One of my housemates works at this restaurant near where we live which is related to Balzac, a 2 hat diner in Randwick in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs. So we thought we have a go and tonight was the night. I have to say I wasn’t particularly dying to eat there. I had this image of a slightly prim and proper, not necessarily stuffy but classically designed restaurant and I was more or less on the money.

Upon arriving at our destination, I realized I’d been there before, well nearby at least at this Chinese joint 2 doors down. That happened to be a decent meal but we came for some pricey Euro/French instead. The head chef, Matthew Kemp, used to work at Banc, which is place synonymous with Sydney’s fine dining scene back around the turn of the century. Chefs that’ve worked there have started pretty good places or work as head chefs for very good places. Like Justin North at Becasse, Warren Turnbull at Assiette or Colin Fassnidge at Four In Hand, all really really good restaurants. So like I said before, I was sorta expecting Assiette, just as refined and clean and precise and classic.

We opt for the a la carte selection, 3 courses and a bottle of pinot noir to wash things down. Here’s what we selected, the last options were mine.

Entrees

Risotto of House Smoked Blue Eye w Creme Fraiche, Chives & Poached Egg. Clean, simple and light. It was a refreshing entree, rice al dente. The smoked fish lent a slight flavor but was a touch tough.

Braised Shoulder of Venison ‘Bourguignonne’ w Chestnuts & Handcut Noodles. This was good overall. I thought the venison would have a stronger flavor but it was tender without being really gamey. Which to me, isn’t what I’d want/expect. I’m also not really the kind of person who would put a braise on an entree because I tend to prefer a light > heavy progression. A venison braise just seems strange to me. It was really good but I’m just questioning why it couldn’t be elevated to a main instead, where I might even come close to raving about it. Lovely sweet chestnuts gave this dish the interest it needed. The handcut noodles were also dried and super thin and flaky so texturally, it wasn’t boring.

Terrine of Rabbit, Quail & Foie Gras w Spiced Red Cabbage, Pickled Mushrooms & Truffle Bread. On paper, this sounded awesome to me. Rabbit, duck liver, mushrooms, truffle bread… However, on tongue, it was a thorough disappointment. Foie gras was overcooked and had a slightly tough outer edge. The rest of the terrine was lovely, good flavor and tender, flaked apart easily etc etc but wasn’t spectacular. That’s probably because as nice as the spiced cabbage or the bread was (didn’t get much truffle if at all, some scent), nothing made the terrine better than it could be. Which was good but not great.

Mains

Breast of Junee Lamb with Courgette Flowers, Truss Tomatoes and Basil. Really good. Braised lamb, fall apart flaky tender, good combo flavor and it came with sweetbreads. So it won.

Duck and Pigs Trotter Pie with Foie Gras and Glazed Parsnips. By the time I munched into a small bite of pastry, I forgot all the foibles of the entrees and settled into my dinner well and truly. This pie sat on a puree of parsnips and it looked awesome. Super brilliant color and the pastry was the highlight for me. Really nice and thin, well rolled out and cooked till it flaked apart. I think I’ve said flaked like 15 times by now but that’s really the word that cements the idea of texture here at Balzac. The stew inside was hella good too.

Pasture Fed Black Angus Sirloin with Bone Marrow and Slippery Jack Mushrooms. My main course stole the show though. It arrived on 2 plates. The vegetables cooked simply and placed in a copper pot with a small jug of red wine jus to go with proceedings. The main star of the show however, wasn’t the beef. It was the marrow, front and centre. The beef was uniformly tender, decent if unspectacular. I could do the same, the meat wasn’t particularly amazing. The roast potatoes on the side were nice, with a slightly crisp skin and all but the marrow oozed succulence and came nicely sawed into halves that were fulfilling to say the least. Another highlight were the mushrooms, which had a beautifully synonymous texture. Really good.

Confidence imbued from very substantial mains, we moved onto desserts. This one is one I never order. Bread & Butter Pudding w Pain d’Epice Ice Cream. Heavy and sludgy is typical of this beast. Luckily, I was to be denied my malevolence toward the humble B&BP. This baby had a slightly burnt exterior which gave it just a tinge of bitter but moreso, a crispy bite and crunch to the edges. The insides weren’t particularly heavy so it was nice. I still think B&BP is the most boring dessert ever.

Spiced Crème Brulée Tart with New Season Ginger and Rhubarb. Combo wise, this wasn’t a winner in our eyes. A soury, bright but not quite zingy sorbet was dreamily pink but seemed out of place against the brulee, which was nice and slurpy, not quite set and runny. Still nice overall.

Pot Roasted Figs with Cinnamon Doughnuts and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. I had another winner and for once, it wasn’t because of the figs. In fact, they were extremely blah. However, the doughnuts were great. Nice, slightly crispy outside giving way to a yeasty, fluff interior.

Overall, the experience at Balzac was a good one. It started out kinda ok and all that but when the mains came, things really started going. Desserts were good if unspectacular. I think my minimum bar for good food is now at a reasonably high level because a 2 hat restaurant seems pretty pedestrian to me right now. The food and the experience itself was really good but it also probably wasn’t meant for me. If I were in my 40s or more, this would be great. I’m still! not quite 30! so this is good instead. I suppose I prefer a little more interest on a menu, as opposed to well executed but boringish flavors.

The menu itself is also a touch rustic in some ways. There’s a good bit of slow cooking, there’s not too much attention to extraneous garnishes and high tech trickery. It’s just really good classic French style cooking presented and tabled really well.

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