It’s Saturday night at Emmilou and you can feel the vibrant energy of this modern European Tapas Bar on the approach from Bourke Street. The blind date is the occasion to meet @kls__ and @daraghmcg after several late night Twitter chats about whisky and chocolate, the love of France and Italy, dining out and cocktails.
And here, at Emmilou is where it is about to unravel, to find out if 140 characters can translate to conversations and more importantly, to celebrate @daraghmcg‘s birthday.
Like any blind date, quiet nerves, tweets and DMs preceed the night as our anonymity is about to be revealed. But once the rendez-vous is made, and hugs are exchanged, we find there is no ice to be broken.
There is something to be said when the staff of an establishment you’ve visited a couple of times remember you and greet you like an old friend. And I’m not just talking about Emmilou’s Executive Chef and Owner Chris Cranswick-Smith whom I have interviewed recently but also Liam Dooley, the restaurant manager, and Ryan Christopherson who is looking after us tonight.
Cocktails – (L) Calvados Hot Toddy (M) 10 Counts Martini (R) Pyrat Old Fashioned
Our corner table on the terrace has the prime position. Comfortable and cosy, offering a little privacy from the hubbub inside, and affording me a direct view of the action in the restaurant and the bar. It is no secret… I like to watch.
We toast our to @daraghmcg’s birthday with a Pyrat Old Fashioned (with chocolate bitters and orange), a 10 Counts Martini (Tanqueray no. 10 gin with a hint of antica formula sweet vermouth, Campari and a grapefruit twist) and Calvados Hot Toddy for the girls (Le grand solage Calvados warmed with a tickle of Liqor 43, Peychauds bitters and a pinch of cinnamon). The latter is the kind of spicy and aromatic cocktail that sets fire to the soul and starts any evening on a great note.
Almonds with chilli and sherry vinegar, Marinated green and black manzanillo olives
They may state it overtly on their cocktail menu (Emmilou Staff are Hot) but it doesn’t take long for @kls__ and I to notice that the high hottie ratio of the all-male staff, including a new face I am quick to point out.
“Has Chris told you about our menu tonight?” Ryan’s quizzical tone snaps me back to the task at hand as he shows me the menu.
Expecting something nudity-related as on the previous occasion, I check the menu for signs of naked women and ugly dudes. Not this time. It turns out that Emmilou will be a launching their new Spring Menu on September 1st and we are treated to a preview of what is to come. As always, they are having fun with it, using local seasonal produce reflecting Chris’ time in Spain and France, and presenting a hybrid of new and favourite dishes. I hear whispers of their famous Goat Sausage making a return to the menu in the near future.
Spiced tomato chutney with multi-grain sourdough
We start with Emmilou’s signature spiced tomato chutney with multi-grain sourdough…
and move on to Rioja from La Vendimia 2009 Tempranillo Garnacha which puts us in the mood.
Slow cooked trout with coffee and tequila jelly
New dish on the menu is the sublime slow cooked trout with coffee and tequila jelly that is set to become an Emmilou classic. Chris later tells me that this is inspired from a dish he had at the Fat Duck some time ago.
Stuffed zucchini flowers with goats cheese and truffle honey
The Stuffed zucchini flowers with goats cheese and truffle honey are an Emmilou favourite, with a generous filling of goat cheese oozing with flavour and delicately balanced with truffle honey.
Grilled prawns with saffron aioli and eggplant chips
Another dish from the new menu is grilled prawns with saffron aioli and eggplant chips, a combination of Mediterranean flavours that takes me back to my favourite sea.
Seared scallops with sweet corn, apple and olive butter
Another new kid on the menu are the seared scallops with sweet corn, apple and olive butter. Perfectly cooked scallops, plump and flavoursome sitting on a bed of sweet corn.
Crab croquettes with grain mustard vinaigrette
Crab croquettes with grain mustard vinaigrette is a favourite dish from the previous occasion. Beneath the crunchy texture, you find red peppers stuffed with potato and crab, and dressed with grain mustard.
16 hour free range Berkshire pork belly with pear and pumpkin
Another winter favourite, the 16 hour free range Berkshire pork belly with pear and pumpkin has succulent pieces of pork, crispy crackling and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds.
Spiced quail breasts with tabouleh, dates and almonds
I like dishes that come with instructions. The spiced quail breasts with tabouleh, dates and almonds is best enjoyed if you assemble all components of the dish together in one bite. I like the combination of flavours and textures, particularly the sweetness of the beetroot with the quail meat.
The ambience tonight is buzzy though it is a little more sedate on the terrace with a couple beside us holding hands between courses and others in what appears as some fancy dress costumes. The music is just at the right level and I am keeping an ear out for French/Spanish songs but having no luck with the exception of Manu Chao’s Me Gustas Tú, a song that always takes me to a happy place.
Meanwhile, the blind date is progressing very well. By the time we’ve finished the second dish, we are making plans for the next date, and the only texting under the table involves tweets of praise about the food and drink we are enjoying.
Valdespino Pedro Ximinez NV
We kick off dessert with a toast of Valdespino Pedro Ximinez NV. Pedro and I have had a secret thing going on since we became acquainted on a business trip to Melbourne. We choose our desserts but unlike the previous dishes, neither one of us is willing to share. At first.
Stuffed cigars with toffee apple foam and burnt orange
My choice of stuffed cigars with toffee apple foam and burnt orange hits the right spot – light in texture and packing a lot of flavour with a plate-licking orange sauce.
Emmilou’s churros with chocolate sauce
The lovely @kls__ can’t decide if she is more excited about her churros or that the delectable chocolate sauce comes with a little spoon. She offers me a little taste, and it is rude to say no to good chocolate on a first date.
Lime cheese cake with calle 23 silver tequila jelly
Not being one who likes to share his desserts, Mr G kindly offers each of us a taste of the tequila jelly of the lime cheese cake. I can’t vouch for this Emmilou classic dessert, but when it comes to the tequila jelly, I would like a little spoon.
Queso manchego with fresh muscatel grapes and cherry syrup
We’re told that it’s the first time Queso manchego with fresh muscatel grapes and cherry syrup has worn a birthday candle. For @daraghmcg, it is time to make a wish and smile for my camera.
Red wine poached pear, pistachios and almond ice cream
The Red wine poached pear, pistachios and almond ice cream is a new dessert on the menu, one that is shared among us. The pears are served cold and pack a little crunch. The almond ice cream is creamy and subtle in flavour which doesn’t overpower the pears.
Sazerac Rye Whiskey – (L) Bourbon in a Skirt (R) Grappaccino
A couple of Sazerac Rye Whiskeys are in order for the men while the girls leave the choice of after dinner cocktails to Zach, the Bar Manager. Bourbon in a Skirt is a chamomile-infused Wild Turkey Rare Breed Bourbon with lemon butter, lemon juice and Mandarin Napoleon Brandy. The Bourbon is well balanced with the citrus and brandy and does not overpower the cocktail.
My Grappaccino is served with a disclaimer from the bar, “We won’t be offended if you can’t finish it” which sounds like a challenge for this dry Martini imbiber. Made with grappa, creme de cacao, white vermouth, sherry and coconut foam, it delivers a strong a strong alcoholic kick with after notes of coconut. A challenge I am proud to have met with ease, and a cocktail I hope to see on the regular menu.
The sign of a successful night is when you’re among the last to leave. Chris joins us for a chat and meets our friends, a welcome gesture that reminds me of what is often done in Europe. He hints at the new menu design and when I ask him if there will be nudity on it, he offers a vague statement, “Emmilou management refuses to acknowledge the lack of nudity in or around its premises at any point in time”. In return, I volunteer my services to ensure that a high male hottie factor will make it on any future menu.
Emmilou Tapas Bar challenges any preconceived ideas one may have on tapas. The dishes are well executed and presented. Served sequentially and not all at once, they can be enjoyed at their optimum. Much like a degustation, the pacing and order is impeccable, building on flavour and ingredients. Service is cheerful and friendly, designed to make you relax and enjoy the overall experience.
With creative cocktails, delicious food and wine, a fun and sophisticated ambience and the company of good friends, Sydney nights can’t get better than that.
Emmilou Tapas Bar
413 Bourke Street
Surry Hills Sydney NSW 2010
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