Tucked away on a small street off busy Parramatta Road lies the unassuming Restaurant Blancmange, former site of Manna. It's so discreet that I'm struck by the lack of on-street signage, a cursive script above the door providing the only indication a restaurant lies behind the striped blue canopies and sheer white curtains.
And so it's the little details in this restaurant that impress me most. The tiny handpainted cups that hold the salt flakes for each table are pretty, whimsical and functional too. Personal and quirky touches resonate throughout the evening, from the domino that gets deposited on our table (it signifies to floorstaff that the table is having dessert) to the ornate saucer that holds our tea and coffee sugars, to the random chess piece that accompanies our bill at the end of the evening.
But back to the start of our meal, we unwind in the small dining room, crisp white linen on each table, the sounds of traffic a world away. Large windows look onto the local park; at the other end is the bar surrounded by wine bottles, a corridor to the bathroom offering a tantalising glimpse of the still-quiet kitchen.
The menu here is printed daily on buff coloured sheets pinned to a clipboard. We are told the menu changes daily, although significant alterations happen about every three weeks. For a rotating menu, the list of options is nothing but comprehensive. We count six entrees, four mains, three specials, five desserts and two different cheeses. Vegetarians have a choice of three entrees and one special. None of us can resist the allure of three courses for $50 (excludes daily specials).
We enjoy complimentary crusty sourdough bread, so good we don't hesitate to agree when offered another serve. It doesn't take long for our entrees to arrive.
Chicken liver parfait with pinot noir jelly, cornichons, onion jam and toast $16
I order the chicken liver parfait, a feast of textures and flavours that is simply divine. A china cup holds the chicken liver parfait, protected by a crimson lake of firm pinot noir jelly.
The parfait is sweet and creamy, delicious on crunchy slices of toasted sourdough, that marry well with the slivers of caramelised balsamic onion and vinegary cornichons.
Quail, witlof and grape salad with roast duck filo cigars and hazelnut dressing $16
The petite slices of quail breast are a blushing pink, tender and delicate in an intricate salad of witlof leaves, grapes and baby cress. Roast duck filo cigars are a rich man's spring roll.
Crisp polenta with zucchini fritters, chickpea puree, tomato and olive salad $16
Twice baked cheese and herb souffle $16
I also manage to taste the twice-baked cheese and herb souffle, its creamy richness making for perfect comfort dining with every molten spoonful.
Roasted Berkshire pork belly $28
with baked onion with pork and sage stuffing, Dutch carrots and currants
For mains I found it hard to go past the roasted Berkshire pork belly. The fat-ribboned pork is meltingly soft and tender, its brittle roof of salted crackling carefully set aside of savouring until last. I'm not a big fan of the onions filled with pork and sage stuffing, but I do think the currants work well with the pork.
Black Angus rump steak with wild garlic and parsley sauce $28
served with shoestring chips
I switch meals halfway with Veruca Salt, a deal struck when neither of us could decide between the pork belly and the steak. Whilst the Black Angus rump steak looks promising enough--its interior a glorious pink of medium rare well-rested perfection--the taste doesn't quite follow through, a little dry in parts that probably isn't helped by the thick veneer of black charring on one side.
Poached organic chicken breast and seared Queensland scallops $28
with spring vegetables, white bean broth and salsa verde
The poached chicken breast with scallop is a simple dish with natural flavours, although some think the flavours are a little too muted.
Broccoli and green beans with herb butter $7
Shoestring chips $7
Meringue and creme fraiche roulade with tropical fruits $12
And finally, dessert. The meringue roulade is rolled with a dollop of tangy creme fraiche but even the addition of fresh pineapple doesn't halt the cloying sweetness of this dish overall. I can't help hankering for some tart berries to counter the sweetness, a dash of red or green would also help the dish visually as well.
Strawberry and white chocolate ice cream terrine with blood orange $12
Chocolate and banana cream pie with caramel ripple ice cream $12
I cleverly manage to swap half my meringue roulade for a portion of the chocolate and banana cream pie, a dish which was mis-named in my opinion for I would've ordered this in a flash otherwise. Like a chocolatey version of my favourite banoffee pie, I loved the crisp chocolate biscuit shell, the creamy slices of banana and the sweet puddle of caramel ice cream. The chocolate sauce was perhaps a little excessive, and by the time I'd finished my half-portion I was almost glad there was no more, its richness already about to push me over the edge.
Vanilla creamed rice with poached apricots and pistachio biscotti $12
Fourme d'Ambert, cows milk blue cheese (50grams) $12
served with fruit and poppy seed loaf, quince paste and pear
I was also impressed by the cheese plate, a generous portion of Fourme d'Ambert blue cheese alongside toasted fruit bread, wafer crispbread, pears and grapes and a square of the stickiest quince paste I've ever seen.
A minor quibble: we got hit with a standard 10% group service charge even though we were split over two smaller tables (six and four). Each table was treated separately, with different waiters, separate meal arrival times and separate bills.
The room did get a little noisy when the dining room was full. Otherwise the service was excellent: attentive and thoughtful.
1 Station Street, Petersham, Sydney
Open Tuesday to Saturday 6pm-11pm
BYO wine only Tuesday to Thursday
Corkage $3.50 per person
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11/24/2008 12:45:00 a.m.