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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Blancharu, Elizabeth Bay, Sydney

blancharu salt crust spatchcock heads

"Oh my god, they're so cute!"

I don't know who utters this first, but Suze and I stare fascinated at the giant lunch box filled with clumps of dough shaped to look like spatchcock heads.

We move in closer to the counter at Blancharu, admiring their perfectly shaped heads, the eyes made from cloves, delicate beaks that are every so slightly open. The salt-crusted spatchcock, featured during the recent Iron Chef dinner in Sydney with Hiroyuki Sakai and Chen Kenichi, was one of the meal highlight by all accounts.

blancharu spatchcock in salt crust
Spatchcock on sheet of salted and herbed dough

She works quickly. A whole spatchcock is placed on a sheet of salted and herbed dough, and before we know it, she has folded the dough over the bird, quickly and neatly as if wrapping a present.

blancharu spatchcock in salt crust
Trimming the excess dough

The dough is moulded into a snug fit around the bird, the excesses trimmed and discarded.

blancharu spatchcock in salt crust
Trimmed wrapped spatchcock

Attaching the head and the wings

Brushing the dough with egg wash

It's my first time at Blancharu, the Japanese-Franco fine dining restaurant by Chef Harunobu Inukai. The room is small and cosy, although the red prints on the wall remind us of blood samples out of an episode of Dexter. Flickering candles add a romantic mood and the amount of space between each table is generous. The restaurant is a few steps down from the street, giving the space a basement feel, although we can see the passing pedestrian traffic via the glassed walls.

Suze and I are dining with Leigh and Steph tonight and we happily agree to the seven- course chef's degustation ($80).

Ocean trout gravlax with wakame and cucumber salad

We start with ocean trout gravlax, firm and fresh with a hint of sweetness from the sugar curing. The dressing is light and refreshing, a touch of wakame adding a Japanese twist.

King crab pasta with tomato sauce

The second dish arrives quickly. Fat ribbons of fresh pasta are smooth and sexy, topped with a sweet tomato sauce and clusters of succulent King Crab flesh. Chef Inukai tells us later that the crab was hand-picked by himself that morning. He personally buys vegetables every day for his restaurant, and heads to the fishmarket three times a week.

"Do you go very early?" we ask, and he smiles wanly and says he is usually rather late. "About 9.30" he admits bashfully.

Terrine of Campagne with apple puree and toasted walnut bread

Terrine of Campagne is as chunky as it should be, generously interspersed with cubes of creamy pork fat. The thick baton of country-style meatloaf is paired deliciously with a swirl of apple puree - smooth and lingering on the palate - and a thin slice of toasted walnut bread.

A small cup of chawanmushi comes out next. It is blissfully smooth. A barely set egg custard in a sweet broth, gliding down the throat with ease.

Cumin crusted blue eye cod
with smoked eggplant and tomato sauce

The fillet of blue eye cod is more complex than it first appears, crusted with a perfectly even and golden layer of cumin crumbs. Smoked eggplant works marvellously with the cumin, its earthy intensity enhanced by the drizzle of simple but intense tomato sauce.

White clams sakamushi style

Sakamushi is a traditional Japanese way of cooking foods by steaming with sake. The shallow bowl arrives in a fragrant cloud, the broth so enticing I feel compelled lean in and breathe in deeply. The tumble of white clams are easy to eat and we all have little piles of shells on our side plate in no time. I use a spoon to drink the broth which is resplendent with the flavour of fresh clam.

Spatchcock en croute de del a la Haru

We almost feel obliged to break out into applause when the spatchock arrives. There's a great sense of ceremony as it's cut open. A napkin is placed over the spatchcock's head -- almost out of respect it seems -- before a sharp knife is used to pierce the thick crust of salt dough. A burst of garlic and rosemary-scented steam escapes and blankets the table.

Spatchcock with green beans

The spatchcock is whisked away to the kitchen for carving, returned on individual plates with spears of bright green beans. It's a simple adornment to enable diners to appreciate the simple flavours of the spatchcock. It does taste a little too salty and the breast is a touch dry on this occasion, but the purity of spatchcock is there, a bird that is all too often overlooked.

Later, when Leigh and Steph interview Chef Inukai for the Chef's Armoury blog, we learn that this dish was inspired by his time with Joel Robuchon, although Robuchon's version involves a rack of lamb.

Inukai's eyes sparkle when he remembers his training with Robuchon who was notoriously strict with his staff, but only in the pursuit of perfection. He also speaks warmly of Hiroyuki Sakai, explaining that many of the chefs in his kitchen have been there for 20 years - always a good sign of an inspiring leader. "He is very kind," Inukai says with a nodding smile.

When the topic turns to cookbooks, Inukai runs into the kitchen and returns with a well-worn copy of Escoffier's Le Guide Culinaire, translated into Japanese in 1969. It is his favourite cookbook and his main source of inspiration. [Read the full Chef's Armoury interview here]

Warm sticky date pudding with rum raisin ice cream

We receive the VIP treatment tonight with not just one dessert, but four, allowing us to sample more of the menu. Warm sticky date pudding is more muffin-like in appearance and texture, served with a scoop of rich rum raisin ice cream and drizzles of caramel.

Traditional creme brulee with coffee ice cream

Suze and I are both eyeing the creme brulee when it arrives. We break through the top layer of toffee with a resounding crack to reveal a silky smooth custard. I'm enamoured with the coffee ice cream which has a deep and satisfying espresso kick.

Chocolate fondant with vanilla ice ceam

Chocolate fondant has been plated sexily with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a splay of fresh strawberries and two rounded strokes of chocolate paint. It seems like every second dessert menu has a chocolate fondant but truly special ones are few and far between. This is one of them. A light and fluffy exterior that gives way to a melting ooze of chocolate that isn't cloying or overly sweet. It's elegant but also childishly good.

Fromage blanc with honey and ginger jelly and meringue

The purity of the fromage blanc belies its complex interplay of flavours. We dig our spoons into the ramekin of fromage blanc, a fluffy cloud that reminds me of the lightest Japanese cheesecake. A delicate length of meringue is superbly crisp, baked in the oven at an extremely low temperature to dry it out, Inukai explains.

An accompanying glass holds honey and ginger jelly, soft and quivering, cool and sweet. In the depths of a Sydney winter, we exit onto the street in a similar fashion, but happily so.

Shop 1, 21 Elizabeth Bay Road
Elizabeth Bay, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9360 3555

Opening hours:
Lunch Friday and Saturday 12pm-2.30pm
Dinner Monday to Saturday 6pm-10.00pm

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Japanese - Waqu, Crows Nest
23 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 7/08/2010 02:50:00 am


  • At 7/08/2010 7:36 am, Anonymous Fiona said…

    hehe it's so cute! It'd be a shame to stab into him!

  • At 7/08/2010 8:04 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    tee hee hullo little spatchcock heads! i kinda wanted each of them have a different expression haha

  • At 7/08/2010 8:55 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    Aww I love Blancharu, their pasta is always so good. The spatchcock crust is so cute, I wanted to take it home with me!

  • At 7/08/2010 10:05 am, Anonymous john@heneedsfood said…

    That spatchcock looks so wonderful, and I see what you mean about the "blood' art. It looks like a forensic photograph from a murder scene!

  • At 7/08/2010 10:06 am, Anonymous Hannah said…

    I've wanted to try chawanmushi for ages - didn't manage it when I was in Japan, but found out all about it once I was back in Australia! I wouldn't have thought of cumin as a Japanese flavouring - but I guess that's what's so magic about cooking these days, it can blend influences from all over the place :)

  • At 7/08/2010 10:58 am, Anonymous Forager @ The Gourmet Forager said…

    Everything looks so good! The clams, the king crab.. yum!

  • At 7/08/2010 12:44 pm, Anonymous yewenyi said…

    the spatchcock looks excelent. Such good drama.

  • At 7/08/2010 4:12 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    That looks so damn cute and those desserts look amazing! I have to thank you for taking me there with your prose =] Now if you'll excuse me, it's back to hallucinating food in my tummy - hooray!

  • At 7/08/2010 4:52 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Mmm Blancharu has been on my list for soo lonngg! Must find an excuse to eat here soon hee hee

  • At 7/08/2010 5:34 pm, Anonymous KFC so good said…

    Blancharu looked interesting and so delicious! Good value too. The spatchcock are impossibly cute. Too bad it did not turned out perfect.

    The menu feels of Japanese and franco dishes waltzing each other back and forth - rather than too much con-fusion on each dish. Nice!

    Making me all hungry now.

  • At 7/08/2010 8:11 pm, Anonymous steph @ chefsarmoury said…

    Was a great night and an interesting walk through the Cross afterwards:)
    The chawanmushi was definately my favourite of the night. Though the handmade pasta with the chilli crab was also pretty good too, and the fromage blanc ...

  • At 7/08/2010 10:39 pm, Blogger missklicious said…

    The chocolate fondant looks almost too pretty to eat! I've been craving for one this whole week :(

  • At 7/08/2010 10:43 pm, Blogger Angie Lives to Eat (and Cook)! said…

    Aww poor spatchcock! Sacrifices must be made for good meals though =D

  • At 7/09/2010 5:21 pm, Anonymous Betty @ The Hungry Girl said…

    Love the whole ceremony involved with the spatchcock! It looks almost sacred and too good to eat... well, almost ;)

  • At 7/09/2010 10:01 pm, Blogger YaYa said…

    Such a beautiful menu, those spatchcocks are so cute, all that work for 2 slices of meat though!

  • At 7/10/2010 1:38 am, Anonymous Howitzer Daniels said…

    Blancharu is amazing. i love their cooking. Would trade my favorite Filipino recipe for them. ^^

  • At 7/10/2010 4:05 am, Anonymous Arwen from Hoglet K said…

    I love the sound of the smoked eggplant with the cumin-crusted cod. Was the crust on the spatchcock only for cooking, or did you eat it?

  • At 7/10/2010 10:20 pm, Anonymous Steph@littlepotbelly said…

    The King Crab pasta looks delicious!! As a pasta fanatic, I would find that serving just a tad too small :) And that spatchcock is just too cute to break apart!

  • At 7/11/2010 10:54 am, Anonymous Mark @ Cafe Campana said…

    Wow that spatchcock is too cute. What a very cool idea on how to cook a bird. I am almost tempted to try and cook it myself just for a laugh.

  • At 7/11/2010 11:39 am, Anonymous Thang @ noodlies.com said…

    gosh it's amazing how much effort is put into the spatchcock.. appreciate it more now Helen, thanks.

  • At 7/12/2010 9:56 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Fiona - Luckily we didn't have to do any stabbing. The chef did all the work for us :)

    Hi chocolatesuze - Haha, that would've been awesome.

    Hi Stephcookie - Yes, I agree. It always seems like such a waste!

    Hi John - Ha, we couldn't stop seeing crime scenes once it was mentioned. lol

    Hi Hannah - Oh chawanmushi is amazing, and yes, it was an interesting fusion of French and Japanese.

    Hi Forager - It was a fantastic meal :)

    Hi Yewenyi - There's always a great sense of show when the chef comes to your table armed with a knife!

    Hi Margaret Tran - lol. Aww you are far too kind. And hallucinating food is fun!

    Hi FFichiban - Yes I'd been meaning to get to Blancharu for ages too.

    Hi KFC so good - Ah yes, I like your analogy of the waltz. Very appropriate!

    Hi Steph - Thank you for the lovely company that evening. The chawanmushi was incredible wasn't it? My highlight, too!

    Hi Missklicious - I think chocolate fondants are made for winter :) Hope you managed to satiate your craving.

    Hi Angie - Haha, indeed. We definitely appreciated every mouthful.

    Hi Betty - It was almost religious the way the napkin was used to cover his head!

    Hi YaYa - It was a whole spatchcock - we shared two between the four of us.

    Hi Howitzer - It's a great spot indeed.

    Hi Arwen - The crust was only to insulate the bird during cooking. We did try a tiny bit - like a salted dough with a hint of rosemary.

    Hi Steph - The pasta serving was modest but we had a lot of courses to get through. We were struggling by the end, but happily so!

    Hi Mark - I think you should give it a go!

    Hi Thang - The spatchcock is one of those dishes that comes with ceremony and reverence. I loved watching the whole production process too.

  • At 7/13/2010 5:45 pm, Anonymous Amy @ cookbookmaniac said…

    Right. Blancharu is now on my hit list.. I'd be clapping like a spoilt school girl if I had me a plate of the spatchcock. Its so adorable

  • At 7/16/2010 12:20 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Amy - Ha, the spatchcock definitely deserves a round of applause!


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