Restaurant Hubert. Everyone's Instagramming it. Chef Dan Pepperell's follow-up gig to 10 William Street seemed to have gotten the thumbs up from everyone within its first days of opening. Could it really be as good as everyone said it was? We arrive with high expectations, surprised by the very plain entry door on the street. There's a brief moment before we push it open gently. And you know what? We're immediately entranced as we step through.
Vintage miniature spirit bottles, some dating from the 1920s
The only illumination in the darkened entryway comes from a few wall lamps, but our eyes are immediately drawn to the display filled with miniature spirit bottles. There must be about a thousand of them, all different, and covered in a thin layer of dust.
Descending the spiral staircase to Restaurant Hubert
Display cabinets filled with miniature spirit bottles
Down the stairs on the right is Bar Pincer, serving a bar menu that includes the Normandy burger and steak frites. The bar menu is also available in the adjoining Chester Lounge with curved leather booths.
Drinks ready to go at Bar Pincer
Down the stairs on the left is the main Beatrix Dining Room facing onto Bar Normandy. Both areas offer the formal dining menu. The booth seats for couples opposite the bar are definitely ones to seek out for a Friday night out. They are super cosy.
Diners in the Beatrix Dining Room
The folks behind Hubert is the Swillhouse Group, the same people behind Frankie's Pizza, Baxter Inn and Shady Pines. The heavy timber, imposing archways, balcony overhead and intricate details everywhere would suggest this space was unearthed from a just-opened time capsule. Except it's not. This spot used to house the very 1980s Celestial Chinese Restaurant that included mini pagodas, a red carpeted bridge and a pond with live carp that are said to have been living there for the fifteen years the restaurant had been open.
Mr Creosote Stage with the baby grand piano
There's no natural light down here but that only exemplifies the moody French post-war dining experience that the owners hoped to create. Noone's playing the baby grand tonight but a steady stream of 1940s jazz and the tinkling of wine glasses by candlelight is all the music we need.
Terrine du Jour $18
Pork and pistachio terrine with marinated prunes
The sharing menu runs from snacks to larger style mains. We start with the terrine of the day, a melange of pork littered with chunky pistachios that provide crunch. A marinated prune adds a deepened caramelly sweetness.
Duck parfait $17
Liver mousse with maple syrup jelly
A basket of baguette slices is rapidly vanquished once we start using them as carriages for the liver mousse with maple syrup jelly. The duck parfait is deliriously light and smooth, accented with a subtle sweetness that I greedily approve.
Fried gruyere with Dijon mustard and dill pickle
We order two malakoffs to share between the five of us, but in hindsight, we should really have ordered one each. Don't make this mistake!
Melted gruyere cheese inside the malakoff
Inside the gruyere - deep fried to a rich golden brown - is a molten puddle of mustard and gruyere cheese. The cheese oozes languidly on the plate, stretching into the thinnest of ribbons when we try to prise apart each portion.
A bed of Dijon mustard adds an extra tang to the puff. You need to eat this immediately. And quickly. But just long enough to luxuriate in every mouthful of cheesy goodness. Finish with a wedge of dill pickle to cleanse your palate.
Tomato tart $18
Tomato confit, onion jam, black olive and puff pastry
The tomato tart is one of my surprise favourites of the night. At its essence, it's a simple dish. Pastry and tomato. But the puff pastry is a masterpiece of distinct flakiness. The tomato confit on top is like the intense distillation of a hundred tomatoes in one mouthful. The thin layer of onion jam only enhances the sweetness, contrasted with the occasional salty burst of black olive.
Prime beef tartare $22
Wagyu topside, classic condiments and French fries
There's an impressive pile of French fries that cascade across our mountain of wagyu topside beef tartare. The hand-cut beef is pre-mixed with egg yolk chives, capers and cornichons but served quickly so the beef is still a brilliant hue of red.
We like the generosity of fries but find they're not quite thick enough to be crunchy. It's also difficult to eat them with the tartare.
Bavette steak $42
350g grilled Rangers Valley flank with Bordelaise butter
The Bavette steak is cooked to the perfect shade of medium rare. It's flavoursome and tender. We tease the disc of Bordelaise butter so it melts its red wine and bone marrow richness into each slice.
Murray Cod a la grenobloise $84
We go with the special of the day: Murray Cod a la grenobloise. The whole cod is wood roasted in a brown butter sauce with capers. It's a huge serve that would probably equal three mains given the amount of protein.
The flesh is a marvel of softness and succulency. The kitchen has even removed all the bones, bar the spine, so it's easy to eat. We try eating the skin but it's more chewy than crisp. And of course we eat the treasured cheeks as well. It's a beautiful eating fish prepared with great skill and respect. I love that they keep the head and tail on as well.
Chicken fricassee $62
Whole chicken, mushrooms and tarragon sauce
We can't help but be impressed by the presentation of the chicken fricassee too, complete with menacing claw. The whole Holmbrae chicken is served with head and feet on the plate, a sight that some may find confronting. I appreciate this honesty of our meal's origins - it's a thoughtful reminder of the privilege we have in what we eat, and why it should never be taken for granted.
The chicken has been brined, dried, steamed and deep-fried. It's incredible. I rarely order chicken in restaurants but this is the tastiest chicken I've ever eaten. Each mouthful is juicy, the flesh is silky and the skin has crisped up in some spots to an enviable crunch. I even eat one of the chicken feet (carefully avoiding the nails) and it's delicious.
Tumbled across the top are all kinds of forest mushrooms. The buttery sauce is worth mopping up too.
We also order the side of Pommes Anna ($10) which sadly was only captured in a blurry photo. It's another highlight of the night for me, layered potatoes baked and then turned on their side to crisp. Peeling them apart and dunking them in the buerre blanc sauce is like the gourmand's version of chips and gravy.
Creme caramel $18
Egg custard with bitter caramel
There are three sweet options on the dessert menu plus a cheese platter. We pass over the religieuse au chocolat in favour of the creme caramel, a dense but satiny smooth custard enrobed in a bitter caramel sauce.
Melon en surprise $22
Santa Claus melon with finger lime, sorrel jelly and young coconut sorbet
And we can't resist everyone's favourite dessert right now, the melon en surprise.
Santa Claus melon balls, finger lime and sorrel jelly beneath a layer of young coconut sorbet
Beneath the layer of young coconut sorbet is a treasure trove of fruit. We find Santa Claus melon balls (they taste reasonably similar to honeydew), sorrel jelly and fizzy bursts of tart finger lime. It's a terrific palate cleanser although I'm in love with the creamy young coconut sorbet the most.
And once you finish the filling, keep going. We end up scraping the frozen Santa Claus melon bowl to create a second dessert of melon slush. It's so tasty!
We had a couple of service lags: our drinks (two wines, one Aperol Spritz and one gin and tonic) were ordered at the start but took about 40 minutes to arrive even with a reminder, by which time we'd already finished our entrees; and there was at least a 40 minute wait between our entree plates being cleared and our mains arriving. Perhaps the latter was due to our fish and chicken order but there was no prior warning nor a reassuring update from floor staff that the kitchen was temporarily backlogged.
But these mishaps are no doubt part of a new restaurant still finding its feet, and we left still rather entranced by a memorable dining experience in quite magical surrounds.
The good news is that you can now book for Hubert with some tables held for walk-ins. I'd recommend you arrive at 5pm if you want to chance a table. We arrived at 5.30pm and scored one of their last free tables.
Bring a handful of mates so you can make some headway into the menu. I'm planning on making a trip to the bar. There's a steak frites (and ok, the burger too) with my name on it.
15 Blight Street, Sydney
Monday to Saturday 5pm-1am
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French - Bar Brose, Darlinghurst
French - Bistrot Gavroche, Chippendale
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5/05/2016 02:00:00 am