'Congratulations...you have won...' were the keywords that jumped out at me when my mother came into my room, waving a postcard in my face, preparing to interrogate me on the whereabouts of the stated restaurant. The other which followed were '$100 worth of matching French wines' at 'Restaurant Balzac'. I've honestly never won anything in my life - not the toy watches with the Coco Pops cereal boxes or the iPhones from career fairs. Although I may have preferred winning food as opposed to wine, as I have not quite developed myself as a connoisseur in that area, I was extremely happy! Taking time out of our continued tasting selection that day at Taste of Sydney to fill in these little competition cards was worth it after all!
I had limited time to make use of the voucher and it had to be between Tuesday and Thursday. Seeing as exams were coming up, the restaurant was a short walk from uni and we had a meeting on a that evening, SK and I booked a table for a quiet Tuesday night at 7:30PM. It was only a short walk from our UNSW Kensington campus and by the time we arrived we were about 20 minutes early but was greeted by a warm and friendly waiter at the front who told us it was fine to be seated early and that 'The early bird catches the worm...but obviously you won't be served worms!' It might just be me, the inexperienced fine diner, but I appreciate a bit of humour and warmth even when I go to fine dining restaurants...really helps me relax and enjoy the experience!
There was a little initial confusion, possibly my own fault for not presenting my voucher upon arrival, but we were presented with menus and a wine list before being left alone to decide the fate of our stomachs. It wasn't long before another waiter came by and realised we were here for the degustation menu with matching wines, politely apologised and congratulated me on my prize. I've never had degustation before but was glad that for once there was no need to pore over menus and spend ages deciding what we wanted. I was however quite amused when the table was set with additional cutlery...I have never seen so many forks and knives placed together for a meal! (I probably sound naive and uncultured to all you foodies at this point!)
So to kickstart our meal that evening, we were served four slices of Sonoma Sourdough and a small pot of butter with a small amount of salt. For those of you who know me, I'm conscious of my health (Mostly! Although when it comes to chocolate and dessert I rarely resist), and avoid too many condiments and rarely ever eat butter or even margarine. When you see SK and I slathering on the butter (or maybe it was just me), then you know it is excellent butter. Not too heavy and with the sprinkle of salt, it spread easily on the sourdough and together just dissolved inside my mouth. I tried my best to not eat all of my share because I didn't want to spoil my appetite for the remaining 8 courses but that attempt failed...in fact, I ended up finishing half of SK's slice because she had better self control than me! I loved that salted butter mmmm...
By the time our first dish arrived, I was still busily savouring the sourdough but quickly swallowed to begin my descent on our dainty dish. It was a Venison Bresaola with Brussel Sprout Remoulade arranged neatly on a square plate. I'm personally not very fond of brussel sprouts and found that the aroma actually spoilt the bresaola for me but in combination with the piece of rocket used to garnish the dish and the drizzle of olive oil actually allowed the flavours to meld really well with the saltiness of the bresaola.
Venison Bresaola with Brussel Sprout Remoulade
The next time our table was invaded, I was quite unprepared to receive a small teacup as our next dish. Fine dining has taken me a fair while to accustom myself to. Let me explain and enlighten you. Coming from a Chinese background, we have several large dishes to share amongst our family members and eat a lot with our bowls of rice. I have grown up eating large mouthfuls of food. Fine dining requires the appreciation of small dishes and a lot of restraint and training has been required of me not to finish everything in one bite. This time however, I was challenged to not drink the entire cup of White Onion Veloute with Thyme Chantilly in one gulp. While SK took her continuous small sips, I tried my best to ration it. Do you have any idea how hard that is?! Even now, I want to just run into the kitchen and drink from the huge pot that this must've been cooked in!
White Onion Veloute with Thyme Chantilly
Before our next dish arrived, we were graced with the presence of a 2008 Domaine Bondeville Grenache Blanc, the first candidate from my prize originating from France. It delivered a crisp taste, not too acidic; just enough to be refreshing.
2008 Domaine Bondeville Grenache Blanc – Languedoc, France
What came next was absolutely beautiful...to look at! The Seared Yellow Fin Tuna was sliced thinly; a bright translucent red with a cooked rim garnished with with some herbs and red onions and finally topped with a single beignet (which I still don't know how to pronounce!). It wasn't misleading in any way whatsoever - as delicious as it was aesthetically pleasing, the tuna melted in my mouth
Seared Yellow Fin Tuna with White Anchovy Beignets and Salsa Verde
As the next set of matching wines arrived, a 2007 Bourgogne, Chanson Viré-Clessé, we were also greeted by an equally hard to pronounce dish (I may only be speaking for myself) of Panfried Mahi Mahi, ‘Petit Pois à la Française’ with Salt and Pepper Cuttlefish. This white wine was a long drier than our first and neither SK nor I appreciated it quite as much. The waiter explained to us the fact that there were peas made in three different ways (French peas or petit pois, a pea foam and a pea puree). I'm pretty sure that at this point, SK was squirming at the overwhelming platter of greens. She's not too fond of green items unless they are dessert related. Being a bit skeptical at first, I was personally hooked by the pea foam - it wasn't too strong but offered a sweet flavour to the dish especially in combination with the cuttlefish.
Panfried Mahi Mahi, ‘Petit Pois à la Française’ with Salt and Pepper Cuttlefish
The first word that came to mind when I tasted the Braised Should of Venison, which was paired with a 2007 Bourgogne, Lucien Muzrd Et Fils, was 'Chinese'. The venison in combination with the flavours from the chestnuts and the sauce itself reminded me of a warm and homely dish that I eat a lot as a child. I had no complaints though, in fact I adored the tenderness of braised venison!
Braised Shoulder of Venison ‘Bourguignonne’ with Chestnut Spätzle
2007 Bourgogne, Lucien Muzard Et Fils – Burgundy, France
As a foodie-in-wheels, wheels which may never be removed, I feel that I can voice my uneducated foodie blunders without being embarassed. The waiter approached the table with our Daube of Beef and proceeded to introduce them as our 'mains'. Now you're all going to think I'm stupid but it never occurred to me that we would have received so many entree dishes prior to our main! Okay, enough focus on my inexperience - back to the main!
We were given the choice of a Shoulder of Lamb with Moroccan Spices, Aubergine and Sheep’s Milk Yoghurt but upon DD's recommendation, we both decided to choose the beef instead. The sauce was a thicker and stronger in flavour than I expected and probably would have overpowered the flavour of the beef had there not been a delicate balance struck by the beautifully smooth 'teardrops' of mash potato! The mash was unlike anything I've tried before - it was more a smooth cream since it had been placed through a sieve. The creamy texture and lighter flavour balanced out the sauce perfectly.
Daube of Beef with Artichokes and Wild Pine Mushrooms
2008 Mas Des Bressades Rouge – Languedoc, France
Having finally managed to get through our entrees and mains, the best part of the dinner (of any dinner) arrived. The dessert. SK and I are both dessert lovers but if I recall correctly, at this point, she was already extremely full. That clearly didn't stop her. The Cinnamon Spiced Rice Pudding was what was called a 'pre-dessert'. Not entirely sure why but I wasn't complaining. Essentially my tastebuds and stomach were saying, 'Why not? We have two desserts then!' Perhaps it was named as such because it was a lighter dessert which would prepare us (and quite well done I'd say!) for the sweeter ones to come!
We were first presented with the French dessert wine which I never managed to catch the name of (menus are a saviour!) and even if I did, would definitely not have been able to replicate in pronunciation anyway. This was perhaps the only wine SK actively disclosed her liking for while I was a bit more reserved simply because it was a dessert wine and too sweet for my liking. I was ready to pounce on the fondant instead!
2007 Les Clos De Paulilles Banyuls – Roussillon, France
I'm eternally grateful for the invention of what I have affectionately termed 'dessert stomach'. It let me consume the warm and velvety chocolate fondant which always tastes so great with the cooling feeling of ice cream in your mouth topped with a sprinle of crunchy peanut brittle. Who cares if you're full? You can always fit in dessert. Always. That's a philosophy I hope all readers will share with me! Having said that, afterwards, I could relax with some English Breakfast tea but only managed to finish one of the petit fours and took a small nibble from the other honeycomb chocolate.
Warm Chocolate Fondant with Porter Ice Cream and Peanut Brittle
English Breakfast Tea
This was definitely the most prolonged dinner experience I've ever had and I enjoyed every moment of it. Contrary to some reviews I had read before, the service at Restaurant Balzac was impeccable - all the staff were friendly and the door was even held open for us as we left. I'm glad that I won that voucher from Taste of Sydney - otherwise it may have taken me a while to get through the rest of my list before finally arriving at this place!
141 Belmore Road
Randwick, NSW 2031
Tel: 9399 9660