District Brasserie has slotted into the ground floor of Chifley Plaza so neatly, it feels like it has always been there. This is in part due to Paul Kelly’s expertise in interior design.
Kelly has employed classical design cues, from aged brass to polished green marble, to create a timeless space that is both elegant, and easy to sink into, rather like the splayed-leg, tan leather tub chairs.
District Brassiere is also the culmination of two decades of experience in retail food and beverage across three states for John Vissaritis. For Vissaritis, who co-owns the 200-seater space with Sam Loutfi, the restaurant represents scaling down into a life that is “now about heart and family.” As if to illustrate his point, he's called away from our table when his family arrive to eat.
With the post-work crowd confined to creating hubbub in the centre’s soaring atrium, I take the edge off my own workday with the Emerald Summer ($17). It's an unusual peachy tea and Jameson Black Barrel whiskey cocktail that I find a bit hard to like. It does however give me some breathing space to properly peruse the 140-strong bottle wine list. It's a beauty, and if you need any more prompting, you'll see the wines themselves displayed in a gleaming glass box on one edge of the dining space.
Nuanced wine service gets me drinking the 2014 Collotte Marsannay ($110), a golden fruit-rich, almost spicy chardonnay from Burgundy; first chilled, and then warming to room temperature as our meal progressed. Oysters ($4/each) and then Bread ($2/person) from the in-house, organic sourdough bakery provide the perfect foils to enjoy the wine’s growing complexity.
Fashioned from GM-free, Italian flour, the artisan sourdough is a highlight, and if I worked in the immediate vicinity, I would be popping in for breakfast and buying my loaves from here.
It’s not often you get to watch someone kneading dough while you eat your dinner. The kitchen here is more open-plan than most, showcasing the work of head chef Mark Knox (ex-Public Dining and Black) and his team.
Their near-silent dance orchestrates an amazing meal; so do take the long way to the head to eyeball their Josper charcoal oven, and the rainbow of tomatoes before eating them in Heirloom Tomato Variations ($25). Centred upon a white knob of burrata, this resulting salad is so pretty, it looks like nod to Michel Bras’ famous gargouillou.
A pistachio-crusted log of Duck Parfait ($23) arrives pink, and so well presented, I don't even gripe about miserly amount of house-made beetroot crisps you’re meant to consume it with. Frankly, it’s good enough to eat in a crisp-free mouthful with pickled beetroot and blood plum puree.
Jack’s Creek Steak Tartare ($25) continues in the same vein, notching up my notion of what’s possible to achieve when plating a mound of raw meat and crackers.
After piercing the golden yolk, give it all a mix, snap off some tapioca crisp and use it to scoop up a generous, texture-rich mouthful, with highlights of shaved horseradish and crunchy smoked onion crumble.
With the Josper charcoal oven being such a menu feature, it might surprise you to hear me say: order fish. Knox's Steamed Snapper Fillet ($39) is the most beautiful fish dish I’ve eaten since Josh Niland opened Saint Peter and pretty much ruined me for eating fish anywhere else. The moist snapper fillet is harmoniously paired with ribbons of calamari, wood ear fungus and juicy wet cucumber, all tied together with a shallot and ginger sauce: sublime!
Brooklyn Valley Eye Fillet ($46) gives you all you want in a plate of grass-fed beef without going overboard. Mind you, the caramelised onion puree and indulgent duck-fat drenched potato cake – pommes paillasson – will make you grateful there is only 200 grams of meat.
A less artery-hardening Duck Breast ($39) arrives glazed in honey and fennel pollen, with rainbow chard and roasted red plums.
Everything is likeable, accessible and the cooking doesn’t miss a beat. Throw in a shareable side of Broccoli ($9.50) - made notable with shaved salted ricotta, chilli, anchovy, garlic and lemon - if you feel guilty about brushing over greens.
After a giggle at the death, meat and gluttony art works stashed on the way to the loos, dessert passes in something of a blur.
It’s Salted Caramel Custard ($14) with yuzu (Japanese citrus) sorbet, almond biscotti and a range of salty caramel nibbles to give it texture and interest. I’m sated, I’m happy, I’m pleasantly buzzed from drinking interesting wine, and the car parking is free with restaurant validation with any entry after 6pm. There’s not much more you could want from a posh, please-all restaurant in the heart of the CBD.
Lower Ground Floor, 2 Chifley Square, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9230 0900