Like most foodies my list of restaurants to go to is rather long and seems to be growing faster than I am able to tick places off. So earlier this year Dylan, Em, Mr O. and I made the most of Taste of Sydney 2011 and sampled food from several restaurants we had wanted to go to for quite some time including the crisp Wagyu beef with wild mushroom and truffle foam from Restaurant Balzac. The wagyu was so amazing all 4 of us had 2 servings and suddenly Balzac was climbing up the priority list of restaurants to go to. As luck would have it I won Balzac’s Taste of Sydney 2011 second place prize of $100 worth of matching wines for two to go with the 9-course tasting menu and it was settled, Balzac was ON!
Restaurant Balzac is run by owner and executive chef, Matthew Kemp. You may have seen Matt on the third series of Food Safari with Maeve O’Meara discussing English cuisine and making his summer pudding, on Twitter or most recently as a guest judge on Masterchef. From articles I have read across traditional and social media, it is clear Matt is passionate about food – making early morning trips to the markets to ensure the freshness of produce in his restaurant, holding cooking classes at both the restaurant and other cooking schools around Sydney, and generally taking an active part in the industry. Matt is also one of the chefs who (along with food bloggers) contributed to Oxfam’s ‘Stop Hunger Appeal’ with his Chilli Roast Pineapple with Coconut Foam recipe.
Needless to say I was so excited about dining at Balzac I spent the whole day at work checking the clock to see if it was dinner time yet. But as they say, good things come to those who wait!
9 Course Daily Degustation – $95.00 per person / with matched wine $140.00 per person
- Cured Cobia with Beetroot Remoulade
- Parsnip Veloute with Truffle Vinaigrette
- Hot Smoked Bonito Rillette with Pickled Cucumber, Shaved Fennel and King Crab (2009 Pazo de Senorans ‘Camino Del Pelegrino’ Albariño – Rias Baixas, Spain)
- Roast Skate with Saffron Noodles, Calamari, Clams, Mussels and Fennel (2005 Domaine Barmés-Buecher Pinot Gris Traditional – Alsace, France)
- Cream of Jerusalem Artichokes with ‘Schnitzel’ of Lamb Shoulder and Belly, Barley and Manchego (2008 Nebbiolo D’Alba, Brezza ‘Santa Rosalia’ – Piedmont, Italy)
- Confit of Pork Belly with Sauté Black Pudding and Baby Turnip (2008 Kir-Yianni ‘Paranga’ Xinomavro – Macedonia)
or Daube of Beef Cheek with Onions, Sprouts and Horseradish (2009 Chateau de Caraguilhes Rouge – Corbieres, France)
- [Optional Course] A Selection of Cheese is available after Mains for $24.00
- Chilli Roast Pineapple with Coconut Foam
- Warm Chocolate Fondant with James Squire Porter Ice Cream (NV Barbadillo Pedro Ximénez – Jerez, Spain)
- Selection of Petit Fours
Cured Cobia with Beetroot Remoulade.
We started with a curled piece of cured cobia and bright pinky/purpley beetroot remoulade with a sprig of dill. It looked innocent on the spoon but I was sceptical – beetroot, remoulade and dill are not my friends. Dill has only recently become my acquaintance and only the fresh stuff (keep those dill pickles away from me). Remoulade, well, it’s a condiment, we all know I hate condiments. And beetroot, I never thought I would say I enjoyed beetroot but as maze Melbourne showed me, there is so much more to beetroot than the tinned vinegary stuff I’d been scared of for years (one of these days I will actually buy some beets and bake them up). Although sceptical I will always try what is in front of me in a restaurant of this calibre, so I gave it a go and hoped for the best. Admittedly the little spoonful took me by surprise; the aromatic dill, lemony cured cobia and creamy beetroot remoulade were a nice combination and I enjoyed the little mouthful of ingredients I would otherwise avoid.
Woodfired white bread rolls.
Ahhh bread, I know I shouldn’t eat it and fill up on it but it’s just such a beautiful thing. The woodfired white bread roll was crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside, and slathered with butter it was just delicious.
Parsnip Veloute with Truffle Vinaigrette.
Presented in a cute shaped little cup, the amuse bouche looked gorgeous, then Dylan made me smell it and as I got a whiff of the vinegar (my arch enemy) I thought it was all over. Luckily the vinaigrette’s tangy smell was not translated through to taste as the rich truffle really knocked back the acidity of the vinegar. The ‘veloute’ itself (which actually translates as sauce, not soup as I had thought) was creamy, buttery, silky smooth and definitely got the taste buds going. Perfect for a cold winter’s night.
Hot Smoked Bonito Rillette with Pickled Cucumber, Shaved Fennel and King Crab.
Rillettes are similar to pâté which I am a huge fan of and I was intrigued by this one, only ever having had bonito in flake form in Japanese cuisine. The bonito rillettes was quite smokey on its own but the smokiness subsided considerably when eaten with the salad. The dill and fennel worked really well with the smokey fish, astringent cucumber and crab.
Roast Skate with Saffron Noodles, Calamari, Clams, Mussels and Fennel.
Skate is a type of ray which I had seen quite a lot on menus throughout the UK but don’t recall ever seeing in Sydney before. Cutting through the fillet I could feel how meaty it was, not flaky like a lot of other white fish. The top was seared to crispy perfection and the meatiness of the fillet contrasted nicely with the silky, delicate noodles. The other seafood bringing even more to the dish.
Cream of Jerusalem Artichokes with ‘Schnitzel’ of Lamb Shoulder and Belly, Barley and Manchego.
One of my favourite dishes of the night. The ‘schnitzel’ was amazing, so meaty and packed full of flavour with the shoulder of lamb being much stronger than other cuts, the saltiness I presume came from the belly, accompanied by Jerusalem artichoke done three ways. The puree was velvety and creamy (I only wish it had been served with spoon not a fork), the roasted artichoke slightly sweet and nutty, and the crispy artichoke a nice textural contrast. Really who doesn’t love Jerusalem artichoke (which is not actually an artichoke or from Jerusalem) or root vegetables in general, they’re earthy, tasty and perfect comfort food. Hidden under the artichoke was barley which just added to the heartiness of the dish. And let’s not forget the manchego shavings on top of the schnitzel, I love manchego and these little shavings just took the lamb to greater heights.
Confit of Pork Belly with Sauté Black Pudding and Baby Turnip.
Naturally Dylan and I ordered one of each of the mains so we could try both. The pork belly had been cooked to perfection, super crispy skin that cracked when cut, oh yeh, fatty pork belly deliciousness, so tender and soft. Potato gratin is one of my favourite ways to eat potatoes in all its creamy luxuriousness and this one was particularly good. I’ve tried black pudding a few times but just can’t eat it when it has a softer consistency. No doubt that’s probably the best way to eat black pudding but unfortunately it plays on my mind too much and then I just can’t eat anymore, maybe one day.
Daube of Beef Cheek with Onions, Sprouts and Horseradish.
The second main was beef and what could be better in the cold of winter than a beef stew. The beef cheek was cooked for around 8 hours and we could tell, the meat was extremely tender and just fell apart. Everything on this plate was totally delicious and flavoursome, the sprouts nice and nutty, mash always a winner, and wagyu jus so decadent and hearty. Though the yorkshire pudding was not the best I’ve ever had it was crispy and perfect to mop up all of the gorgeous jus.
Following the mains we were offered the optional cheese course and nine times out of ten I would say yes to cheese, but the degustation at Balzac is extremely filling (knew I shouldn’t have eaten the bread!) and I had to leave room for dessert – after all, as much as I love cheese, chocolate always wins!
Chilli Roast Pineapple with Coconut Foam.
A little glass of tropical amazingness, a pina colada in dessert form. The coconut foam was both creamy and light, it’s amazing what aeration can do to cream. Under the foam was the roasted slightly caramelised pineapple that was sweet, sticky and had a slight hint of chilli. A wonderful marriage of flavours I loved this pre-dessert and the crunch of the caramel brought that little textural contrast that topped it off. I could have devoured another one of these – lucky Matt has shared the recipe in the Oxfam pineapples book!
Warm Chocolate Fondant with James Squire Porter Ice Cream.
I was craving chocolate all week (as I do) and glad to see it on the menu. So often chocolate fondant appears in restaurants and is completely crucified but when you’re in a restaurant like Balzac you know they’ll do it justice. The pudding was spongy and the centre oozy, warm and rich, a very nice fondant indeed. I was pleased to see the pudding served with something other than vanilla ice cream and as it turns out, yes I like beer flavoured ice cream! Porter is an English dark ale which makes me think it’s a nice choice for an ice cream, rich and creamy this was a winner all round.
Selection of Petit Fours – Coffee Truffle, Macadamia Shortbread, Strawberry Jelly.
And just when I thought I couldn’t possibly fit anymore in, I found room for petit fours, a macchiato and sticky wine. The petit fours were served on a bed of chocolate shavings upon a piece of bark. I don’t normally like truffles but the coffee truffle was not overpowered by cocoa, soft, smooth and utterly gorgeous. The shortbread was short and buttery and the jelly sooooo full of real natural strawberry flavour it was a scrumptious ending to a wonderful meal.
With friendly service, fresh produce, great flavours and a building with wonderful warm ambiance we thoroughly enjoyed our night at Restaurant Balzac. I’m surprised the restaurant only has one hat in the 2011 SMH Good Food Guide – though it did hold 2 hats for the previous 3 years, maybe they will win back the second hat next year.
Now the challenge is when we’ll be able to get back as that list of restaurants we’ve never been to continues to grow!
A Food Story received $100 worth of matching wines as a second place prize in the Restaurant Balzac Taste of Sydney 2011 competition. A Food Story also received complimentary mineral water and digestifs courtesy of Restaurant Balzac.
141 Belmore Road
Randwick NSW 2031
(02) 9399 9660
Restaurant Balzac Website