This review is for a restaurant I dined at in a previous incarnation (Relish at the Balmain Bug was much better than this experience) however in it's current form, The Balmain Bug, it has just celebrated its second birthday.
On a positive note, the building it is housed in has been around since 1856! After being everything from a watchmaker to a haberdashery, for the last 40 years the old sandstone walls have housed a restaurant. You get to dine under the gaze of a bevy of curvy Norman Lindsay wenches, courtesy of an association with Fine Art Australia.
The Australian focus of the art is also reflected in the wine list, which only features lesser known offerings from Australia and our neighbour across the ditch – I enjoyed the 2002 Maiolo Pinot Noir from Margaret River, WA ($10.90/glass, $45.90/bottle).
Owner/chef Paul Cookson offers his own pick of the menu in a 3 course Chef’s Menu ($89 with matched wine). He also suggests appropriate wine matches for each menu item, which I did like seeing on the menu.
The amuse bouche was a Carrot Soup with Walnuts. If you noticed a similarity to the amuse bouche I recently wrote about from the neighbouring Restaurant Sojourn a few doors up the road, well er... so did I (notice a similarity that is). What a coincidence! This soup however tasted predominantly of salt, and lacked the excellent viscosity of the other one. Hazelnuts also went with carrot more successfully than walnuts I thought.
We decided to try a range of their entrees on the Entree Tasting Plate ($49.90) for two people. As entrees were all $20 each, I believe this plate was expensive. As you can see by the photo, they destroyed the oysters by making them Parmesan and Herb Crusted Oysters with Saffron Aioli ($20). The orange Smoked Chicken and Sweet Potato Ravioli ($20) in the centre was rubbery, chewy, and tasted like the filling (apparently smoked chicken) was made of processed devon. It was also, in my opinion, visually unappealing.
On the left, was Seared Tuna Steak on Pesto & Potato Salad with Semi Dried Tomato and Artichoke Salsa ($20) - bland but not offensive. On the right, the most edible of all the entrees, Seared Scallops in Proscuitto ($20) on potato rosti with pea puree, and cheese and mustard sauce. It wasn't bad, yet I couldn't even taste mustard in the sauce, and could only barely taste cheese! I also noted that the full serve had a total of three scallops on it, making them over $6 each!
And finally, in the rear you see the Prawn, Salmon and Bug Wonton ($20) with avocado, walnut and rice noodle salad, and lime/soy dressing - a reasonable dish that contained the only Balmain bug on the menu.
My main, Mushroom Stuffed Crispy Chicken Breast ($32.50) was surrounded by an vibrant orange capsicum coulis that I disliked intensely. It was perhaps the most tasteless chicken dish I have encountered thus far - finding the internal stuffing upped the taste a modicum. The field mushrooms underneath were barely any better, ditto for the buttered spinach.
My partner's main was better - Pan Roasted Pork Loin ($32.50) with blue cheese and potato gratin, green beans, mustard and brandy sauce. The gratin was the best bit of the dish, though again I found cheese hard to taste; his spinach also had more flavour than mine. To me, the presentation is pub-grub style, but the prices however (and the fact they give you an amuse bouche) do not represent this.
The better dessert that we tried was a Passionfruit and Orange Creme Brulee ($16) which was served with a stale hazelnut biscotti. The brulee itself worked flavour-wise.
The Warm Chocolate Tart ($16) came with a decent raspberry coulis, a scoop of reasonable chocolate icecream and a pastry shell that tasted raw (it was lightly cooked). However I really liked the glass of 2005 Bright Water Riesling Ice Wine from Nelson, NZ ($14.90/glass, $56.90/375ml bottle) that accompanied it - it was the highlight of the meal for me.
This is the quieter end of Balmain, so you’ll park easily, and for free; or you could walk to the nearby ferry for a watery way home. But really, honestly, this one, I find it exceptionally hard to recommend in any way, to anyone - except perhaps a Norman Lindsay buff. If you like his art, there were lots of limited edition lithographs, which you can purchase too!
The Balmain Bug
55 Darling Street, Balmain
Ph: (02) 9810 5510