Three ways to eat well in Sydney

July 2009

Your columnist has been busy eating out this month and I’d like to share three cracker meals with you.

First, one it’s taken me a while to get to, Blancharu (21 Elizabeth Bay Road Elizabeth Bay, Ph 9360 3555 the new home of Haru Inukai, whose food you would have last tasted at Galileo in the Observatory Hotel. This petit chic bistro is a long way from the upholstered luxury of the Observatory, and his food has relaxed somewhat, but it is still very fine indeed — and damn good value.

Slow-cooked prawns, abalone and mussels in a thyme and butter sauce was rich and powerful, as was a pan-seared duck breast with a dice of winter vegies and the slightest hint of miso in the sauce. But the standout of the night was the spatchcock en croute de sel a la Haru, which came over from Galileo with him.

The waiter delivered a little pastry bird which was cut in half at table to reveal a perfectly cooked spatchcock served simply with a dressed green salad. Elegant, simple and theatrical. Should be on everyone’s top 10.

More recently opened was Sepia (Ground Floor, Darling Park, 201Sussex Street, Ph 9283 1990). The chef and part-owner is Martin Benn (with Partner Vicki Wild and seafood Caesar, George Costi) whom you’ll remember from The Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay and Tetsuya’s, so he’s a serious cook. And this is a serious restaurant, all brown wood and art deco curves, more Chicago than New York.

But you’re here to eat, and eat well you will. Benn handles his seafood superbly — as you’d expect — and I ate the best chunk of Murray cod I’ve had for a long time: crisp of skin and firm of flesh on a little, warm salad of pippies, a clam custard on the side. Before that, a dazzling dish of deeply tanned Silver Lake eel, a take on the Japanese unagi no kabayaki, which is grilled with a sweet basting sauce, with a dusting of licorice powder and confit leek (Benn’s is better). Not the cheapest tables in town, nor the most expensive, but well worth every cent. May they ride out the storm and become a fixture up the big end.

And, finally, the re-launch of a very old friend, Claude’s (10 Oxford Street, Paddington, Ph 9331 2325) which, uniquely in a fickle city, has survived (and prospered) for 33 years with four owner/chefs in a more or less continuous line. Claude Corne opened the tiny 45-seater restaurant in 1976 and handed over to Damien and Josephine Pignolet (both of whom worked there) in 1981. After the tragic death of Josephine, Damien handed over to his sous chef Tim Pak Poy in 1994 and Tim sold again to his second, Chui Lee Luk, in 2004.

After five years, Chui has decided to simplify both décor and food in ways that complement each other. Gone is the somewhat stuffy petite bourgeoise atmosphere (and the plates) and in its place are white walls and understated art pieces. So, too, has the food taken a turn away from the current fashion of screaming “Look at moi — aren’t I clever?” from the plate to what Chui called on the night “greater refinement”, but — and here’s the good thing — with a touch of humour.

In addition to a superbly simple roast mulloway with sorrel and leek and a background of vadouvan (a French curry spice mixture), there was a dish simply called beef with oyster — yes, our old mate, the carpetbag steak, long one of my favourites and to hell with the food snobs. A sensational wine list will keep you wine wallowers amused for hours. Good on you, Chui, for going your own way. Claude’s is still one of the two or three Sydney must-dos for serious munchers and slurpers.

The only downside on the night (and Damien Pignolet’s charming and heartfelt relaunch speech) was some twit twittering away while the food arrived and the speech was being given. Rude and ignorant. And a funny addition to that – seems a certain Sydney food writer asked acerbic London restaurant reviewer A.A. Gill why he didn’t twitter. Gill’s reply was "I have a hard enough time filing my paid work on time, let alone haikus of inanity for free." Yea yea A.A.

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