We had just crested a hill, and the spectacular view of Middle Harbour loomed unexpectedly ahead, a shimmering stretch of crystal blue water meeting the horizon in the distance.
We were treating ourselves to a Christmas break lunch at The Bathers' Pavilion, and boy was I excited. Ever since that first bite of Serge's berry tart at the Sydney Food & Wine Fair, I'd been keen to try more at this one-hatted restaurant.
Serge Dansereau famously left the Regent's Kables restaurant in 1999 to become a partner and Chef at Bathers'. During his 16-year stint at Kables, Dansereau was awarded Chef of the Year by the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide in 1989, and in 1990 Kables was elevated to three hat status.
Today Dansereau is now the sole owner and Executive Chef at Bathers', which only impresses me more when I see him cheerfully serving tarts to the masses for charity.
Salted and unsalted butters
Our weekday lunch begins with a basket of bread rolls, throughtfully accompanied by both salted and unsalted butters. The bread is super fresh, all crunchy chewy exterior with soft fluffy insides; the butter is creamy and at perfect spreading temperature.
2004 Antonelli Grechetto Colli Martani (Umbria, Italy) $13.00
Our wines arrive shortly afterwards. I've chosen the Antonelli Grechetto Colli Martani which is dry and fruity. There are also glasses of sparkling Louis Roederer Brut Premier (Reims, France, $22.00) and 1999 Bimbedgen Estate Semillon (Hunter Valley, NSW, $16.00) supped throughout our meal.
Chilled oysters in their juices
gazpacho jelly, beetroot and salmon roe salad
I rarely order oysters a la carte, thinking that I could quite happily make a trip to the fish markets myself, but a taste of Divedude's oysters make me rethink this mantra. The oysters glisten like precious jewels, seductively swollen and plump, almost lumiscent with their sheen. They taste of heaven: briney, faintly creamy and subtlely sweet, with the intensity that only comes from oysters that have been freshly shucked.
Moreton Bay Bug with coconut shellfish bisque,
ginger dumpling, wilted Asian green and sprout
Divegirl orders the Moreton Bay Bug which is poured over with the bisque at the table. The soup is rich, creamy and spicy--much like a laksa--which I think overwhelms the delicate sweetness of the bug flesh a little.
Seared fillet of rouget with a prawn ratatouille,
eggplant caviar and black olive jus
I have the rouget, or red mullet, which is delightfully crisp on the outside, moist and tender within. Scattered prawn morsels are a little firm but tasty, the eggplant caviar's earthiness enhanced by the sticky black olive jus.
Snapper fillet with bug and oregano zucchini,
steamed garlic gnocchi and basil sauce
Divegirl has the snapper fillet which is cooked to fork-flaking perfection, resting atop a tumble of baby gnocchi, micro greens and a shallow puddle of basil sauce. Two halves of a zucchini flower are soft, delicate and sweet.
Blue eye cod with shellfish, lentil and lardons,
vongole, mussels, calamari and scallop
Divedude has the blue eye cod which is generously surrounded by a treasure trove of the sea. Vongole, musssels, calamari, octopus and a virginal white scallop provide a star-studded support cast to the golden-seared cod. A bed of Puy green lentils are deliciously firm and slightly peppery, surprisingly addictive as I find my fork hovering closely again.
Seared venison loin with wild mushrooms,
veal sweetbread, pomme Anna and porcini cream
I have the seared venison which is rare, rested and unbelievably silky soft. Porcini cream is poured over my dish at the table, enrobing itself over the little mounds of sauteed mushrooms and fried sweetbreads. The wild mushrooms taste as though they had been freshly picked from a forest that morning: incredibly flavoursome, swoongingly fragrant and almost meaty in texture. The sweetbreads are delicious too, dusted with flour and deep-fried to a crunchy exterior.
Macerated red fruit with panna cotta cream,
pistachio financier with lemon curd ice cream
We labour over the dessert menu and agree to share amongst us. The panna cotta is cleverly encased by a pastry shell, which is thin, crisp and faintly sweet. The panna cotta is smooth, silky and delicately set, a crown of berries add fruity sweetness.
It's the pistachio financier that wins me over though: an exquisite layering of rich nutty pistachio, a plank of light lemon curd ice cream, and topped with a crisp buttery biscuit that tastes of honey.
Brulee of lemon cream with raspberry
and raspberry sorbet
The decadence of the creme brulee is wonderfully undercut by the sharpness of lemon, the entire dessert carefully unmoulded into a scarlet lake of coulis that tastes of real raspberries. A petite scoop of raspberry sorbet rests on a mere curl of biscuit, with a circle of fresh raspberries perching beneath.
This is surprisingly light, a summery brulee ripe with berries and the requisite disc of brittle toffee of course.
Menage a troie de chocolates Valhrona
with vanilla Anglaise
We conclude with the Menage a troie de chocolates Valhrona, a trio of ectasy for the raving chocoholic. A rich finger of chocolate fondant, a slice of enrobed chocolate mousse and a small pot of gooey chocolate pudding push us all over the edge. We managed to finish this between three of us, but I wonder whether anyone could eat this entire platter on their own.
Coffee with petit fours $6.50
Our coffees were robust with flavour and, more importantly, hot. Accompanying petit fours were extremely generous, to the point where we almost regretted ordering dessert.
Petit fours (for three)
With an allocation of three petit fours per person, we were forced to admit defeat with a few remnants remaining. Divedude enjoyed the sticky orange friand, but I preferred the mini lemon meringue pies and the chocolate slice with almonds.
A fabulous meal, even though I was constantly intent on sneaking glimpses into the gleaming kitchen. All this could be resolved with a seat at the chef's table of course. Forget the ocean, how would that be for a view!
The Bathers' Pavilion
4 The Esplanade, Balmoral Beach, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9969 5050
Two courses $80
Three courses $95
Coffee or tea with petit four $6.50
Dinners and weekend price are slightly higher. Please contact the restaurant directly to confirm.
Breakfast: Sundays only from 9am
Lunch: Monday to Sunday from midday
Dinner: Monday to Sunday from 6.30pm
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1/07/2007 11:18:00 p.m.