Category Archives: French

French with friends @ Ananas Bar & Brasserie

I was having lunch a friend on afternoon and as we were saying goodbye, her eyes became a bit shifty.

“Hey, so, what are the restaurants at the top of your list that you haven’t had a chance to try yet?”

“Umm… I’ve wanted to check out this place called Ananas for a while…Why do you ask?”

“Oh, just because, you know, looking for somewhere nice to take my boyfriend and I want to eat there first before you do *nervous laugh* Okay, SEEYA!”

Didn’t fool me for a second. That was the most un-smooth attempt at “Let me sneakily find out where you want to eat so I can take you there as a surprise” anyone’s ever tried on me.

But who’s complaining? The important thing was that someone was going to treat me to a meal at a restaurant at the top of my to-eat list. Whether you reveal the venue or blindfold me and make me guess where I am by the smell – either way, I’m happy.

So, as I guessed, our friends booked a dinner for four at Ananas as a lovely farewell gift for me and Matt, before we flew off to Korea.

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“Ananas” is French for “Pineapple”. Pineapples don’t seem very French… but this French bistro is certainly very… pineapple.

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Props to the interior designer who must have had to scour the earth for these elegant pineapple-themed ornamentations. While the concept sounds more suited to a Tiki Lounge, the restaurant is actually a beautiful combination of heritage Sydney and art deco Paris. It’s an expansive space of exposed brick with separate bar and dining rooms – the latter furnished with intimate booth seats and mural-sized nude paintings that might make the more prudish diner a little bit uncomfortable.

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My friends and I were seated, and the waiter came by to ask us about water.

“Still or sparkling?”

“Um, still please!” my friend answered cheerily, before I had a chance to interject.

“What? Sorry, have I misjudged you? Because I didn’t think I was friends with the type of people who would happily pay $9 for a bottle of water imported from Italy when we live in a country with some of the cleanest tap water in the world? Or was that just a rookie mistake? Okay, let me show you how it’s done. When a waiter asks the “still or sparkling” question you never reply with either “still” or “sparkling”, you take the silent option (c) and say “Tap water’s fine thanks!” and then flick you hair and act cool because tap water IS fine, thankyouverymuch”.

Of course I said all this after the waiter had left, because I may be shameless enough to answer “tap” when that option isn’t even presented to me, but I’m not shameless enough to change an order from “still” to “tap”.

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And then, as if he hadn’t even noticed the very important moment we just had about the water, our friend burst out “GUYS, can you believe how good looking our waiter is?!”

I guess as Koreans we’re more used to middle-aged aunties waiting our tables, not bronzed model-esque frenchmen whose shirts look like they’ve been spray-painted on.

I took a sneaky photo, but meh, I’ve seen better.

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We started the evening with two super-French entrees.

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Escargot with garlic sauce ($18). The bed of foam is pure salt – we learnt this the hard way.

Honestly, the only reason I ever order escargot is for the novelty value. I’m not even sure what they actually taste like because they’re always so drowned in garlic butter. You could probably cook a wad of chewed gum in garlic butter and it would taste the same.

But you know, Snails! In shells! On a plate! With special tongs!

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The chefs selection of house made charcuterie, brioche ($22) was not as substantial as we hoped… it took us about two whole seconds to clean that plate.

When choosing mains, we convinced our skeptical red-meat loving friends to go for the fish dishes. If there’s one thing we’ve learnt from our French dining experiences, its that fish beats all other land-dwelling creatures. You have to be delicate when cooking fish, and no one is more delicate than the French.

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Snapper with blue swimmer crab & squid risotto ($35) – this sounded amazing on paper, but our friend was a bit underwhelmed by the portion size and flavour.

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Whole flounder with lemon caper butter and pommes purée ($37) – one of Ananas’ signature dishes and definitely the most delicious thing on our table that evening.

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I chose the lobster ravioli with confit tomato and bisque $33. I’m not really a huge fan of shellfish but there’s something about lobster on a menu that draws me – maybe it’s just the cliche of lobster being the most expensive, luxurious thing you can order at a restaurant. This was pleasant, but the flavours were a bit too mild for my liking, so I just kept stealing forkfuls of my friend’s flounder.

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Matt chose (well… I chose for him) the navarin of braised lamb shoulder, roasted breast and gremolata crumbed brain ($34) – another signature dish. A classic country-style stew, complete with crumbed offal. This was the first time we’ve tried brain… and will probably be the last. I feel like the brain is one of those organs that God never intended to be eaten… along with eyeballs and the pancreas.

We had a lot of fun at Ananas – but I think that had more to do with the company, the cute waiter and unwanted bottle of still water than the food. The food was great, but I there are definitely French bistro-style restaurants in Sydney that are just as good but much less expensive. I suppose what you’re also paying for is the experience of dining in the Argyle with the trendy upper-crust of Sydney. And admission to the museum of pineapple art.

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Ananas Bar & Brasserie
18 Argyle St 
The Rocks NSW
Ananas Bar & Brasserie on Urbanspoon

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Frenching @ Cafe Nice

I am a huge fan of the Fratelli Fresh group. If I was pressed to name my favourite restaurant in Sydney… I might even say Cafe Sopra. I love the Italian gourmet grocer + wine bar concept. It’s where I had my first date with banoffee pie. The meatballs are the best I’ve ever eaten and the caprese salad is without equal. From the bottle of chilli oil on each table to the $3.50 house white on the wine menu, there are so many things that I love about it.

So when I heard that the Fratelli Fresh team was branching out into French food with new venture Cafe Nice, I couldn’t wait to try it. Especially because it’s only one block away from my office – we all know how excited I get about convenience!

But after I read some bad reviews (interior styled like a McDonalds or a cafeteria, food no-where near as consistent or high-quality as Sopra), it quickly moved down my list until I had almost forgotten it existed. I was only reminded when I was looking for a nice place to eat dinner during a Sydney CBD “staycation” my husband and I organised. We had a room booked at the Sofitel Wentworth and wanted to eat somewhere that didn’t defeat the purpose of being able to walk home from the office.

Cafe Nice was the perfect choice. If our relationship had a “food theme” it would be French cuisine. Our first fine dining experience was at the Manu Fieldel headed Bilson’s, our honeymoon started in gay Paree and over the years, in the same way we have grown to know and love each other, we have also grown to know and love cheese, butter, wine, truffles, crusty baguettes, charcuterie, foie gras, rillettes and cornichons.

Unlike Sopra, Cafe Nice (“Neece”) takes bookings, which I really appreciate. Even if it’s midweek and you’re confident that you’ll get a table, the ability to make a booking just makes you feel so much more at ease.

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The entrance is marked by a striped awning and a bright pink neon sign – which could be perceived as a bit daggy, but to me it says “Hi, we’re a French restaurant that doesn’t take itself too seriously.”

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The inside is light, friendly and simple. I kind of get the “McDonalds” comment, with the cushioned diner stools and tiled floor – but I dug it. Like Cafe Sopra, it strikes a nice balance between casual dining and being just a little bit posh.

The windows face towards Circular Quay station and the Harbour Bridge – but the view is entirely obscured by massive pot plants. Because we wouldn’t want a view of Sydney harbour the ruin the illusion of dining in a Parisian cafe!

(Apologies for the crappy iPhone photos – lighting was not ideal)

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Our wines came in glass with “Cafe Nice” printed on the glass in Curlz MT. So classy.

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We took a look at the menu and told the waitress, “Just give us the three frenchiest, fattiest, most buttery things on here!”

(Okay, not actually true, but we could have – looking at what we ended up ordering, the results would have been the same)

We started with, of course, the pâté. How could we not?

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A massive slab of creamy pâté de foie gras (or de canard… can’t remember) with toasted bread and cornichons. You might be thinking “That is a crapload of pate”. Yes it is. But we cleaned it up. With the assistance of a toasted bread re-fill. YOLO self control.

All the mains on the menu here comes with a “w Truffle” option at an additional $15 per dish. We didn’t feel like splurging so we ordered w/o Truffle, but the option is there for all you high-rollers.

I chose the Duck Confit (with cabbage, chestnuts and quince – $29) which, as classic as it is, I’ve never tried before. It was cooked beautifully, unbelievably rich in a way that only French food can be and falling off the bone.

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Matt ordered the pan fried whole rainbow trout with toasted almonds ($26).

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It comes swimming in a pool of herby butter soup. The French sure know how to cook a fish – I took one bite of the perfect pink flesh, with some crispy skin and toasty almond and kindly asked Matt if we could swap mains.

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Killed it. Wait, what’s that fourth bowl? Oh yeah, we ordered a side of pommes frites! Just to balance out the meal, you know?

After that healthy dose of salt and butter, we needed a sugar hit. Actually ‘need’ is the wrong word – what we really needed was to get our arses to the gym and put ourselves on a low-fat low-sodium low-carb vegan diet for at least a month to let our bodies recover from this meal. But what we wanted was a lemon donut with passionfruit caramel and vanilla ice cream.

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M: “Can we get something a bit… refreshing and not too sweet for dessert?”

H: “What about this?”

M: “Uh, that’s a donut.”

H: “Yes, but it’s a lemon donut.”

See my logic? Anyway, it was delicious.

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At Cafe Sopra, you can get away with sharing a pizza, a salad and a cheap wine and leaving with a split bill of less than $20 each. This won’t happen at Cafe Nice – with mains ranging from $26-$39 (excl. truffle), but this is still pretty reasonable when you consider the other French offerings in the CBD. I was quite fond of Tony Bilson’s now defunct Number One Wine Bar at Circular Quay, so this is a very welcome addition to the uptown CBD food scene. Need to try the roast chicken for two next time – maybe I’ll even splash out and add truffle!

Cafe Nice
2 Phillip St 
Sydney, NSW 2000
Cafe Nice on Urbanspoon

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Best Date Ever at Guillaume at Bennelong

This story starts in August 2012.

My bestie Sarah treated me to Rockpool on George for my birthday. She insisted on taking me there, even though I insisted it was too much. I knew how much the a la carte would be at Rockpool, and I was worried that she was spending too much on me.

Not for her sake, for my own.  As much as I wanted to spoil her too, as a newlywed and a mortgagor, I knew it was going to be a struggle to maintain the standard for her birthday.

But the night ended up being so wonderful, and even finished with a complimentary birthday chocolate cake with a spun sugar candle. Overwhelmed with happiness and love, I made a somewhat foolish promise “I don’t care what you say, I’m taking you to QUAY next year!

I’ve heard that you have to book Quay 6 months in advance, but for some odd reason, I figured that was an out-dated timeframe from like 10 years ago. I mean, this is Sydney, not New York, as if you would ever need to book any restaurant (even Quay) more than a month in advance. In fact, I’ve never made a booking, even with a 3-hatter, more than 2 weeks in advance.

I let the time pass and at the beginning of  May, about a month before Sarah’s birthday I was casually browsing the Quay website which told me that “Our next available booking for 2 or 4 on a Friday or Saturday evening is in November 2013

Best friend FAIL. I felt terrible. Where else could I possibly book that would even compare to Quay in terms of food, location… and just, that unmatchable “I’m dining at Quay” experience?

After researching every 3 and 2 hatted restaurant in Sydney I finally decided on Guillaume. A French restaurant with harbour views in the country’s most iconic landmark – it is the classic Sydney fine dining experience. Quay may have great views of the Opera House, but we’d be eating under the sails, which I thought was a pretty decent consolation.

A few weeks after I made the booking, I realised that Vivid Festival would be happening at the same time which meant we’d be dining inside the main attraction with a great view of the harbour lights. I texted Sarah: “Just letting you know. Saturday may be the greatest date anyone ever takes you on“.  Clearly, I was feeling pretty confident.

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I managed to keep the venue a secret from Sarah and just led drove her into the city and walked her all the way across Circular Quay into the Opera House. When she realised there was only one place we could going, she burst into tears of happiness. Well, not actually, but I’m sure she wanted to.

I said: “See? Who needs a boyfriend or a husband or a French lover when you have me?

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Bennelong is truly impressive – we were seated at one of the white tables lined against the long window with panoramic views of the harbour and city lights (and tourists on the Opera House steps who stare at diners like we’re zoo animals). Overhead are lofty bows of concrete meeting at a peak that makes the place seem almost cathedral-like.

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The Vivid lights on the sails in the background created a pretty stained-glass effect on the window.

I can’t imagine this sacred site being occupied by a restaurant any less fine than Guillaume – but sadly it looks like a bistro or bar might move in now that the venue has gone out to public tender.

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We arrived at 5:30pm for the pre-theatre menu and enjoyed our warm sourdough bread in a near-empty restaurant.

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I chose the Frenchiest entree – the steak tartare with pommes gaufrettes.

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My first time trying steak tartare – I’ve never ordered it because I always thought the texture of raw beef would be hard to stomach after a few bites. But it was completely different to what I expected – it didn’t have a big golden egg-yolk in the middle but it was really well seasoned with strong acidic and sweet flavours which soaked through the beef and made it very easy to eat. And the pommes gaufrettes! The fanciest potato chips I will ever eat.

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Sarah chose the beautiful local rockfish soup with mussels, crab, scallop, croutons and saffron aioli.

The evening was going really well. We were sipping on wine, enjoying our entrees and happily chatting about Sarah’s recent adventures in Europe.

Then, the lady sitting at the table next to us leaned over, tapped Sarah on the arm and said:

Darling,

(like starting with “darling” makes what you’re about to say totally fine and acceptable)

I can hear every word you’re saying and I do not want to hear every word you’re saying

And then felt the following emotions, all at once.

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This made me so angry.

Since WHEN is it okay to ask fellow diners to “keep it down”?! I totally accept that there are certain limited contexts in life where you have are entitled to quiet – eg. a library or when a baby is sleeping in the same room.  I also understand there are places where you may not be entitled to quiet, but  get annoyed when people are really loud – eg. public transport or in the office. But a restaurant is an inherently social setting. Even the fanciest of restaurants. There is no such thing as a right to quiet in a restaurant.

And I’ll be the first to admit that I can have issues with volume control, but I swear hand-on-heart say that we were definitely not being obnoxiously loud. At most, our volume was “lively and conversational”. The restaurant was very quiet given that it was early in the evening, and I get that it may be annoying to unintentionally over-hear the conversation of neighbouring diners, but does that mean we need to adjust our speaking volume to a whisper?

I have SCOURED the internet for rules on restaurant etiquette and there is NOTHING out there about keeping your voice down. In fact, the behaviour that is problematic here is interrupting someone else’s dinner to tell them to be quiet. I mean, did she think we just ducked into Guillaume to get out of the rainy weather? We’re two young girls at an expensive restaurant, it was obviously a special occasion. I did not appreciate her “shushing” my friend whose birthday, graduation, return from overseas AND new job we were celebrating, making us both feel embarrassed and uncomfortable. Why put an ugly stain on an otherwise perfect night? That is the very definition of NOT COOL.

End of rant. I wanted to get that out of my system because on the night we just brushed it off, and tried not to let it affect our evening.

BACK TO THE FOOD.

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My beef with potato galette. The beef was juicy and generous, but the highlight was the perfectly crispy and wafer thin galette.

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Deboned Pyrenees lam rack with parsnip, spinach and black olives. Lamb is rarely my meat of choice but I took one bit of this and liked it better than my beef. Just perfectly, perfectly cooked.

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And Guillaume’s famous Parish mash. Let’s not even think about how much butter is in this.

The portion sizes were surprisingly large, so at this point our stomaches were exploding. Times like these you’re especially thankful for being born with a separate dessert stomach.

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Vanilla bean creme brulee with passionfruit sorbet. Low-risk choice for a French restaurant right?

Apparently not. When it came out ramekin-free on a plate, I knew this wasn’t going to end well. Lots of creme, not enough brulee. There was no glassy layer of hard toffee to crack – which is kind of unacceptable for a restaurant of this calibre. I mean no one orders creme brulee because they just want to eat a pot of custard – they order it because they want to get their spoon and shatter that crunchy brunt caramel. And the tartness of the passionfruit mousse and sorbet overpowered, rather than counterbalanced, the supersweet custard.

Disappointing. But then, all was redeemed.

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Nougat Glace with peanuts, caramel ice cream, banana. Easily the hero dish of the evening. This was Sarah’s dessert choice but I decided for her that it was too amazing to not share with me.

One of the most perfect desserts I’ve ever eaten. On the surface, it’s just two types of ice cream and a grilled banana on a plate – the genius of it all isn’t revealed until you taste it. Once you’ve dug your spoon in a few times, you realise that this dish brings together some of the greatest flavour/texture combinations of the dessert world:

1. Banana + ice cream (eg. banana split, banana smoothie, banana-topped froyo)
2. Salt + caramel (eg. salted caramel, probably the biggest flavour sensation of the last decade)
3. Peanuts + nougat  (eg. Snickers bar)

I also discovered the loveliness of nougat glace, which is a French frozen mousse made from meringue and whipped cream – it has a much softer, fluffier texture than ice cream and can be made without an ice-cream maker! Which means, when I’m feeling particularly ambitious, I could give it a go at home.

The three-course pre-theatre menu at Guillaume is a very reasonable $89. But there are no trimmings here – no amuse bouche, no palate cleanser, no petite fours. Service is polite and efficient, but I did get the impression that they saw pre-theatre diners as very low priority. No friendly French waiter telling us his name and that he would be taking care of us that evening, plates were simply placed on the table without explanation and though we knew we had to vacate by 7:45pm, we started getting very clear vibes that they wanted us to clear out from about a quarter past.

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But in such a beautiful setting, service (or lack thereof) doesn’t really matter much. The only thing that could have made the night more perfect was if we were able to meet Mr Brahimi himself. I actually thought we’d bump into him somehow – as if celebrity chefs hang out with front of house at their restaurants to sign autographs and take photos with food nerds. Yeah, apparently that doesn’t happen in real life.

And to finish, some photos of pretty lights.

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Guillaume at Bennelong 
Sydney Opera House
Bennelong Point
Sydney NSW 2000
Guillaume at Bennelong on Urbanspoon

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