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Monday, March 14, 2011

Restaurant Arras, Walsh Bay, Sydney

EDIT: Restaurant Arras has closed

Don't look for a seat belt. Restaurant Arras is simply one helluva ride. Head chef and co-owner Adam Humphrey believes that all food should be fun, injecting the British dishes of his childhood with whimsy and humour.

A historic former bond store houses Restaurant Arras, awarded one hat in the SMH Good Food Guide in 2008, 2009 and 2010. The heritage-listed building is a moody mix of exposed brick, caramel carpet and comfortable padded chairs in chocolate brown.

House spiced almonds and olive twists

The menu isn't cheap here, with entrees starting at $26.50 and mains hovering around the $42 mark, but, as we'll soon discover, each dish is wondrously complex, and complimentary tidbits are provided generously throughout the meal.

Service is well-considered and seamless, starting with a plate of complimentary house spiced almonds and olive twists that are provided for our party of four to nibble on as we peruse the menu. The descriptors are vague and cryptic, like "Fruit and Veg", "Ta Jean" and "A Plate of Mirepoix". Waitstaff will happily describe each dish in detail, but we have some fun in trying to guess them first. Billy correctly guesses that Ta Jean is a tajine.

House onion bread and malted sourdough

We decided against the $130 nine-course degustation, and choose a la carte instead. Once our order is placed, a bread basket arrives with six different breads - warm from the oven - to choose from. They're all made on the premises. A miniature turret of onion bread comes with slivers of caramelised onion, and though I delight in the petite loaf of malted sourdough, the slice of fruit bread is the winner, soft and fluffy with chunks of walnut and a nibble-worthy caramelised crust.

Amuse bouche: tomato, sardine and buckwheat salad

The complimentary dishes continue with an amuse bouche, a velvety fillet of sardine nestled within a forest of micro greens and hiding behind a peeled cherry tomato that bursts with flavour. A rubble of buckwheat salad is chewy and toothsome, and a delicate trail of yellow powder offers a mysterious sweetness that the waiter eventually identifies as lemon dust.

Crab eggy bread, dressed crab, jelly and custard $31

Billy starts with the crab eggy bread for entree, a finger of French toast topped with a "sausage" of crab meat wrapped in gelatine. The plating is exquisite, from the thimble of crab jelly to the quenelle of crab custard, holding aloft a tree-like sprig of dill. Spherified pearls of crab consomme are a little soggy but the dots of crab sauce are intense.

Plate for Mr. McGregor $30

I'd ordered the Plate for Mr. McGregor, enamoured by its description as a tribute to Beatrix Potter, author of the children's book Peter Rabbit. It arrives as a riot of colour on the plate, dots of puree in-between leaves and flowers and the preparation of rabbit three different ways. 

Rabbit lollipop

"Look! It's a rabbit lollipop!" Billy laughs. I also find rabbit rilletes and slices of a rolled rabbit loin. This dish takes me ages to eat, as I tenderly explore each component. I savour each edible flavour, dab gently at each dot of puree and slowly crunch on undulating slivers of dehydrated carrot.

Beef, dripping, nasturtium and "aligot" $48

Suze and Pete have both skipped entrees and gone straight to mains. The beef has been cooked in its own dripping, a stack of pink slices that are quite lean and not as juicy as we expect. To the left is a portrait of garlic cloves and nasturtium leaves, framed by a rectangle of aligot. This traditional French smooth and stretchy potato is usually made with garlic and melted Tomme cheese, but due to lack of access in Australia, Adam uses only Quickes Cheddar, and omits the garlic.

Monkfish, charcuterie and spices $43

Billy's main is another spectacular artwork, wheels of superbly cooked monkfish resting among edible flavours, vegetable curls and chewy strips which taste like fatty pork skin.

Pork belly, whey, head cheese and rice $46

My pork belly comes with pork crackling prepared in three different ways: as crackling, deep-fried as a cracker, and crumbed. The smithereens of pork crackling have set in a thin straw of toffee that tastes like the best kind of pork brittle you could possibly hope for. It's another playground of textures and flavours and I dip my fork in and around the plate, making wild guesses at what I'm eating.

Beneath the pork crackling straw is the head cheese, delicate shreds of flesh taken from the head of a pig. Traditionally head cheese is set in aspic, but here it's cleverly sandwiched between two paper-thin discs of pink gelatine.

The plank of pork belly on the left is meltingly soft, the top layer of crackling made even crunchier with a sprinkle of crackling dust. On the right is an equal length of leek and potato terrine, made up of microscopically thin slices that beggar belief.

In the rear corner of each plate--oh yes, it continues--are slices of mustard fruit made with apple, and black crackers that the waiter reveals are made from rice dyed with squid ink and deep-fried.

Restaurant Arras reception desk

The dessert menu is even more puzzling, and when we ask for a description of the dishes, our waiter asks "Do you really want to know, or would you rather be surprised?" He can tell from our faces we really do need to know. We take our dessert very seriously.

Pre-dessert: Caramelised fig with hazelnut ice cream

We segue to a complimentary pre-dessert, a simple serve of caramelised fig, a crumble of praline and a scoop of hazelnut ice cream.

Revel in it $20

We share desserts, starting with Revel In It, a dish I correctly guess is based on the UK confection Revels, bags of chocolates containing mystery fillings of orange creme, toffee, coffee, raisins or Maltesers.

Adam's version is a similar take, a series of homemade chocolates served with chocolate sauce, foam, vanilla ice cream and a thin twig of crisp pastry. There's a sense of excitement as we reveal which flavour we each received -- I ended up with the coffee creme.

The Cinematic Souffle $20

The Cinematic Souffle was the one dessert we'd been looking forward to, previewed in blog posts and tweets before our arrival.

Popcorn souffle

The popcorn souffle boasts some serious height, a foamy cloud of elegance bursting forth from its copper pot. It's an orgy of popcorn, with popcorn ice cream, toffee popcorn and plain popcorn reminiscent of the movies, served in an Arras-printed paper bag.

A jug of caramel sauce is meant to be poured into the souffle but we douse the plain popcorn with it instead. The entire masterpiece is deliriously good.

Petit fours platter $10 with coffee or tea

The petit fours platter at Arras is legendary, and we all order teas and coffee in breathless anticipation.

It's an impressive sight, rows of chocolates, jellies, toffees and honeycomb lined up with precision on a slate tile. The waiter rattles off the name and ingredients of every piece, but by the end we've forgotten them again and pick them out mostly based on visual instinct.

Petit fours

"Take as many as you like," we're told, and we giggle like little kids as we steadily take more and more pieces. The chocolates are delectable.

Eating here can be a little perplexing for those who like to be in control, a mix of elusive menu descriptions not helped by mysterious unidentifiable components on the plate. However if you let go of the steering wheel and simply enjoy the scenery, you're guaranteed a captivating and sometimes hare-brained adventure.

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Restaurant Arras on Urbanspoon

Ground floor, 24 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9252 6285

Opening hours:
Lunch Friday 12pm-2.30pm
Dinner Tuesday to Saturday 6pm-10pm
26 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 3/14/2011 03:45:00 am


  • At 3/14/2011 4:03 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    oooh such a sexy post! your photos are freaking awesome oh man im still dreaming about that petit fours platter

  • At 3/14/2011 4:43 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    It's amazing to see every dish except one is different to when I was last there for a meal, and each one so inventive, creative, and weird. Love the idea of pork crackling done three ways! Bravo!

  • At 3/14/2011 5:55 am, Anonymous Vix said…

    Wow, this looks amazing. I wish I'd known about it when I was last in Sydney. So imaginative and fun. I particularly like Mr McGregor's plate for its colour and vibrance. Definitely going there when I'm next down under.

  • At 3/14/2011 8:12 am, Anonymous Dumpling Girl said…

    That petit four platter is absolutely crazy.

  • At 3/14/2011 8:31 am, Blogger Angie Lives to Eat (and Cook)! said…

    I'd skip entry to fit in dessert and the petite fours too! Hmm wonder if I can just come for dessert and petite fours? =D That popcorn souffle has caught my attention!

  • At 3/14/2011 10:07 am, Anonymous Minh said…

    Love the photos Heren! Billy's John Dory dish looks ridiculously amazing.

  • At 3/14/2011 10:50 am, Anonymous Tina@foodboozeshoes said…

    Simply gorgeous! Even the amuse has so much detail to it!

  • At 3/14/2011 10:53 am, Anonymous Gastronomous Anonymous said…

    your photos are amazing!! the pork looks excellent and the petit four platter - WOW! WOW WOW WOW!

  • At 3/14/2011 10:54 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    Ahh this place has been on my wishlist for a while. The popcorn souffle and the petit fours tray make the eyes widen and mouth water! Though with those prices I'll definitely have to save it for a very special occasion :)

  • At 3/14/2011 11:38 am, Anonymous Peter said…

    A great meal well captured in your photographs. Can't stop wondering if you can just go for coffee and petit fours...! Great to catch up with you guys.

  • At 3/14/2011 11:45 am, Anonymous Katie said…

    The plates of food look so pretty, like artwork! I wouldn't know where to begin and I wouldn't want to destroy what the chef has so painstakenly created! Looks delicious.

  • At 3/14/2011 12:23 pm, Anonymous Jacq said…

    omg everything is so pretty! and that petit fours platter - did you guys try one of everything? hehe

  • At 3/14/2011 12:30 pm, Blogger K said…

    Wow, it all looks so amazing. I'll be going there later this month, will have to make sure I fast a couple of days prior.

  • At 3/14/2011 12:48 pm, Anonymous Claire said…

    I want to eat here. Now. YUM! Love the Mr McGregor plate - humour in food and excellent flavours.. on my TO DO list!

  • At 3/14/2011 1:01 pm, Blogger Hungry Female said…

    Wow that petit four platter is the most impressive I've ever seen!

  • At 3/14/2011 1:12 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    This is the most swoon-worthy blogpost I've read anywhere in days! Everything is so beautiful and so tantalising. I adore sardines but have never seen them on a restaurant menu myself; I want the malted sourdough; the John Dory dish is striking; POPCORN DESSERT OMG YES.

  • At 3/14/2011 2:03 pm, Blogger Karen | Citrus and Candy said…

    I took the boy here for his birthday and it was a great night. I have to admit that I wasn't totally blown away by the food but I'm going to put that down to exceedingly high expectations and my choice of dishes. The popcorn souffle rocks though!

    But I do love that you get the complementary snacks for perusing the menu, an amuse bouche, house made bread (which were the best) and pre dessert. And $10 for coffee and as many petit fours as you want? That'll keep me coming back to Arras.

  • At 3/14/2011 6:29 pm, Blogger Mel said…

    Wow, what an amazing dinner! Everything looks so beautiful and your descriptions are perfect - my mouth is watering!

  • At 3/14/2011 9:49 pm, Blogger YaYa said…

    Gotta love a place that names a dish after a children's book character! Everything looks great but I could just dine out on those cute bread rolls and the petit four platter!

  • At 3/14/2011 10:59 pm, Blogger Jen said…

    I think the plating here is some of the best. But I wan't very impressed with the flavours when I went. I found everything savoury was so-so, nothing new or different.
    But the desserts were just so disappointing. The popcorn dessert didn't work - the popcorn was dry and unseasoned and didn't go with the wet souffle. And although the concept of the petit fours is great, none of them really hit the mark.

  • At 3/14/2011 11:35 pm, Anonymous Jenny (Figs and Brie) said…

    Such beautiful food, so envious right now!

  • At 3/15/2011 11:47 am, Blogger sugarpuffi said…

    omg the dishes all look so pretty! i especially love plate for Mr. McGregor cause the plating really makes u feel like a little rabbit is rustling through the bushes.

  • At 3/16/2011 5:39 pm, Anonymous sara @ Belly Rumbles said…

    Oh wow what pretty food, it is just so so pretty. I am not a dessert person at all but that cinematic souffle is just so gorgeous.

  • At 3/18/2011 12:38 am, Blogger Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) said…

    The husband and I have been wanting to go back ever since we tried their degustation last year. We may not brave the petits fours platter again, but we definitely want to try the popcorn souffle before it disappears from the menu!

  • At 3/18/2011 12:37 pm, Blogger susan said…

    That food looks AMAZING and those petit fours, wow! I would love to try this place out.

  • At 3/20/2011 2:45 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I absolutely love this restaurant and think the food is outstanding. It is defrinately one of the best places in sydney to eat. I cannot believe that Jen didnt enjoy the cinematic souffle and claims the petite fours didnt hit the mark. She obviously ate at a different restaurant arras to all of us


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