est. birthday dinner

Who doesn’t love a good celebration? For the last few years my birthday night has been spent with a bunch of friends at the pub. Cheap beer, good company and impromptu cake have really defined the birthdays of my early 20’s. This year my birthday fell on the easter long weekend and I felt that it was time for a change.

Walking into the grand dining room at est. all dressed up and glamorous is definitely a step up from holding tables at the Courty and hoping, nervously, that people, someone, anyone(!), will show up for my party. There is one similarity, though, between est. and outside at the courty – mood lighting,  so please excuse these mostly terrible pictures, it was dark and it was my birthday!


est. is grand. You can feel like a princess here, perched on soft, comfortable seats, admiring the high ceilings and beautiful lighting features. The mirage is shattered though, when you are sat at a table that is altogether too close your neighbour. There are three tables in a row and we were in the middle. The first two tables are set up so the diners are facing their companions but the third table has one diner seated at a right angle, facing all the tables in the row. Unfortunately for us, the gentleman sitting in the odd seat out happened to be a booming American, and thanks to the laws of physics, we were subjected to his monologue for most of our meal. Luckily our high spirits ensued, so instead of fighting it, we stifled giggles when he decided that John Howard was left-wing, and felt sorry for the waiters when he started making ridiculous demands.

We ordered the seven course tasting menu ($155/person), though I was tempted by the chefs menu, where you can choose five courses for $140. Some of the dishes are repeated in each menu, but the portion sizes are larger if you order from the chefs menu.

sashimi aoraki salmon, cucumber, pink grapefruit, shiso, ponzu and white sesame oil
sashimi aoraki salmon, cucumber, pink grapefruit, shiso, ponzu and white sesame oil

This dish was divine. Meltingly tender with a dressing that enhanced and complemented the flavour of the New Zealand Salmon, and I am not even a huge fan of sashimi. The fish roe were hilariously tough, we fell into fits of giggles when they continued to pop out from between molars, unharmed. Don’t worry, we got them, eventually.

One dish I was not looking forward to was our next course, the tranche of duck foie gras, beetroot raspberry reduction, sauternes jelly, toasted brioche. I find foie gras a little repulsive, far too rich and this was no exception (and the photo was terrible and therefore omitted) F and I both struggled with this dish, which was a bit over the top, though there was some really interesting flavours there if only one had the stomach for such decadence.

raviolo of prawns on snow peas, lemongrass and shellfish vinaigrette

The raviolo of prawns was my favourite savoury dish. The lemongrass and shellfish vinaigrette reminded me of eating in Vietnam, though this much more delicate and wonderfully executed. The single raviolo was chock full of prawn pieces, F. said it was like the best dumpling he had ever eaten, and I agree, though this dish was somehow Asian and not at the same time in a way that I can’t quite understand.  It doesn’t matter though because this dish made me want to lick the plate clean – don’t worry, I abstained.

Steamed baby snapper, shaved abalone, cucumber, oyster mushrooms, ginger - green shallot vinaigrette
Steamed baby snapper, shaved abalone, cucumber, oyster mushrooms, ginger – green shallot vinaigrette

I really liked this next dish, though the abalone really didn’t taste of much, it was light, fresh, and very clean tasting.

roasted, boned squab pigeon, grilled figs, pomegranate, panisses, salad of herbs pan juices; pan roasted lamb rib eye, glazed shallots, pearl onions, thyme baby carrots, white onion puree

The main courses for me were a little ho-hum, perhaps because we ordered a half bottle of wine, and alcohol seems to deaden my tastebuds almost immediately. There was a choice, so we ordered one of each and swapped halfway though. Neither really stood out for me, especially after the preceding two courses of seafood bliss.

green apple sorbet, elderflower-lemon froth, cinnamon soil
green apple sorbet, elderflower-lemon froth, cinnamon soil

This palate cleanser/first dessert really stood out. Pure and amazing green apple sorbet, on top of diced tart green apples and crunchy cinnamony biscuity stuff. I loved this dish. So simple, interesting and fresh, a beautiful and cleverly deconstructed apple crumble.

passion fruit souffle
passion fruit souffle

Unfortunately, while I was still savouring the sorbet, our desserts arrived ‘sorry, but when the souffle is ready we must serve it’ was the waiters excuse. I agree, though perhaps we didn’t need such an extensive break between the main and the sorbet, then. Never mind though – the souffle didn’t fall while I finished my sorbet, it stayed light, fluffy and perfectly passionfruity. Paired with a passionfruit sorbet and wonderful cream, this dessert was a light delight.

We also ordered  the other dessert available with the tasting menu, a buttermilk vanilla panna cotta, autumn berries, strawberry juice. A tiny ring of very dense pannacotta with a vague buttermilk flavour was topped with a fine vanilla gel, and paired with berries or varying degrees of ripeness – the raspberries were divine, the strawberries were just plain sour. This dessert had us fighting over the souffle, that’s for sure.

A really lovely touch was the perfect quenelle of amazing raspberry sorbet brought to the table with a lit candle in it. Happy birthday to me from est. Thank you!


Tea, coffee and delicious petit fours (sorry about the picture!) finished the meal. The stand outs were the est. branded chocolate – how do they get it so warm and gooey but not melting all over the plate? And the big green lump you can see third from the right. A very soft jelly, salty and soured with citric acid (i think) which dances on the tongue delightfully then just disappears it is so light.

Altogether, this menu was put together intelligently. The amount of food was pretty spot on, including the few slices of very nice sourdough, with the special birthday sorbet just pushing me over the edge of ‘oh no, I may have eaten a touch too much’. No dish, other than the foie gras, was too overpoweringly rich, and those that were small, like the sashimi, made up for it with intense flavour.

I haven’t been to a fancy restaurant in a very long time, so maybe my expectations were just too high. In regards to service I saw a few mistakes, the lady next to me changed her dessert order, but the original dish was brought – she was too polite to complain, and the service was a little tardy, the timings were a bit off, though it was understandable as on this Saturday night the restaurant was full, and some tables even had two seatings (what GFC?)

When I go to a restaurant like this, 3 hats, fancy, expensive, I expect the food to surprise me, and in some ways it did, the seafood, the sorbets and the petit fours were mind blowing. I felt though that there was too much repetition – Sauternes Jelly on 3 dishes, not quite ripe pomegranate seeds on 2 dishes, hard balls of fish roe on 2 dishes. Though I think that this repetition was really obvious when the quality of the produce wasn’t very high. Probably this wasn’t the best time to visit, as it is really between seasons and it takes a little while for menus to catch up.

Despite this, I had a wonderful birthday evening, ate some delicious food and felt like a princess for a few hours (then we caught the bus home :) ) I would definitely return to est. for more amazing, interesting and beautiful food.

252 George St, Sydney

Est. on Urbanspoon

**Edit: Reading through this I am so embarrassed by the terrible pictures, eep! Does anyone have any hints or tricks for low light photography or post-processing to remove graininess? Would love to know!

This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.


  1. Posted April 15, 2009 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    Always wanted to know what dining was like at the Est. and now I know :)

    Thanks for the insight into your b’day dinner. Must have been such a treat. Not so much about the bus ride home but you could always think of it as an out-take from a modern day Cinderella fairy tale :)

    Though I can hardly call myself an expert on the subject of photography, all I’ve found that “works” for me (I use that term lightly, as I’m very much still learning) is long exposures with a tripod to keep the camera steady, using the right gear for low light photography (I presume you were using a compact camera?) & selective seating position i.e. under the brightest source of light. I’ve yet to find a decent post-processing method that does anything significant with regards to noise.

  2. Posted April 15, 2009 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    I use to have the same problems with low light photography when I used a 7MP compact camera (check out my posts on Ocean Room and La Brasserie for the horror!). Unfortunately I couldn’t avoid it on a compact – it had to be either blurry or grainy with a high ISO.

    It’ll prob be better to have a SLR or camera that you can manually adjust the shutter speed and aperture so you don’t need to use a high ISO. Some photo editing software also have an option to edit away some of the noise in photos. You could also use a mini tripod so you can use a long exposure without the blur and the need for a high ISO. Hope this helps :)

    Food looks delish btw and happy belated birthday! :)

  3. Posted April 15, 2009 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

    OOoh Happy Bday!! Get a long break ^^! Pity about some of the produce but they all sound and look delicious anyway hee hee. They have the same cool dessert (Sorbert) plate as Bentley hee hee.

    RE: photos, low lighting is really hard :( The noise is due to a high ISO which probably can’t be helped in the dim rest. I try to limit ISO to 1600, use largest aperture you can and steady your arms on the table since u prob have a relatively long shutter speed. GL HF ^^! and Happy Bday again whhheeee

  4. Posted April 16, 2009 at 12:36 am | Permalink

    I want that passion fruit souffle!! Happy birthday!

  5. Posted April 16, 2009 at 2:44 am | Permalink

    Happy Belated Birthday! Sounds like a wonderful evening despite the flaws. And really, if dessert works, do we need the rest? 😉

  6. Posted April 16, 2009 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    happy belated birthday! (i sound like an echo).

    i’ve been wanting to eat at est. for the longest time – sounds like you had a lovely (if not entirely perfect) time. and the food does look very appealing.

  7. Y
    Posted April 16, 2009 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Happy Birthday! I solve the low-light photography problem by not bothering to take any pictures 😉

  8. Posted April 16, 2009 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    Happy birthday. est looks wonderful – great souffle. And I usually photoshop dark pictures by adjusting the brightness/contrast (not that it helps that much, they still look horrible).

  9. Posted April 17, 2009 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Happy Birthday, what a great choice to celebrate it at EST.

    Re : Low light issues depends on what camera your using, but the principles are the same. Just make sure your hand is steady and up the ISO, use the max aperture on your camera for starters. To remove noise, check out a program called Noise Ninja. It does a great job but you need to play around with it otherwise your pictures end up having the ‘airbrushed’ look!

  10. Posted April 17, 2009 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    It’s nice to be a princess for an evening. It sounds like the sorbet and souffle were both beautiful. I love passionfruit.

  11. Posted April 20, 2009 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    Simon: Thanks for the tips – I was actually using a Nikon D50, using the longest exposures that I could handle hand-held. I am thinking of getting one of those tiny tripods, might help. Thanks for the tips :)

    Karen: Thanks for the tips. My D50 is really grainy at 1600, and way too dark at any of the lower ones. I am really considering getting a mini tripod, one of those gorilla ones. Do you have one?

    FFichiban: Thanks! Yeah, 1600 is really grainy on my camera, and the lighting was particularly bad, even though the food was good :)

    Shari: Thank you :) The souffle was a light delight!

    Ricki: True! Thanks :)

    Shez: I hope I wasn’t too harsh, the food really was very good.

    Y : Thanks :) Hah! Sometimes it is nice to just relax and enjoy the meal, not have to worry about snapping pics.

    Belle: Oh, lovely restaurants with ambient lighting are the worst! Here’s to getting better at photography!

    Howard: Noise Ninja? I will have to check it out, thanks! I shoot raw and so have a few extra noise reduction options in photoshop, but they all lead to epic fail photos when it is really dim.

    Arwen from Hoglet K: Oh, the desserts were divine :) Perfect for a princess!

    Thank you all for the birthday wishes! It was a very lovely day. I hope that by my birthday dinner next year I will have mastered the low-light :)

  12. Posted May 13, 2009 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been to est. about a couple of years ago and thought the food was good but not amazing. Tetsuya’s is probably my most memorable i’ve been to in Sydney for food sensations and I also enjoyed Quay during Good Food Month last year so it would probably be my second choice for a good dining experience. next would be Glass Brassiere at the Hilton and Bécasse for fine dining food. It’s amazing/sad how sometimes the Amuse-bouche, appetizers and palate cleansing pre desserts can sometimes be a lot better than the main food.
    s :-)

    Simon Food Favourites’s last blog post..Malay-Chinese Takeaway, Sydney (13 May 2009)

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