15 Apr 2016
Frencher than an-escargot-doing-the-can-can-at-the-moulin-rouge experience.
Where does one start with the flagship restaurant of Sydney’s most loved Frenchman? It’s hard to pick which part of the Guillaume experience was the most enjoyable. To start, stepping inside this terrace house in Paddington’s back streets feels more like going to lunch at one of your posh friends houses than a hatted fine dining restaurants.
Inside, the décor is warm and welcoming yet very chic. Warm tones cover the walls and floors, with gold framed Matisse artworks taking up much of the wall space. I shouldn’t be surprised – a Frenchman being stylish? It’s not exactly breaking news. And then of course there’s the precision and perfection of everything inside the fabric covered walls. The wait staff and sommelier are impeccable. Both have an encyclopaedic knowledge of anything and everything that moves across your table. The grand majority of staff are French, if not French speaking just adding to the authenticity of this couldn’t-be-more-French-if-an-escargot-did-the-can-can-at-the-moulin-rouge experience.
On the morning of our lunchtime dining experience, I make the decision to skip breakfast. It’s a smart choice in the knowledge that we will need all the room we can find to soak up all those rich and calorie packed dishes and sauces. Guilt is not an option today. Bring me those butter loaded salty pommes de terre with sticky bone marrow sauce. Allez!
We start with an amouse bouche (of course!) of tuna tartare, lemon mousse, wasabi and sauternes emulsion and shaved fennel. It’s light and the tangy lemon and fresh fennel are perfect to cleanse the palate. Plump little cubes of tuna are soft, bouncy and covered in an emulsion of sweetness & gentle heat from sauternes and wasabi.
And now our palates are set for our 9 courses of French decadence.
The first plate is a generous serving of Bateau Bay kingfish. Two thickly sliced pieces of this sweet and rich fish sit in a small pool of subtle flavours of sesame, vinegar and soy. For texture there are puffed rice grains and walnut shavings. A slither of apple contributes freshness with a green shiso leaf adding a splash of fresh colour for the eyes.
Our second starter is a particular feast for the eyes. A mound of freshly picked Mildura mud crab has a crown of salty sterling caviar, fresh cucumber and a herby tarragon biscuit. The showstopper is the bright green pea soup that is poured at the table to surround the little white island of crab. This one is almost too pretty to eat, but both me and my fellow diner manage to destroy this piece (delicately, of course!) to the delight of our tastebuds.
We are served tender Port Lincoln squid with crisp fried fennel, mussels, sweet spring onion and a sliver of salty damon dressed it’s own ink. For me this one lacks the depth and balance of the previous two dishes.
Our final entrée course also ends up doubling as a lesson in geography. It’s my first time experiencing Patagonian toothfish, an arctic deep water fish that is oily and the sea’s equivalent of Wagyu. It’s served in a capsicum broth and smokey eggplant puree with an almond foam. The whole dish is so clever and surprising, it’s one of my highlights today. It’s like a fish disguised as a beef dish and is even served with a Pinot Noir to complete the illusion. Our waiter is so pleased that I’m inquisitive about the fish itself, he explains with great enthusiasm how this creature in front of me has been sustainably fished at 4100km off the western Australian coast towards the Antarctic from 2000m below sea level. The area is called Heard island and is part of the Australian Antarctic. It takes great restraint on my behalf not to get my phone out and Google the location but I’m dying with curiosity to get a visual on this location. Here it is to save you googling:
Next we move on to the main course dishes. I anticipate great things (whilst rubbing my hands together).
Our duck is presented with a slice of sweet grilled nectarine, a baby carrot, crisp fried endive and honey emulsion. The big hero for me is that sticky sweet and savoury jus the duck sits on. Ohh, la la the French! They know how to make a perfect reduction. Mon dieu!
The second main is a highly marbled New England beef that you could eat raw. To my delight it sits in another puddle of sticky reduction sauce. What thrills me the most is that there is none of this dotted sauce scenario. This is a proper slathering of sauce! The other highlight is that it’s served with the infamous French style potato mash to mop it all up. (You know, the one that’s 95% butter and 5% potato?) It’s sinfully good. We look longingly at the waiter as he removes the bowl after serving us each a dollop (or two), to which he reacts: “Would you like me to leave the bowl?” I have a feeling this has happened before.
On to dessert! Do we have room? Not really, but of course there’s always space for dessert, especially when you are dining with the French. It would be blasphemy to leave without. A pre dessert of fresh mango, lychee ice, and a fluffy hat of coconut meringue sprinkled with grated lime is a perfect palate cleanser but one I’d be perfectly happy with as a standalone dessert.
Reminding us once again we are dining with the French, the grand finale arrives in the shape of a super light, gently browned soufflé. It’s a passionfruit soufflé with just the right amount of sweetness. On the side a banana and passionfruit sorbet and my favourite addition: a vanilla bean crème anglaise. I would have been happy with that alone and a straw, but all of it together is a dessert made in french pastry heaven.
After 4 hours of eating and drinking the most delicious and indulgent dishes and wine we are well and truly out of spare stomachs. Our parting gift comes as we leave and we are handed a little take away bag with a fresh brioche and raspberry jam. This was absolutely one of my favourite dining experiences in Sydney. It’s rare to find such impeccable service and combined with beautifully presented and tasty food. Guillaume takes one of my new top food spots.
Merci beaucoup et à bientôt!
The short and sweet:
THE GOOD BITS: Flawless service and sommelier, exceptional food, warm atmosphere. I can’t fault anything.
THE NOT SO GOOD BITS: That the meal had to come to an end.
STANDOUT DISH: Kingfish and smoked eel
COST PER HEAD: $185 for the degustation, $130 for the “Sommelier’s choice” wine flight
Location: 92 Hargreave Street, Paddington