The card arrives in the mail. A welcome surprise from a forgotten competition that Mr G has entered at the Taste of Sydney event in March.
Restaurant Balzac is one of our favourite dining haunts specialising in French and English cuisine. We have been patrons since it occupied a tiny location in the Spot in Randwick. In 2004, Chef Matthew Kemp moved into the current premises, an imposing sandstone building which dates back to 1893 when it was built as a villa.
We chose to claim the prize on a special date. May 12 marks my birthday and a 9 course dégustation dinner with matching French wines is a perfect way to celebrate another lap around the sun. We start with our customary glass of Champagne, Pol Gessner from the Champagne region of France.
The elegant dining room with crisp tablecloths and soft lighting has a welcoming ambience. The bare sandstone walls add an element of warmth to the interior. On this Wednesday night, the restaurant is almost full with a few tables already part-way into their dégustation.
I feel a little conflicted. As much as I would like to sit back and enjoy the dining experience, I feel compelled to take photographs and make notes for the sake of a writing review. I remember too clearly suffering from what I termed as “research fatigue” during the last holiday abroad due to five weeks of constant food and travel photography and note-taking. As it is my birthday, I decide to refrain from taking excessive food and wine notes and concentrate on the enjoyment of the evening.
We start with an amuse-bouche of Truffle Arancini, crispy balls of risotto in a light truffled sauce.
Leek and Potato Velouté with King Prawns is the next pre-entrée to be served. Smooth and silky, the meaty prawns are full of flavour and stand out against the liquid, adding another dimension to the velouté.
The first of the entrées is a Tartare of Yellow Fin Tuna with White Anchovy Beignets and Salsa Verde paired with 2009 Chateau Laulerie ‘Montravel’ from Bordeaux, France. There’s a lovely freshness and lightness to this uncomplicated dish. The anchovy adds a sharp bite which, depending on individual taste, may not be required. The wine is a very pleasant complement.
Roasted Sea Mullet, ‘Petit Pois à La Française’ with Salt and Pepper Cuttlefish is paired with 2007 Bourgogne, Chanson Viré-Clessé from Burgundy, France. The fish is perfectly cooked but a little lacking in flavour which is compensated by the saltiness of the cuttlefish. The peas are surprisingly crunchy and add an element of texture. In contrast, the pea purée is smooth and creamy.
The Chicken Terrine with Pickled Carrot and Mushrooms is paired with 2006 Bourgogne, Domaine Du Chateau-Gris from Burgundy, France. Not a pretty looking dish but one that takes me by surprise. I am not usually a fan of terrines but the combination of smooth and crunchy textures with bursts of flavour with every mouthful wins me over.
There are two options for the main course, a lamb and beef dish. Naturally, I choose one and Mr G the other, swapping half way as we are in the habit of doing.
Junee Lamb Rump and Shoulder with Smoked Tomatoes and Courgette Flowers is paired with 2005 Médoc, Chateau Domaines Lapalu ‘La Patache’ from Bordeaux, France.
The dish is beautifully presented and the aroma from the smoked tomatoes is like an earthy perfume. Our waiter explains that the tiny balls on either side of the lamb is made of brains. He pauses for my reaction. I have eaten lamb brains as a child and vowed never to repeat the experience. In the end, my curiosity wins, no doubt helped by the red wine. As for the verdict, there is enough crunch and texture on the outside to mask that unmistakable texture of brains. The Médoc is a lovely accompaniment to this dish.
Daube of Beef with Artichokes and Wild Pine Mushrooms is paired with 2008 Mas Des Bressades Rouge from Languedoc, France. The beef is slowly cooked for seven hours. At the gentlest of tugs with a fork, it falls apart and melts in the mouth. The potato mash is creamy and rich and complements the earthy mushrooms. Given the choice of the two main courses, I would hesitate then pick the daube as a favourite.
The first dessert arrives and it’s a Cinnamon Spiced Rice Pudding with Fig Crumble. I grew up eating rice puddings as a child whenever I was sick but they never tasted this good.
The second dessert makes a remarkable entrance with a birthday candle, a thoughtful touch and a reminder of the occasion we are celebrating. Warm Chocolate Fondant with Porter Ice Cream and Macadamia Praline is paired with 2004 Pacherenc, Alain Brumont from Madiran, France.
Oozing with warm chocolate, the smoothness and creaminess of the ice cream and the rough texture of the sweet praline work together to make a perfect dessert. The Pacherenc from Gascony has just the right amount of sweetness not to overpower the fondant. The combination is simply sublime.
We end the meal with a selection of Pine teas, China Jasmine (green tea infused with jasmine) for me and Marco Oriental (rhubarb cream) for Mr G. The tea acts as a mild digestive making way for the petits fours. The chocolate truffles melt on contact, just the way I like them. The salted caramels are so soft that they need to be licked off the paper. Unashamedly, I ask for another caramel.
When the evening comes to a close, we realise how quickly four hours of indulgence have passed. We are fully satiated but with the right pace and portions, we not uncomfortably bursting.
Restaurant Balzac continues to deliver quality dégustation at a reasonable cost ($95 per person excluding wines). The menu is contemporary with a touch of classics, with some dishes evoking childhood memories. Texture plays a noticeable role in the various courses. The service is welcoming and unpretentious, complementing the relaxed ambience of the dining room.
141 Belmore Rd
Randwick, NSW 2031
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