When Lex was working in Ultimo she had called me to ask if I had heard of Essen. Neither of us had and as it was just around the corner from her work we thought we should give it a go. My memories were quite good – the pork knuckle was stupidly large and the sauerkraut addictively good, but Lex had been disappointed, she remembered a dry schnitzel and bland sauce.
George & Krissie from Wasamedia had been in contact and wanted to know if we were keen to sample the new ‘Summer Menu’ Essen were soon to unveil. Keen to find out what changes had happened in the past year we agreed and were interested to see what the new menu offered.
Restaurant manager Joanni seated us and explained we would be sampling one entrée, main and dessert from the new menu, and we could choose which entrée, main and dessert we’d like from the current menu. Seemed like a good idea, try a bit of the old and the new. Our waiter for the evening, Sylvester, was well informed about the menu advising the changes were mainly the introduction of some lighter dishes. There were no fish dishes on the old menu but now with the new menu there will be a fish entrée and fish main while the popular items from the old menu will remain.
Franziskaner Hefe – 500ml Bavarian cloudy wheat beer ($10.00) and Stiegl – 300ml Salzburger Lager ($7.00).
You can’t start an evening dining in an Austrian/European restaurant without a nice cold beer. The only real surprise here was Lex decided she would have one too. I opted for the Franziskaner Hefe a favourite for its classic wheat beer flavour, and Lex went for the Stiegl as it is an easy drinking lager without too much of any specific flavour to put her off.
Assorted sausage platter – Weisswurst, Csabai, leberwurst, served with potato salad, brezel and pickles ($19.50).
When we were told of the new additions that we would be sampling, each of them sounded more to my tastes than Lex’s so I had no qualms letting her decide on the other courses from the original menu. We started with the sausage platter, laid out on a sizeable wooden platter there was a fair selection to choose from. The weisswurst was light, with a super smooth texture and well seasoned. The csabai was hot with a nice paprika hit and a similar taste to chorizo but insanely lean which had no impact on its flavour. The leberwurst was real liver, roughly chopped and great chunks of rock salt throughout. There was also the warm and salty pretzel, soft and creamy butter and a wide selection of pickled vegetables.
Duo of Herring and Salmon – Poached salmon with dill mayonnaise and pickled herring in beetroot served with sourdough ($17.00).
The addition of fish to the menu does make for a lighter option compared to something like a sausage platter, so it is easy to see why they have done this. A duo of pots on the plate and two slices of bread to accompany them. Visually the beetroot on top of the herring stood out but I still went for the mayonnaise drowned salmon first. There was a lot of the creamy whole egg mayonnaise covering the salmon and at first it was dominating the dill and salmon. Getting down deeper into the pot is where we needed to be, rich velvety salmon flakes with a real natural flavour to it (no smoke, no frying) and when mixed with the right amount of mayo it really began to work.
Next up it was time to delve into the purple puree and see how it compared to the salmon. The beetroot and apple were quite well matched, sour and tangy with an oddly familiar flavour I just cannot put my finger on. The herring was just as my mum would like it, pickled and quite moreish. Rollmops instantly came to mind when eating this and it might be the fact that my mum was addicted to these when she was pregnant with me or it may just be my favouring anything pickled but the herring and beetroot combo was quite a treat.
Crispy skinned pork belly served with fried bread dumpling, sauerkraut and red wine jus ($27.50).
Pork belly, you just have to order it, well I do anyway, but with Lex being at the helm my chances seemed slim. Somehow my ESP must have worked as it was the main she decided on from the old menu. When the pork arrived it reminded me that the portion sizes at Essen are massive! Sitting on a mountain of mild tasting sauerkraut was the pork belly, skin that would put any crackling through its paces and layer upon layer of meat. There was not as much fat layering in the pork belly and as a result it was a little drier than we like but the flavour was still there. The sauce tasted more like a diane sauce than red wine jus but again it was still quite good. Dumplings were a miss – too heavy and dry and nothing like my nan’s.
Strindberg – Tasmanian grass fed beef spread with mustard, horseradish and pan grilled with egg wash, served with salad and roesti ($28.50).
Beef and mustard is always a wining combo for me, add some beer and the scene is set. Now Strindberg Beef is something I had never heard of so when we were told it was coated with egg I found it hard to imagine what to expect. It turns out that a Strindberg was a steak cooked inside an omelette. Not the prettiest thing to look at, I dove right in and cut through to see how the beef was done, medium, just as we were told. I loved the mustard, horseradish, egg and onion with the beef, tonnes of flavour and about as much protein as you could poke a stick at. I did find in parts the beef tasted watery and broiled but overall it was quite good. Potato reosti was so fluffy, seasoned perfectly, tasted like cheese and cream… so much butter and so damn good.
Apple and pear strudel served with vanilla ice cream and sauce ($10.00).
A dessert that is always impossible to say no to is strudel. What is not to like about crispy pastry surrounding soft and sweet stewed fruits. Cooked to order requiring an extra 20 minutes sounded great, a reprise from our over indulgence thus far. Presentation was quite impressive and so was the taste. I just loved the pastry that had so much crunch to it and the great apple and pear filling that you could still recognise the fruit used which included the skin for another level of flavour. The vanilla ice cream went perfectly and the vanilla custard did exactly the same. A very good strudel that I would be happy to have again, though next time I hopefully won’t have eaten so much prior.
Ricotta and preserved lemon tart, served with lemon granita ($10.00).
The new dessert spoke more Lex’s language than mine as ricotta in sweet courses has never really grabbed me. The tart was amazingly soft and giving and right away there was the tart slightly bitter preserved lemon taking hold. Overall the tart was a bit grainy but so very big on the lemon flavour. The crust was great and biscuity with a good cinnamon hit and the lemon granita was a refreshing addition.
Ruedeshelmer kaffee, coffee with German brandy and whipped cream ($8.20).
Joanni suggested we try something traditional like a German coffee. Not ones to say no we agreed and no sooner did two Ruedeshelmers arrive. Once again they were so much bigger than I had thought they would be, and after stuffing ourselves silly on everything else we found it near impossible to fit in. I wasn’t ready for the intensity of the brandy and how much of an alcohol kick it had. It was VERY capable of warming my belly and keeping me wide awake for the foreseeable future.
To finally finish off the evening we were left with after dinner chocolates. We initially thought they were mints, but later that evening when we finally had room we discovered they were chocolates. Definitely skip the chocolates, is the consensus, they were compound chocolate, sugary, with a fatty after taste, not worth it. You’d be much better finishing off the night on one of the delectable desserts.
Since we last dined at Essen it seems as though the place has lightened up a little on the inside, it doesn’t seem as dark and gloomy as we remembered and it even appeared to be just a lot cleaner and nicer to hang around in. The food on the original menu has its place and I can see it still being the mainstay of the restaurant but the new additions give it a lighter side and a break from what can be some really heavy dishes.
Thanks to the team at Wasamedia for inviting us along to try out the new Essen menu.
A Food Story dined at Essen courtesy of Essen and Wasamedia.
Essen Restaurant & Beer Cafe
Ultimo NSW 2007
(02) 9211 3805