May 13th, 2008

Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Review - Garden Court

The Sofitel Wentworth is an attractive hotel on Phillip Street in the city - I like the architecture, and the French focus of the hotel (and the French accents of the staff). Perhaps more surprisingly, because I don't tend to like hotel restaurants, I really liked their restaurant Garden Court (For the record I generally think that hotel restaurants are overpriced, and produce blander food than independent restaurants.)

This restaurant surprised me with exceptional food, and an unexpected setting. Step into a curved glass conservatory decked out in the style of a 70s-modern French Bistro, with black and white striped banquettes, beveled mirrors and stylised pineapple wallpaper.

As our third dining companion was a little late, the chef made us a little amuse bouche of glazed fig with Iberico ham and a shot glass of clear tomato consommé, which were both lovely, and worked to stimulate our appetites.

There are two ways to dine – I tried the four course 30 Minute Lunch ($42) where you get four tasting style plates served simultaneously within fifteen minutes of you ordering (or it’s free). Each mini course is drawn from their wider menu, so it’s a great way to sample their more expensive a la carte selections. You get to choose from three options per course, which includes a vegetarian option like superb hand-rolled Gnocchi with baby zucchinis and Persian fetta which you can see pictured above. It had segments of lemon in it, that were amazing in combination with the rest of the dish.

I was absolutely delighted with my dessert too – a Tarte au Citron from their Lenôtre trained Chef Pâtissier, Mark Stone. Just the little disc of white chocolate carrying the Lenôtre label was amazing!

The only course that didn't really excite me was the appetiser of Tuna and Salmon - a little dry, and flavourless. The whole meal had great presentation, and was fun to eat it as I chose. I could also really see this working for those in the CBD who have limited time on their lunch breaks.

My dining companions enjoyed the Guéridon of the Day ($42) an impressive steak with a peppercorn sauce, served flambé style in Hennessey Cognac at the table.

It was quite an impressive performance that had half the restaurant watching!

And the result was quite stunning - seriously one of the best steaks I have tried in a very long time (Wagyu included).

The wine list is impressive - the sommelier chose a 2006 Max Forbes Pinot Noir ($67) which was the perfect accompaniment to our meal (particularly for the steak).

The staff are plentiful, and they take that time guarantee seriously (all of our meals arrived within the fifteen minutes). Take an hour lunch and you’ll also be able to investigate their wonderful cheese trolley ($22/head).

This is the selection of cheeses we received for three diners - seriously more than we could fit in, and all of them were at perfect ripeness.

All up, it's still very expensive (damn those hotel prices), but I question whether it might not be worth paying that amount, at least for the flambé steak which was seriously a 'wow' moment. I am on the hunt to find a better cheaper version, if one exists, but I wouldn't hold your breath!

Garden Court
Level 5, Sofitel Wentworth, 61–101 Phillip Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9230 0700 

Garden Court on Urbanspoon

Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Balmain Rozelle Food Week

One of the things I have been promoting in my column lately was the inaugural Balmain/Rozelle Chamber of Commerce initiative of Food Week (which was held from April 21st-27th). I was lucky enough to be invited to the closing event of the week - a tryptich closing dinner.

The dinner, held at Restaurant Sojourn, saw three noted chefs from the area – Vanessa Martin from Il Piave, John Evans from The Restaurant at 3 Weeds, and Paul Camilleri from Restaurant Sojourn – combine their talents to produce a menu that showcased local talent, local produce and a local community working together. It was inspiring to see a small community combining forces to produce an interesting menu and sides that had quite a few highlights.

The entree was by Paul Camilleri, and it was a Carpaccio of Braised Octopus with Jamon Iberico, Tomato Jelly and Prawn and Olive Beignets. I liked the dish and the presentation, but the various elements didn't all hang together - particularly the beignet which reminded me of a Portuguese prawn rissole. I liked it, but I just couldn't fathom what it was doing there with the delicate octopus.

The main course was the course I liked least - it was by Vanessa Martin, and was a huge serve of Twice Cooked Duck on Truffled Polenta and Broccolini. Oh for an little flavour - perhaps duck, or even whatever she cooked it in... and the truffled polenta was truffled with truffle oil, not truffles themselves (which would have been better).

You'll have to excuse my appalling photography for the cheese course. For some reason I took an out of focus photo, and didn't notice. But it's worth including so I can talk about the amazing cheese in the bottom left hand corner of my photo. It was presented by Aunty Pasto and was called Fromart (or Grand Gruyere Reserve) and it was the first ‘official’ Australian appearance of an aged gruyere from Switzerland made from rich, unpasteurised cow’s milk, and matured for over a year. This firm, smooth cheese had a surprisingly robust flavour that far surpassed any gruyere I have tried to date.

It was dessert by John Evans that really sang, and I loved his simple, elegant presentation. His heavenly creation of layered raspberry jelly with vanilla pannacotta and a rosewater and vodka granita was sublime, and it left me with a hankering to sample his cuisine at The Restaurant at 3 Weeds in the near future. The pannacotta had a delightful sour edge - from buttermilk I think.

So if their aim was to get people excited about food in the local area, it certainly worked for me!

*trots off to Aunty Pasto for more of that amazing cheese*

Restaurant Sojourn on Urbanspoon