Who doesn't love a degustation? It had been a while since The Boy and I had done a proper date night and so we headed to Becasse as we had never been though I had been impressed with their food at various food events (not to mention somewhat in lust with the Plan B Wagyu burger).
Overall impressions are quite good, I believe it truly deserves the number of hats that it has won and the Chef of the Year to Justin North. I will say though that some of the items in the menu ran a little flat, but were off set by some wonderful highlights that pushed the entire meal into an upper echelon. The wine matching was well done for the food, though a little impersonal compared to some tasting menus where the wine is matched to taste. Unfortunately in our case we didn't have a sommelier on the floor and so it was wait staff that only know the items they are presented with on the menu.
The service was attentive but not top class; we were served by a large number of staff, most of whom only served two dishes, without the continuity of service this caused some problems. For one thing it took 90 minutes to receive the first three dishes and we were left waiting for long periods between courses, this didn't improve until the majority of the restaurant had finished and left. The boy didn't get a steak knife to go with his beef dish and this made it difficult to eat when the beef was so rare, additionally no one noticed when I dropped a knife nor did they offer to replace it. They missed an entire wine from the list however as this was the Gerwurtztraminer I wasn't too upset, and we were going to ask for it to be replaced with an additional glass of the Tokaji which they gave us due to enthusiasm about the wine regardless, but in other circumstances this would have left me raw when we paid additional for a sparkling at the beginning of the meal.
Additionally the atmosphere was a little stifled, on first arrival I felt a little unwilling to speak at my normal volume, it felt like being in a food library. Thankfully this dissipated as the matched wines were brought out, but there's something about the beige interior and relative openness of the tables that makes you feel like you shouldn't speak up. Mind you we did spend half the night giggling at the conversations next to us so I guess it's with reason.
The table next to us (sadly not in frame) did a dish substitution on the Jewfish which I wish I'd had the knowledge of their menu to complete as they were presented with a Rabbit and Duck dish that sounded absolutely to die for not to mention completely matched to my tastes. Otherwise they kept us entertained for much of the evening as the female partner did not seem to be comfortable in such a calibre of restaurants making regular comments about the size of the dishes, her unwillingness to eat parts of the food and her feeling remarkably overdressed for the occasion. Mark my words people; the wealthy don't feel the need to dress up for such a dinner. The partner ended up looking on jealously as we were discussing the wine with the wait staff, either that girl had better learn her food or they're in for a rocky future methinks.
But enough dissection of the restaurant, on to the food!
Springfield bottled water - Sparkling and Still $10 a bottle.
If it's not obvious you should *always* get water with such a meal, the volume of the wine and the need to cleanse between dishes makes this vital. If you're unwilling to pay for water ask for regular servings of tap water.
N.V. Chandon Blanc de Blanc $14
Not a truly great sparkling, but being a pure Chardonnay sparkling lends a little difference to my usual line up and the only other sparkling by the glass was the Roederer at $28 which I find far too full a palette for before a large meal.
Dry vodka martini with both twist and olive $16
Having shared one too many Vesper Martinis with a work friend earlier in the week I really wasn't up to the punch of the boyfriend's vodka martini, but it was a well done impression nonetheless and obviously used a grain vodka of some quality.
Canape - Mascarpone, lemon and herb mousse on a buttery parmesan round - Complimentary
Apperitifs were served with a complimentary canape while we decided what to order. There is an alternative wonderful Black Truffle degustation menu on at Becasse at the moment however much less of it was to my taste and it seemed difficult to match to another tasting menu when there was an unmatched number of dishes in each. Thankfully the boy decided to have the standard dinner degustaton with me!
The following dishes are all included in the degustation at a cost of $130 for food or $190 with matched wines.
Sourdough, pumpkin and rosemary breads served with olive oil emulsion and smoked pure butter.
Amuse bouche - Celeriac and potato veloute
I admit I do like the trend of putting small veloutes and soups in espresso cups, I find it's an elegant method of service and forgoes the need for a soup spoon. The tangy creme fraiche went perfectly with the sparkling wine.
Salad: Salad of heirloom tomato basil with golden tomato and olive oil sorbet - matched with 2007 Caves de Pouilly-Sur-Loire, Coteaux du Giennois, Loire Valley
I admit I don't think this dish was necessary given the existence of the canape and amuse bouche and it felt a little... unexciting. The olive oil sorbet was marvellous rather like a chilled virgin olive oil mayonessa, however it would have fared much better for a lashing of balsamic.
Appetiser: Carpaccio of John Dory with Thai flavours - Should have been served with 2008 Leabrook Gewurtztraminer, Adelaide Hills, however I didn't receive it :|
After my usual complaint that you can't seem to get a high class meal without a ceviche or carpaccio included this dish really blew me away and was one of the highlights of the meal; the meaty fish was lightened by a soft thai dressing, shavings or chilli and crisp bean shoots. Highly recommended; I cannot stop thinking of the mouth feel of the fish.
Fish Course: Seared swordfish and config squid in a citrus sauce vierge and squid ink noodles - matched with the 2008 Tscharke, Girl Talk Albarino, Barossa Valley
I can't think for the life of me why I forgot to get pictures of all of the wines however this Tscharke was wonderful and will be making it into my drinking rounds in the near future.
The swordfish was good but not outstanding, however the squid ink noodles were dark, delicious and chewy in a way that reminded me of konnyaku jelly.
Fish Course 2: Roast fillet of jewfish potato gnocchi and saute of mushrooms - Matched with 2006 Surveyor Thomson Pinot Noir, Central Otago
The crisp skin of the jewfish was an amazing counterpart to the juicy flesh however the highlight of this dish was the creamy pan friend gnocchi that melted in the mouth in an eye rolling manner; such a delightful texture is rarely found in any food.
I just love Pinot Noir with a strong fish, the pairing with the jewfish was well thought out and just heavenly. Unfortunately the wine servings were a little generous and I was finding myself juggling glasses by the end of the meal. At the front of this photo is the Blaufrankisch, the middle is the Syrah and the back is the Pinot.
Poultry course: Mosaic of smoked ham and confit chicken salad of baby turnip and apple, mulled cider gel - Matched with 2006 Nittnaus Blaufrankisch, Burgenland
I probably would have preferred this dish after the salad and it seemed odd to have a cold dish at this point of the meal; even if formal dish orders were being maintained. The mosaic was excellent, fresh, cool and just perfectly seasoned. I thought the cider gel was unnecessary and a cloying texture with the cold meat.
The Blaufrankisch was franky very disappointing; the rich raspberry colour of the wine was enticing but left dead with an almost non existant nose, flat dull peak and extremely short impression; With the cold saltiness of the dish this was a total disaster.
Meat course: Slow cooked suckling pig with peas, pancetta, cos lettuce, potato puree and sage jus - Matched with 2005 Stags Leap Petite Syrah, Napa Valley
For me this was the true pinnacle of the meal and the sort of dish that makes this restaurant such a winner. Slow roasted suckling pig roasted to a creamy fat perfection that melted in the mouth, offset with a rich reduction and sage jus and just the right amount of fresh vegetables and top shelf potato puree. Backed up and rounded in aftertaste by the strong hearty Californian Syrah I have only the highest praise for the construction of this entire course.
Meat course: Roast rib and braise of Gundooee organic wagyu saute of chestnuts and sprouts and celeriac puree
My partner's main was frankly disappointing for what was an amazing array of ingredients; chefs seem almost afraid to cook wagyu properly these days and while we both like our meat rare this was blue to the detriment of the meat being the wrong temperature and texture, particularly when paired with the celeriac puree. The brussel sprouts were tangy and balanced the richness of the dish - or would have if only my boyfriend ate them, I did so thankfully on his behalf.
Pre-dessert: Yoghurt pannacotta, pineapple gratin and pain d'epice
All was forgiven with this amazing pre dessert palette cleanser, the gratin was evidently made from the freshest pineapple and was sweet without being cloying; it completely flushed the mouth after the rich fattiness of the meat course. The sweet creamy pannacotta contrasted wonderfully and mixed well with the coriander jelly; the mix of tastes and textures in the mouth was truly unique and superbly balanced. Another unfaultable item.
Dessert: Banana crème brulée salted peanut brittle and milk coffee sorbet
I am usually uninspired by banana however I cannot pass a salted toffee or peanut brittle and I was not disappointed here. The crisp shell cracked into many pieces and revealed a creamy dairy pudding laced with slices of soft fresh banana and covering a layer salted peanut brittle pieces that induced me to unintelligible noises with every bite. The kind of dessert I dream about.
Dessert: Rhubarb and mandarin goats’ cheesecake burnt butter ice cream, lemon balm and honey crumble
I feel as though the goats cheese used in this dessert was too strong and perhaps included only for sake of exoticness however otherwise enjoyed all elements of the dish, the boy who had actually ordered this for himself was underwhelmed and shockingly left half of it behind. If I hadn't been so full from the rest of the meal I'd have tried to finish it myself.
2003 Chateau Dereszla, Tokaji "Furmint", Tokaj
Remarkably the dessert wine is the one we were holding out the most for. My partner having not grown up in the somewhat wine flushed household I did doesn't have the palette for wine and is being introduced as best I know how - through the fortifieds and back down (watching him foolishy try to take on the unsubtle Syrah was a delight!). One of my most celebrated maneuvres to date has been to introduce him to Tokay. In Australia this is a sweet syruppy muscadelle wine that has the mouth feel of mead but a taste akin to a lighter port. In Hungary this is a different affair and we were keen to try the Dereszla after so many winter tipples of Buller's Tokay. This is a very different wine indeed, lighter and less sweet more like a Semillon dessert wine than an Australian Tokay; good and a fine accompaniment to the dessert but not inducing the kind of hungry eyed eagerness in my wine-destitute partner that I am so trying to encourage.
There was a cheese plate on offer that I was intending to order however I hit the wall somewhere around dish 6 and there was no space for either cheese or coffee, despite the amazing petit fours I spyed about the room and the fact that I had skipped lunch in favour of the grand meal.
All in all a high class meal at a pure pinnacle in some areas and very flat in others. While I am sometimes overly critical of high class food, and possibly overly complimentary of homely cooking executed well, I expect that a meal that costs $370 lives up to its princely price tag. North's food is excellent however some of it is a little unexciting for those who eat good food regularly; often dishes are elevated purely by a single excellent item. If he managed to make more of his dishes match those elements perfectly, or bring all the items to the same standard he would be truly world class rather than just one of Sydney's finest.
After the disappointing service at Balzac Becasse definitely had a leg up, the staff knew the wines, announced each dish with refined formality and interacted well however there were still elements drawing criticism and I would possibly advise that a mid week attendance or a la carte meal would probably be preferred to the Friday night degustation we attended.
204 Clarence Street
Formal dining environment