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
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
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
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
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
**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!