrives. The spanner crab was very sweet and the avocado mousse was to die for! Little bursts of acidity from the finger lime round out this refreshing, amazing little number. The other amuse was a lightly poached Crystal Bay prawn served with lime and wrapped in basil leaves.

Vego amuse bouche - Fennel, truffle, avocado mousse & asparagus, truffle
My wife's amuse bouche was fennel, avocado mousse and studs of black truffle The other amuse was asparagus with black truffle. As the winter black truffle season is practically over now, there was not as much black truffles on display tonight compared to when the restaurant opened in early August. As such the truffle flavour was mild. 

1st course
Yellowfin tuna, basil, soy, mustard seed
My first course was Guillaume's signature dish from his first restaurant, Pond: a lightly seared basil-infused yellow fin tuna wrapped with basil leaves. The balance of sweetness and peppery notes of the basil, with the subtle heat from the mustard seed and the umami of light soy went well with the beautiful sashimi grade tuna. This was a very clean and fresh dish, making it an ideal way to start the degustation.

Baby vegetables, carrot, turnip, beetroot
My wife's first course was a simple salad of assorted baby vegetables including carrots, turnips, kale, beans and red vein sorrel. Around the plate were alternating drops of beetroot and onion puree.  

2nd course
Royale of globe artichoke, truffle, mud crab, barigoule vinaigrette
Royale is another Guillaume classic and is a luxe custard of globe artichoke served at room temperature; it was smooth, creamy, flavoursome and flawless in its execution. The fine dice of little carrots and celery cubes provided a fantastic textural contrast to the creamy custard. Sitting on top of the royale were strands of sweet and delicate mud crab. The royale was served with a wonderful barigoule vinaigrette that had the right amount of acidity to balance the dish. This course turned out to be one of my favourites of the night.

Royale of globe artichoke, truffle, barigoule vinaigrette
My wife's dish was essentially mine with the mud crab substituted for globe artichoke.

Bonus course
Scallop, Jerusalem artichoke, truffle, chicken jus
The kitchen sent out an extra treat in the form of a pan seared scallop with Jerusalem artichokes, truffle and chicken jus. The plump scallop was cooked to perfection: sweet, translucent in the middle with a beautiful tan on top.

Jerusalem artichoke, truffle, beurre noisette
My wife's bonus course was also a delight. A jerusalem artichoke was beautifully caramelised and reminded us of a delicious roasted potato. The artichoke was served with a nutty beurre noissete and truffle.

3rd course
Marron, pork cheek, broad beans, cauliflower, sea spray
The butter poached marron was divine: sweet, gently cooked flesh with a nice springy texture (served with its pincher, how cute!). The marron was paired rather surprisingly with braised pork cheeks, which just melted in the mouth. The cauliflower puree was ridiculous - the smoothest, creamiest and one of the best purees I've seen! A lovely sauce of anchovies, rosemary, olive oil and lemon finished off the dish. This was an amazing course and one of my favourites of the night (hint, order this if you go the a la carte menu).

Asparagus, hens egg, potato
My wife's 3rd course consisted of steamed batons of asparagus with a hens egg and potato. The asparagus and warm, gooey egg yolk combo is a no brainer and a favourite in our household. In place of crusty sourdough, there was a wafer- thin potato crisp. And that foamy beurre blanc sauce was just pure buttery decadence! My wife was in raptures eating this dish and I was jealous watching her demolish this plate of food.

4th course
Peas & broad beans, tortellini, creme fraiche, tarragon
Both my wife and I then had the pea and broad bean tortellini. The pasta was some of the best I've tried in Sydney: silky, slippery parcels that give Ormeggio a run for its money for best pasta. And that tarragon beurre blanc sauce was liquid gold: rich and incredibly moreish. The combination of that buttery sauce with the sweet green pea and broad bean creme fraiche filling was just heavenly.

5th course
Patagonian toothfish, globe artichoke, spinach, lemon, oyster
The last of the seafood courses was a pan fried fillet of Patagonian toothfish from Antarctic waters. Toothfish is a fairly recent addition to menus of Sydney restaurants so I haven't had a lot of it in the past. The toothfish was a moist, firm fleshed fish with an almost buttery texture. The dish was given an extra touch of luxe with little pearls of caviar set atop the fish to accentuate the toothfish. The toothfish sat on a bed of spinach, and was served with a lightly pickled globe artichoke heart and finished with an amazing oyster and chive beurre blanc sauce.

Heirloom carrot, ginger, coriander, pommes allumettes
Heirloom carrots were prepared 3 ways: cooked, fresh thin shavings and pureed. The star of this course was definitely the amazing carrot and ginger puree! It was sweet, smooth and creamy. The ginger brought the puree to a whole new level, adding tanginess, spiciness and warmth. The dish also came with a deep fried nest of crispy matchstick potatoes (pommes allumettes) and was finished with a coriander beurre blanc sauce.          

6th course
Robbins Island full blood wagyu, shimeji mushrooms, baby spinach, merlot sauce & Paris mash
My final savoury dish may follow the classic "meat and three veg" formula,  but why would I want anything else with flavours like this. The wagyu beef from Robbins Island in Tasmania was of supreme quality and cooked to perfection: full of flavour, tender with a wonderfully rare pink centre. The merlot sauce has stood the test of time at Bennelong and continues to be a brilliant accompaniment to beef. The buttery baby spinach and shimeji mushrooms is an incredibly delicious side of veg that I would happily eat on its own. And there was a globe of caramelised shallot, which added sweetness and extra depth of flavour to the dish.

The final savoury course is also served with Guillaume's signature Paris mash, which the waiter dollops onto our plate at the table. This Paris mash was incredible and worth the price of admission alone: so unbelievably smooth, creamy and just pure evil (with a ratio of 4 potatoes to 250 grams of butter)! I was sad that the waiter didn't leave the entire bowl on our table. Perhaps they were looking out for my waistline...      

Zucchini risotto, baby leek, parmesan & Paris mash
My wife's final savoury course was a zucchini risotto with baby leeks and parmesan. The risotto was well cooked with each grain of rice being delightfully al dente. The parmesan was sharp and had an excellent flavour. In terms of the progression of the vegetarian menu, my wife felt that it might have been better if this dish came earlier as this course was not as rich or creamy as some of the earlier courses. This risotto was also drier than other risottos we've had.

The risotto too was served with a dollop of Paris mash. Nothing wrong with some carb on carb action!       

Mixed salad
After we finished our savoury courses, a waitress served us some mixed salad of fresh, crisp leaves dressed with a zingy shallot vinaigrette to cleanse the palate. Serving salad afterwards is not something that I have seen before, but I could do with the extra greens.   

Cheese course
Cheese course (extra $25)
In my quest to become a more informed foodie, I have started to take more of an interest in different types of cheese (my next goal is to develop an appreciation for wine). Guillaume's cheese "block" consists of a Holy Goat La Luna, a 12 month aged Pyengana cheddar, a Roquefort blue cheese and a Milawa Gold washed rind. I enjoyed all the cheeses but not the Roquefort as I cannot stand blue cheeses. My wife, however, enjoys pungent blue cheeses, so she wasn't complaining about having to finish the entire slab. The cheeses were served with raisins, slices of green apple, crisps and Iggy's bread.

7th course
Blood orange sorbet
Blood orange sorbet served with its zest was an excellent palate cleanser; it was exactly like taking a bite out of the actual fruit. So refreshing and so delicious! And it came with a cute little heart-shaped spoon rest. 

8th course
Valrhona chocolate souffle, cherry ripple ice cream
For the final dessert course, we were given a choice between creme brulee, which was listed on the printed menu, or the chocolate souffle, a Guillaume signature from Bennelong. Despite being quite full by this stage, we decided to choose one of each, including the more substantial chocolate souffle in the name of research. Plus who could say no to Valrhona chocolate!

The chocolate souffle was a pretty sight: tall and risen perfectly. Then our waitress dropped a spoon of cherry ripple ice cream, which melted into the warm souffle, creating the perfect comfort dessert. The souffle had a nice crust and a moist, light as air interior that just evaporated in the mouth. For an extra hit of chocolate, melted chocolate coated the sides of the pan. But this dessert was quite large and could easily be shared between 2, so it does become quite rich towards the end.

Vanilla bean crème brulee, green apple, doughnut
For a lighter finish to the meal, go for the crème brulee. The crème brulee  was amazing, so smooth and full of vanilla beans; one of the best crème brulees i have ever tried! The tartness of the green apple sorbet, batons of fresh green apple and dabs of lime gel cut through the richness of the crème brulee. There's also a cute little doughnut ball for something different. The crème brulee was my preferred dessert and made for a fitting end to a superb degustation menu.

Petit fours?
Guillaume doesn't do petit fours; they do petit eights! We enjoyed each of these bite sized treats. There was a vanilla macaron, an opera cake, a lemon tart, a blackcurrant jelly, a pistachio macaron, a chocolate tart, a caramel fudge and an orange jelly

Fresh mint tea to aid with digestion. I needed it!
As we sipped on tea, trying to recover from the food coma we had just slipped into, Guillaume emerged from the kitchen and made his way around the dining room to speak with customers that were still around at the end of the night. Guillaume was gracious in our praise for the meal he and his team had just prepared for us. I suggested that we'd throw a bit of a challenge to a Frenchman with my wife's vegetarian diet, to which Guillaume responded that the he had fun putting the vegetarian degustation menu together and that vegetables should always be an important part of any menu.

We just had to get a pic with Guillaume! #fanboy #fangirl
My meal at the new Guillaume was truly incredible, one of my best meals for quite some time! In my opinion, you will find some of the best cooking in Sydney at this restaurant; the sort of cooking you might find at Michelin starred restaurants in Europe.

I love classical cooking. I actually find it refreshing to have classical food at a fine dining restaurant this exceptional with all the "contemporary" cuisine out there. These types of establishments seem to be a rarity in Sydney outside of Guillaume, Tetsuya's and est.

What I love about Guillaume is the overall simplicity of the food with each dish focusing on 3 or so elements, the painstaking attention to detail in its cooking and flavour combinations that quite simply just hit the mark time and time again. The produce was exceptional as you'd expect from a restaurant of this calibre, but it was the execution of the finishing touches like those sublime sauces and purees (and that little bit of extra butter) that really stood out for me. This is a meal that I will remember for a long time and I would rate Guillaume as one of my favourite fine dining experiences in Sydney.

Highlight: Every dish was exceptional, with the marron, the royale and the creme brulee being a few of the highlights.
Lowlight: Roll me out of the restaurant, such was the amount of amazing food I consumed in this meal!
Overall: Guillaume is Sydney's own version of The Ledbury, an outstanding restaurant serving excellent food in a relaxed and elegant dining space with service that is attentive yet not overbearing. 9/10 (Outstanding)     

Address: 92 Hargrave St Paddington, NSW
Contact no: 02 9302 5222

Guillaume on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Ippudo - 1 September 2014

Ramen is one of my favourite foods, especially during the chilly winter months.  There is nothing more satisfying and comforting than slurping a big, tasty bowl of ramen noodles to warm the soul.

Ippudo in Level 5 (food court level) of Westfield Sydney is one of my most frequented restaurants in winter, not only because it's a stone throw's away from my office but also because it consistently dishes up delicious bowls of ramen.

My friend SP and I were invited to Ippudo in anticipation of the opening of its second store in Central Park. Ippudo will be a great addition to this area which already has a wide range of fine eateries like Din Tai Fun, Gelato Anita and Pappa Rich. There's also Ester and LP's Quality Meats just a few blocks away if you are looking for something a bit more special. This is all great news for UTS students, who are just across the road from Central Park. I wish I could have eaten at these places when I studied at Macquarie Uni years ago...

Ippudo Central Park (Level 1 RB07, 28 Broadway, Chippendale NSW 2008) was originally slated to open in September but unfortunately delays in the construction of the new site has meant that we will have to wait til the end of October for its opening. Ippudo Central Park will be situated next to Max Brennar.  

Drinks up. Kanpai!
We each ordered a drink as we perused the menu. SP had a sake to ya', a cocktail containing sake, whisky, cinnamon and apple. I ordered a Suntory Premium Malts, a Pilsner that was clean and crisp with a delicate floral and fruity finish.

David tofu (normally $10)
Our first entree was David tofu, which were blocks of flash fried tofu with a thickened agedashi broth. The silken tofu was coated in a thin, crisp batter that didn't feel too oily and was topped with slightly spiced grated radish. 

Seared salmon sushi (normally $13)
We also ordered the seared salmon sushi, which was a monthly special. These were bite sized, balls of rice that were wrapped with seared salmon and topped with mentai (cod roe) mayo and avocado. These were delicious but I wished an even number of these were served to avoid that awkward moment when deciding who should have the last piece. Luckily SP was kind enough to allow me have the last one, so I got to eat 3 of these :)

Karaka men (normally $15)
I've been to Ippudo so many times that I have tried all the different bowls of ramen on offer. I decided to go for old faithful: karaka men. This bowl comes with Ippudo's signature milky tonkotsu broth and spicy miso and ground pork. Ippudo's broth strikes a good balance with something that's quite tasty and full of collagen and pork flavour without being too heavy (i.e. great for when I don't have the appetite for Gumshara's gut bomb tonkotsu). I love spicy food so for me the spicy miso and the roughly textured ground pork makes this bowl of ramen more interesting and elevates it to another level. 

The karaka men is served with medium wavy noodles. I like how you get to choose the ‘hardness’ of the noodles at Ippudo. I always ask for my noodles to be hard / al dente because few things in this world make me more happy than bouncy, chewy noodles.  

Special toppings (normally $7)
Ippudo's ramen toppings are amongst the best in Sydney's ramen stores. For $7 you get more chashu (simmered pork belly), nitamago (flavoured egg), shallots, nori, menma (flavoured bamboo shoots) and ajikiku (flavoured black mushroom). The slices of pork belly a joy to eat, with fatty, tender meat that melts in the mouth. And so is the egg, which is flavoured with soy and has a nice, oozing egg yolk within.

Tori shoyu ramen (normally $15)
For something lighter, SP decided to order the tori shoyu ramen. The broth is a chicken-based broth blended with a bonito extract and soy sauce, so there's layers of umami in this bowl. This ramen is topped with chicken chashu, menma (bamboo shoots), leeks, naruto, and nori. This bowl is also served with medium wavy noodles.

So there you have it, Ippudo is my best bet for a quick fix to satisfy my ramen cravings as it is so close to my office. Just be sure to avoid the queues on Thursday and Friday nights if you don't want to wait too long for a seat.

SP and I dined as guests of Ippudo. Thanks to Sana from SD Marketing for organising this visit.

Address: Shop 5021, Level 5, Westfield Shopping Centre/188 Pitt St, Sydney 2000
Contact no: (02) 8078 7020

Ippudo Sydney on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Ester, Chippendale - 29 August 2014

Despite being open for less than 12 months, Ester has quickly become one of the hottest and coolest restaurants in Sydney. It's the place to be in 2014 and everyone is coming for the same reason: the food that comes out of the large, domed woodfire oven, where all the magic happens. The menu comprises a selection of snacks, small plates and larger items from the wood fired oven, all of which are designed to be shared.

Ester is part of the Vini stable of restaurants/ wine bars that includes 121 BC and Berta. The head chef and the brains behind the woodifre oven based cuisine at Ester is Mat Lindsay (ex-Billy Kwong, Rockpool and 121 BC). 

The restaurant is housed in a converted warehouse / garage space, with a semi-open kitchen at the rear and an understated dining room with dangling lights and dome-shaped archways. The bare room was buzzing on the night and my wife and I were lucky to secure a seating in the bar area during the 6pm session on a Friday night just a few days earlier.

Ester already has made a big splash in this year's restaurant awards season, including winning both Best New Restaurant and Restaurant of the Year in Timeout Sydney Food Awards. I am expecting Ester to be awarded at least 1 chef hat and possibly New Restaurant of the Year in SMH Good Food Guide when the winners are announced Monday night (although Ester is up against probably the deepest pool ever this year with the likes of Cafe Paci, Moon Park, Cho Cho San and Nomad vying for new restaurant glory).

As I am dining with my wife, a vegetarian, this will probably be most vegetable-filled post ever on Ester. So be warned, you won't find any bone marrow here :P   

While we perused the menu and sipped on wine and sake, we were treated to complimentary crunchy spiced chickpeas with sprigs of fried rosemary. These were addictive and I would be happy to have these as a bar snack anywhere / anytime.

House baked bread ($3)
The house baked bread is fantastic and has a wonderful crust thanks to the woodfire oven. This is a must order as you will need some bread to mop up your plates later.

Roasted oysters ($4 each)
Rock oysters were roasted in the wood fire oven long enough so the shells pop open, so no shucking is required. I usually prefer my oysters natural, but if cooked oysters were this good all the time, I might reconsider. The oysters were slightly warm and still had a texture similar to raw oysters; so you still get that wonderful slippery mouth feel and the briny juices. The oysters were finished with a nice and delicate horseradish mignonette that went well with the oysters.

Lobster sausage sanga ($9)
The blood sausage sanga was one of the most popular items at Ester, but it has been replaced with a fancier lobster sausage sanga. Wow, what a bloody amazing bar snack this is! The lobster sausage was smooth and had a delicate sweetness from the lobster meat. The sausage is served on a square of fluffy steamed white bread with aioli sauce and caramelised onions. Best sausage sizzle ever! But one is not enough; I wanted to order more but I had to show restraint as we had barely started! 

Beef tartare, oyster, mustard ($19)
Ester's beef tartare is another dish that knocks it out of the ball park. I ate this in silence, savouring every bite. Chunky beef was mixed with chopped oysters (yes oysters!), capers, mustard leaves, grated horseradish and served with a creamy fried egg sauce. Even the house-made potato chips it came with to scoop up the beef tartare were fantastic (I had to bat my wife's hand away so she wouldn't eat them all!)As I was having this on my own, it was quite filling. But boy, did this beef tartare make me happy! 

Carrot, comte, sesame ($12)
The roasted carrots were really delicious. They were tender, sweet and coated with sticky honey and sprinkled with sesame seeds. The carrots came with a rich, creamy comte cheese dipping sauce. This was my wife's favourite dish of the night.

Brussel sprout salad, slow cooked egg ($17)
Next vegetarian dish was a brussel sprout salad, which contained 3 different preparations of brussels: shaved, roasted and boiled. Hiding underneath the sprouts is a slow cooked egg, which predictably had a gorgeous, flowing egg yolk. The salad was also sprinkled with grated parmesan and we were instructed to break the egg and mix it all together. 

This was delicious with the bitterness of the brussel sprouts going well with the acidity of the vinaigrette and the richness of the egg yolk. There were great textures too in this dish with crunchy roasted leaves and crispy fresh shaved sprouts. But this would turn out to be the least memorable of all the dishes through no fault of it own. It just wasn't as amazing as everything else.

Roasted cabbage, nori, clams ($19)
Roasted cabbage with smoky, charred edges was tossed in a buttery nori sauce with big, juicy storm clams from  New Zealand. This dish could have easily been called "taste of the sea", because that's what it tasted like. The nori sauce was full of umami (great for mopping up with bread) and the clams had a nice sweetness. Amazing stuff really and one of my favourite dishes of the night!

Cauliflower, almond, mint ($16)
Cauliflower comes as a massive half-head with charred bits from the firey breath of the woodfire oven. The cauliflower was smokey, tender, sweet and served with a creamy almond emulsion, chopped toasted almonds and a scattering of mint leaves (a brilliant pairing). There was enough acidity from lemon and vinegar to make this a well balanced dish. This was another highlight of the evening and probably the best cauliflower you will find anywhere.

Three milks ($11)
Three milks may be inspired by the Latin American tres leches milk cake but it's nothing like it. There's a smooth, creamy cow's milk ricotta pannacotta, a rich, sweet goat's milk dulce de leche and a light-as-air sheep's milk yoghurt foam. Each component is nice on their own, but when eaten together, the dessert is just stunning, with each milk playing off each other beautifully. There's also some olive oil biscuit crumbs on the plate for texture and a few sprigs of rosemary. And at $11, three milks is a steal!

Salted caramel semi-freddo ($4)
And lastly, we ordered a scoop of salted caramel semi-freddo. The semi- freddo had that delightful combination of sweet and salty that we all love in salted caramel. And the sprinkling of black sesame added a smoky note to the dessert. Yum!

Now I can see why Grant Achatz of 3-Michelin starred Alinea in Chicago almost ordered the whole menu at Ester when he was in Sydney last year. The food is just awesome and is not one to be missed. We were both full to the brim by the end of the evening  and at less than $60 per person for food, Ester is rather good value. Based on this meal, Ester is one of my firm favourites in Sydney.

Highlight: Pretty much everything that's coming out of the wood fire oven. Seriously it's all delicious!
Lowlight: It's busy so it's difficult to get a table.
Overall: Ester is a very welcome addition to the Sydney dining scene. The wood-fire centric menu is amazing and the possibilities are endless, so I will be revisiting again soon. It's not fine dining, but who cares? The food is here is just as exciting as most fine dining places out there at the moment. 8/10 (Excellent)

Ester Restaurant & Bar
Address: 46-52 Meagher St, Chippendale NSW 2008
Contact no: (02) 8068 8279

Ester on Urbanspoon