There's something weird about being in the business end of the city at night. I felt like an impostor sneaking into the city under the cover of darkness to dine in this restaurant; by day full of the legal profession, but by night a warm, intimate, well-priced little French bistro. Suit world has left an impression on the menu, which is written in English and quite accessible. We perused the small menu whilst eating complimentary baguette pieces with my favourite (Lescure) butter.
Gloria Gonzales (who put together the surprisingly affordable wine list) is perfect on the floor – warm, hospitable, and eager to please. As I commented on the warmth of the place for solo diners, she offered to sit down with anyone who felt lonely! You're looking at a glass of the 2007 Pewsey Vale Pinot Gris ($39 / bottle) from the Eden Valley in South Australia. It was a simply lovely drop, and one I will order again.
Matthew Barnett’s (ex Ensemble Theatre) cuisine is the perfect foil to a winter night – start with a hearty bowl of French Onion Soup ($16). It was bold, beefy and cheesy. I liked it, but would have struggled to finish the whole portion on my own, as it was quite intense.
For a lighter choice, start with the best incarnation of a stuffed Zucchini Flower ($6/each) I’ve tried to date – prawn and sauce Vierge. The filling reminded me of Vietnamese Prawn Paste - it was the consistency of a set mousse - and it had a lovely shellfish flavour. The batter was light and crisp. Overall, quite a raging success for me!
Even diners who find French food forbidding will find familiarity in dishes like Corned Beef with roasted Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower, Parsley and Mustard Sauce ($27). The charred Brussels sprouts, and the slightly crumbed cauliflower (also quite well cooked) were particularly good!
I'd also happily recommend the perfectly rendered Confit Duck with Seared Scallops on a bed of savoy cabbage, with lardons and veal jus ($29).
In fact, everything I tried was good – right down to the Crème Brûlée ($13) which unfortunately my camera refused to focus on. It only had a small window of opportunity before it was eaten though.
This warm, small restaurant is a hidden gem, and the prices are pretty damn reasonable in today's 'all mains over $30' times! The wine list was also very reasonably priced - glass prices are between $7 and $11.50, and bottles start at a low $25, for the Element Bistro branded white and red. I have it marked down as one I would like to return to, time permitting!
Basement, 163 King Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9231 0013