Restaurant Sojourn calls itself a Modern European restaurant. (In my own theory, it joins the ranks of 'French in denial food' - think a lot of French influence and technique, just with some flavours that are not specifically French.) It's down toward the water end of Darling Street in Balmain, and it's a bit expensive. However they do add the extra touches like a complimentary amuse bouche and pre-dessert to each diner to soften the prices.
You get to sample the cuisine of owner/chef Paul Camilleri in a small yet atmospheric sandstone room, to a great soundtrack. As an aside, my dining companion liked the music so much, I had to purchase it for him - Madeleine Peyroux singing Tom Waits' (Looking for) The Heart of Saturday Night.
We decided to embark upon the 10 course degustation menu ($95/head), opting to have it with the matched wine package ($145/head). Looking at their prices, it seems better value to do the degustation than eat 3 courses with a shared side (which will cost you about $85 per person). By the way, if you opt to bring your own wine, you're up for a whopping $10 per bottle corkage, so I would drink their wine, there were some nice bottles on the list coming in under the $50 mark.
Our first bite, the amuse bouche (complimentary for all diners) was a lovely thick cup of carrot soup with thyme, hazelnuts and hazelnut oil. It was actually one of the great taste moments of the evening - really well done!
We then moved on to the Freshly Shucked Oysters with Cucumber and Champagne Jelly ($4/each) which were from Pambula on the South Coast of NSW. I would have to say that they were not as good as the oysters I recently enjoyed at Bayswater Brasserie, nor even as good as the ones at Le Pelican (who also gets them from NSW's South Coast - just at Wapengo Lake).
I will say though, the other half of the team, Kim Camilleri made a great match wine match for this dish with the 2001 Schloss Gobelsburg Brut Reserve ($17/glass, $75/bottle) from Austria. The wine was brought to life by sipping it with the oysters, losing the austere minerality it had when I tried it by itself.
This dish was called Tartar of Fresh Sea Scallops, Hand Picked Spanner Crab with Jamon Iberico, Tomato Caviar and Almond Crunch ($26) - by the way, with the prices, please remember that all of my portions are the smaller degustation serves. I am just also giving you the price they'd be if you ordered the whole dish (which in this case is an entree).
As you can see, there's a spot of spherification (a Ferran Adria technique involving Agar Agar) - the little clear balls you can see scattered over the plate, which the chef is calling tomato caviar because he has essentially made tomato essence into balls that look (and behave - ie they pop in the mouth) like caviar. The dish wasn't one of my favourites (unusual because anything involving raw fish usually rocks my world), but I did like the almond crunch, and the real jamon iberico (though in such tiny pieces, shame)!
We then had the only vegetarian dish on the menu, an entrée of Twice Cooked Olive and Chive Soufflé ($23) served with soft goat’s curd and tomato sorbet. As for the dish, it would have been good without the bed of olive tapenade that totally overpowered it all. The goat's curd (from Simon Johnson) was lovely. I also loved the wine and the match, it was a 2007 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Riesling ($11/glass, $45/bottle) from WA.
[Vegetarians - apparently if you dine here, you need to mention it to them on the night and they'll design you a main, and if you want a degustation, you need to give them a few days notice, unless you also eat fish.]
The next dish was the best of the entrees, and was called a Tortellini of Lyonnaise Onion and Lemon Thyme with Hawkesbury River Prawns ($24). It came with lovely wafer thin garlic bread, and a burnt butter sauce. The prawns in particularly were a highlight - very tasty indeed. The dish was very well matched by the wine of the night - 2005 Kellerei Kaltern Pinot Bianco ($12/glass, $55/bottle) from North East Italy - it was soft, and like a pinot gris in style showing both pear and a little bit of spice on the palate, and looking very pale in the glass (just how I like it).
The round slices of Roasted Corn-Fed Chicken Breast with Creamed Sprouts, Boudin Noir, Crisp Pancetta & Pan Juices ($36) also proved a winning combination. The chicken was moist and tasty, and went well with everything else on the plate. The Boudin Noir was a particularly mild (perhaps trying for inoffensive?) version. I will say though the wine , a 2003 Monredon ($10/glass, $45/bottle) from the Côtes du Rhône (though normally a favourite of mine) didn't do the dish any favours. I loved it, but it dominated the dish.
My favourite dish of the night was easily a main of Slow Roasted Lamb Rack, Caramelised Lamb Breast, Pea Puree, Marjoram Gnocchi and Sweetbreads ($35), particularly for the slow-cooked and nicely caramelised piece of flavoursome lamb breast which was treated as we'd treat pork belly. The pea puree was also delightful, and vividly green. It went with everything on the plate very well, enhancing each taste with fresh green flavours.
The wine with this dish was a big one - a 2005 Kilikanoon 'The Medley' GSM from the Barossa & Clare Valleys in SA - again I want to say it dominated the dish. I really liked it, and thought it looked beautiful in the glass, but I waited until after I finished the dish to drink it, so I could really enjoy both the food and the wine.
The cheese course was a piece of Taleggio with Celery Jelly & Walnuts served with a lovely wine I had never tried before - a 2005 Chateau Jolys Petit Manseng ($12/glass, $52/bottle) from Jurancon in South-West France. Lovely wine - not too sticky, heavy or cloying - and a great dish. I thought the 'deconstructed Waldorf Salad' made from celery jelly, apple slices, walnuts and micro herbs was clever. I thought the 'celery salt' was rather bland. But the cheese was lovely, perfectly ripe, and went well with the condiments and the house-made lavosh (which they were generous with). No prices as this dish is available on the degustation menu only.
Kim Camilleri’s desserts (yes she's everything - front of house, sommelier and the creator of the sweets) are well-designed, though it was the pre-dessert Salad of Mango, Passionfruit and Lychee with Mango Sorbet that impressed the most. The cubes of passionfruit jelly were delightful.
Our last course was a White Chocolate Creme Brulee with Roasted Peach, Nectarine Jelly and Raspberry Sorbet ($16) and it was a nice way to end the evening. Sadly the brulee didn't taste of white chocolate, but I could tell it was there, making it into a richer custard, I just would have liked the flavour to have come through more. The sorbet was lovely, as was the raspberry couli near it. All the condiments were in fact great, but I did prefer eating it all separately rather than together.
I didn't think much of the wine, a 2005 Cookoothama Botrytis Semillon ($11/glass, $42/bottle), from Darlington Point in NSW. However my dining companion enjoyed it, so it was probably that it just showed too much botrytis for my own personal taste.
By the way, wines range from $40-$126 bottle. You can also dine with a larger group in the upstairs room.
79 Darling Street, Balmain
Ph: (02) 9555 9764