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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Becasse Chef's Table, Sydney (CLOSED)

EDIT: Becasse has closed

Dining at a Chef's Table has always been my idea of bliss. I'd much rather forgo the silver service of a dining room and be a fly on the wall of a restaurant's kitchen. It's here, in the inner sanctum, that the true heart and soul of a restaurant can be found.

I'd first spied the Chef's Table at Becasse during the launch party, and was immediately struck by how thoughtfully this feature had been incorporated into the kitchen's design. The u-shaped bench sits directly opposite the pass, offering diners a complete view of the plating process, as well as all the cooking action at the induction stoves.  This isn't just a glimpse of the kitchen, but an intimate inclusion in a live dinner service.

I made a booking immediately. 

The Secret Garden entrance to Becasse

But first, the entrance. The Becasse restaurant, recently relocated from its Clarence Street premises, can be found at the far end of the Level 5 Food Court of Westfield Sydney. Owners Justin and Georgia North were inspired by Thomas Keller's Per Se in the Time Warner Center in New York City, believing that they, too, could create a fine dining restaurant in an upmarket shopping centre.

A gate overgrown with greenery is the first clue that diners are about to enter a secret garden. Justin explained that he wanted to create a deliberate escape for harassed and harangued city workers.

The four season corridor entry to Becasse

The gate swings open to reveal a corridor that progresses through the four seasons. It's a magical moment when you first see the transition of colours. Justin says he wanted diners to feel like they were leaving their worries and cares behind as they move from spring to summer, then autumn and winter down the corridor, the branches changing in foliage with each season.

The willow branches that wrap their way around the ceiling were all grown for this entrance, planned a few months in advance and grown and cut at specific heights. All the leaves have been cut from silk and then applied by hand to the branches. Snaking fairy lights have been strategically positioned to provide ambient illumination. It's a corridor we're reluctant to leave.

Housemade butterpuff with green olive mascarpone

We step through the small and intimate 25-seat dining room and follow our waiter into the kitchen. The Chef's Table seats six, and we fit easily into the soft padded banquette.

A housemade butterpuff pastry is immediately presented to our table. The pastry is effortlessly light and flaky, topped with a quenelle of fluffy green olive mascarpone.

Salt bowl by Blue Mountains ceramicist Simon Reece

The aesthetics of the restaurant have all been carefully considered. Outside in the dining room, the tables are all covered with ostrich leather. Our bread plates and the bowls for salt have been designed by Blue Mountains ceramicist Simon Reece who uses inspiration from nature to create his works. His recent collection included an Iced Earth series, and the salt bowls make us think of profiteroles, biscuits or honeycomb covered in chocolate.

Justin North sharpening his knives

Oh look, here's Justin North. He says hello to us all before he starts sharpening his knives -- in a non-threatening way, of course. I've met Justin several times before, but it's still an altogether different experience seeing him in his element.

Monty Koludrovic, Head Chef

Monty Koludrovic, Head Chef, is keeping everything under control. We're surprised to learn that tonight -- a Monday -- is a full house, with the Chef's Table taken, 13 people in the private dining room, and all seats booked in the dining room.

Butter with wakame and black salt

Housemade breads: 
Petit brioche loaves, sourdough with poached quince and sesame seeds and seven seed rolls

The breads all come from the Becasse bakery next door. Most of the baking is done between 10pm and 6am, ready for deliveries at 7am, but there's almost always someone in the bakery kitchen at any hour of the day.

Our plate of housemade breads are delightful, and I'll admit I took childish glee in cutting miniature slices from my petit brioche loaf. The brioche is wondrously soft despite its size, and the poached quince sourdough is refined and elegant.

Amuse bouche
Duck liver custard with pear jelly and puffed buckwheat

The amuse bouche is presented in a curved glass bowl set on a imprinted stone. The glossy dollop of duck liver custard is so satin smooth I have to pause and catch my breath. It's enhanced by a delicately wobbly pear jelly but it's the puffed buckwheat I love most, crunchy nuggets of cereal that make me think of chocolate crackles.

I'd looked across the table when the G-Man had started moaning in delight with his first mouthful, but when I dip in my spoon, I can only nod. Repeatedly. I cup the bowl in my hand, savouring and scraping every last mouthful, but really, I needed to be alone with this dish. It was that good.

Justin North using an espuma gun for the pea puree

We've ordered the nine-course degustation ($190) but I'm already getting worried about my stomach capacity and we haven't even officially started the first course. A natural silence descends over the table, and we marvel wordlessly over the intricate plating required for each dish. What stands out most is how quiet and calm the staff are in the kitchen. Computer screens installed in the kitchen are used to keep track of orders, but conversation levels are barely much above a murmur between chefs.

1st Course: Bespoke Autumn vegetable garden

The bespoke Autumn vegetable garden is bewildering in its beauty. We'd watched it being plated from start to finish, a process that seems to take about ten minutes for each table. An espuma gun is used for the base of pea puree before teaspoons of olive crumb nut soil are sprinkled on top.

Long Japanese tweezers that wouldn't look out of place in an operating theatre are used to carefully and meticulously plate and arrange heirloom carrots, wafer-thin slices of radish and sprigs of celery leaves. Crumbs of dehydrated goats curd are scattered on top.

It's a textural playground that seems a shame to destroy, but we apologetically dismantle it anyway, savouring the contrast of pickled carrots and radishes with the sweet puree of peas and the salty rubble of olives and walnuts.

2nd Course: 
Marinated local yellow fin tuna, abalone ham, Earl Grey jelly, wakame and celeriac

The second course of marinated yellow fin tuna is just as pretty. Cubes of Earl Grey jelly are almost microscopic in size, dotted on a plate with ribbons of celeriac and two delicate slices of abalone ham, made by cooking the abalone sous vide with vermouth.

Monty Koludrovic adding dots of extra virgin olive oil

Assistant manager Louise Tamayo

3rd Course:
Ocean trout with pomegranate jelly and spanner crab with a Vietnamese-style dressing

Watching the food being plated is mesmerising. By now, we've worked out that we're the only party of six in the restaurant, but even so, it's still a surprise to see our plates being picked up from the pass by waitstaff and then transported two steps away to our table.

The third course is a new addition the menu, a confit cube of ocean trout sheathed with a ruby red layer of pomegranate jelly. Its flavours are echoed in the seeds of fresh pomegranate that harmonise texturally with the briny bursts of fresh trout roe. Shreds of Noosa crab are sweet and succulent.

Dots of coconut cream, olive oil and Vietnamese dressing are visually striking but I find their flavours are lost in the dish.

Can't talk. Eating.

Heating sauces

4th Course:
Squid ink coddled hapuka, squid, Coorong pipis, cauliflower and miso

Our fourth course is fish, a moist fillet of hapuka cooked slowly in squid ink. The "fried egg" is the cutest thing in this dish, made up of cauliflower puree topped with a spoonful of miso paste. The cannelloni are filled with chicken and prosciutto, hovering on a mound of plump Coorong pipis and slippery curls of raw squid.

Watching the sauces on the induction stove

Justin North adding sauces

Justin North selecting micro herbs

5th Course: 
Velvet chicken and prawn mosaic, mushroom royale, chestnut mushrooms and crisp chicken skin

Velvet chicken and prawn mosaic is presented as a slice of terrine, nestled against strips of battered chicken skin, earthy chestnut and pine mushrooms, and a disc of chestnut mushroom royale. Drizzled around the circumference of the bowl is a seafood bisque.

Justin North assembling the Forgotten Vegetables course


Justin North extinguishing the shaving of cedar wood

6th Course:
Forgotten vegetables, smoked pork jowl, yabby tails with aromas of cedar

Justin comes over to personally tell us about the sixth course -- the Forgotten Vegetables -- and it's clear this one is close to his heart. This dish reminds me of my childhood, Justin says, and there's a tone of wistfulness in his voice.

I'd tried an earlier version of this dish last year, but it's clearly evolved since then.  An assembly of purple congo potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips and white radishes are carefully placed in a circle with tweezers. The rounded lengths are presumably meant to resemble a forest, but I find they look disturbingly more like bullets. A thin sheet of cedar is set alight with a blow torch to create a smoky fragrance. Justin blows out the flames, whereas I notice that Monty extinguishes his with a forceful wave of his hand.

It is interesting to compare the different textures of each vegetable, but I find myself pining for slow-roasted baked vegetables with caramelised edges. The yabby tail is fresh and sweet, and two squares of smoked pork jowl are deliciously fatty with a sticky skin. 

Assembling the next round of Forgotten Vegetables

Serving decanted red wine (extra $70 for matched wines with the $190 9-course degustation)

7th Course Option A:
Wagyu cooked a la plancha, slow cooked aubergine, lime and wasabi jus

The seventh course offers two options. The petite block of David Blackmore wagyu is melt-in-the-mouth bliss. You can almost hear the Barry White soundtrack as you chew are seduced.

7th Course Option B:
Glenloth partridge, boudin blanc, sprouts and Armagnac jus

Glenloth partridge is delicately gamey in flavour, served with caramelised brussel sprouts and an artichoke puree. The boudin blanc is made with beef intercostal muscle, found between the ribs.

There is always something to watch in the kitchen, and as the evening progresses, we can tell when the kitchen is in full swing. The peak of service gradually tapers off and as the kitchen is scrubbed down, the action switches to the pastry section. 

8th Course:
Holy Goat La Luna, rosemary and burnt butter crumble with pickled rhubarb

Holy Goat La Luna is one of the few Australian goat cheeses made in the traditional French soft-curd style. The cheese has a gentle creaminess that works well with the pickled rhubarb and burnt butter crumble.

Pre dessert
Apple three ways

The pre-dessert is a refreshing palate cleanser of apple three ways. Springy columns of soft apple mouselline remind me of marshmallow, and we dip our spoons into a cool apple sorbet and a tiny dice of fresh apple in zingy wine jelly at the bottom.

9th Course Option A:
Silken lemongrass and lime caramel, passion fruit crunch with vanilla yoghurt sorbet

Dessert also offers two options. The lighter choice is a sunny mix of citrus jellies with lemongrass and lime caramel and a quenelle of vanilla yoghurt sorbet.

9th Course Option B:
68% Alto Beni Zokoko chocolate cadeau and salted black cumin caramel

I'd chosen the chocolate option, a glamorous cocoa-dusted orb garnished with crinkled sheets of gold leaf. It's hard to detect the cumin in the salted caramel inside, and the crumble of chocolate and honeycomb starts to become a little sweet after a while.

A scoop of chocolate sorbet provides some relief, but it seems a little odd to have two components of a dessert presented separately.

Chocolate sorbet and 68% Alto Beni Zokoko chocolate cadeau and salted black cumin caramel

autumn still life
Autumn Still Life (ordered from the three course a la carte menu)

I'd been entranced by a tweeted photo of the Autumn Still Life, and the staff at Becasse are happy to accommodate my request to order this dessert in addition to our degustation. It's incredible in appearance, looking more like a piece of art than something you'd eat.

The dessert is an elaborate construction of cocoa soil, licorice parfait and armagnac sorbet. The mushrooms are made from meringue and "caps" of Baileys ice cream parfait and chestnut ice cream parfait. Spindly chocolate caramel twigs loop over cocoa tuiles and buried nuggets of confit chestnut.

Candied fennel fronds evoke images of a wintry Christmas, and even the licorice and cocoa combination somehow remind me of gingerbread.

Jaclyn Nichols is the head pastry chef at Becasse, and we're told that there are plans to conceive a Still Life for every season.

Petit fours
Raspberry and almond macarons; and lemon verbena dark chocolates

Chefs cleaning the kitchen as we languish with petit fours

We finish with a platter of petit fours and teas and coffees. It's been a long evening, but always entertaining. We'd started at about 6.45pm and are ready to leave at 11pm.

Farewell gifts

We're sent off with a farewell gift - carrier bags holding a Becasse crossiant. "Perfect for breakfast tomorrow!" Louise says. [It was deliciously soft and fluffy the next day]

Pastry chefs making crossiants

As we exit, we stop by the Becasse Bakery and watch the pastry chefs making crossiants in the kitchen.

Completed crossiant

Piping cream for Saint Honore cakes

Justin North in the kitchen at Becasse

Would I recommend the Chefs Table? Definitely. It was a memorable evening and worth saving those pennies!

View Larger Map
Becasse on Urbanspoon

Becasse (CLOSED)
Level 5, Westfield Sydney
Corner of Pitt Street Mall and Market Street, Sydney
(take the express escalators from Pitt St Mall next to Sportsgirl)
Tel: +61 (02) 9283 4400

Opening hours:
Lunch Monday to Saturday from 12pm
Dinner Monday to Saturday from 6pm

Three course a la carte $120
Five course degustation $150
Nine course degustation $190
Nine course vegetarian degustation $180

Chef's Table 
Minimum food and beverage spend $1500 during lunch and $2000 during dinner

41 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 5/11/2011 04:26:00 am


  • At 5/11/2011 4:44 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    Looks utterly divine! Everything is lip-smackingly gorgeous and I can see the chef's table's popularity. Thanks for the comprehensive review!

  • At 5/11/2011 6:15 am, Anonymous ragingyoghurt said…

    good golly gosh! i want some of that butter... shaped just like the tears i'm shedding over the beauty of the food. what a wonderful, magical meal.

  • At 5/11/2011 7:30 am, Blogger greenbeenfood said…

    oh my!!!! your photos seriously do the the food complete justice & this is so damn hard when i am sure you were absorbing & enjoying the night too. i have always wanted to eat at a chefs table & after seeing this i believe becasse is the restaurant for me to experience this. brilliant. thanks

  • At 5/11/2011 7:31 am, Anonymous Dumpling Girl said…

    The corridor is stunning. I'm definitely intrigued by the forgotten vegetable dish.

  • At 5/11/2011 7:51 am, Anonymous john@heneedsfood said…

    Is it just me or does that salt bowl look like crusty bread dipped in chocolate? Great spread of dishes though I'm not sure I'd like anyone blowing on my food before I had to eat it. Saliva, anyone?

  • At 5/11/2011 8:46 am, Blogger K said…

    I'm glad to have you H, so I can relive this meal over and over and over again. :)
    The meal was amazing visually and in taste. My fav were the ocean trout, partridge, pre-dessert and both desserts. The still life was a work of art, but unfortuntely I didn't enjoy the taste as much only because I'm not a fan of licorice.
    Can I just add though, we were all in awe of the female chef who spent an hour scrubbing clean her station. She must have biceps of steel!

  • At 5/11/2011 9:09 am, Anonymous Tina@foodboozeshoes said…

    Stunning (and lots to eat!) esp the forest of forgotten vegies!

    And good to Justin in the kitchen too ;)

  • At 5/11/2011 9:16 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    To say I am dying of envy would be an understatement right now! Everything looks exceptional! I must try this at some point, if I can ever get a booking!

  • At 5/11/2011 9:22 am, Blogger Kay @ Chopstix2Steaknives said…

    ooohh.....my first and most memorable degustation was at Becasse. I definitely need to head back again

  • At 5/11/2011 9:28 am, Anonymous Minh said…

    Amazing review Helen, loved the way you described that Duck Liver Custard! The food looks absolutely brilliant!

  • At 5/11/2011 9:32 am, Anonymous Chris said…

    I'm horribly envious, that all looks amazing! I've never been at a Chef's Table, but I think I'll have to go soon! I love the Autumn Still Life - too cute!

  • At 5/11/2011 9:43 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    your captions are gold. CAN'T TALK! EATING! zomg the presentations are out of this world and im dying at the cuteness quotient of the autumn still life

  • At 5/11/2011 9:53 am, Anonymous OohLookBel said…

    Apparently, the food at the new Becasse has taken hatted dining 'to another level'. The Chef's Table looks like the place to be and your photos are spectacular!

  • At 5/11/2011 10:07 am, Anonymous Pete said…

    Is it bad to want duck liver custard this early in the day? I went for the degustation last time and the new location and a chef's table is a perfect excuse for a return visit. Hungry now.

  • At 5/11/2011 10:59 am, Anonymous Emily@NeedsMoreSugar said…

    OH EM GEE!

    This all looks absolutely amazing!

  • At 5/11/2011 12:37 pm, Anonymous Nic@diningwithastud said…

    Wow! Everything looks absolutely perfect! Expect nothing less from Justin North. So amazing!

  • At 5/11/2011 1:07 pm, Blogger Shanks said…

    Everything looks so amazing but I particularly like Autumn Still Life.

  • At 5/11/2011 1:23 pm, Anonymous John said…

    Great photos ! Going there this Sunday night, can't wait.

    Do you think its progressed since Clarence street days, or is it too early to tell ?

  • At 5/11/2011 1:37 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    What a mind-blowing experience! I'm jealous!

  • At 5/11/2011 1:42 pm, Anonymous Howard said…

    Epic, this ups the ante on premium Sydney dining experiences.

  • At 5/11/2011 2:13 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Oh my, I honestly thought the salt bowl was a toasted marshmallow. (I kind of wish it was, but that's because I'm hungry and miss sugar.) Ah, and after keeping reading, I realised that you all thought it looked like food too. I'm not crazy!

    And now, having finished reading, I'm utterly speechless. How is it that food can be so incredibly beautiful, and so tasty? Amazing.

  • At 5/11/2011 3:49 pm, Blogger Heavenly Ingredients said…

    wow! wow! wow!
    so jealous. what an unbelievable experience.

  • At 5/11/2011 4:53 pm, Anonymous Chanel said…

    Oh WOW! I'm speechless.
    What an amazing experience the Chef's Table is. I love, love, love the presentation of all those dishes, and the wooden plates etc. The light blue plate of the 2nd course reminds me of the sea - a perfect match for the tuna & abalone :D

  • At 5/11/2011 4:54 pm, Blogger Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said…

    Oh my goodness! I'm exhausted just reading and drooling about it. Looks absolutely amazing Helen...thank you again for sharing one of your gastronomical journeys!

  • At 5/11/2011 7:50 pm, Anonymous Orpheus said…

    Absolutely amazing. Justin has really taken it to a new level with the new restaurant. I cannot wait to get back to Sydney now.

  • At 5/11/2011 9:12 pm, Blogger Jen said…

    Every dish looks like it comes straight out of a fairytale. So beautiful. I didn't think Becasse could be improved but it looks like it has been.

  • At 5/11/2011 10:34 pm, Anonymous Dan said…

    So at $260 per person for the nine course degustation with matched wines, how do you get to the $2000 minimum spend if the chef's table only seats 6?

  • At 5/12/2011 12:02 am, Anonymous Donna said…

    What an epic post! I counted 48 photos!! It is amazing that the amuse bouche alone has five components and other courses have close to ten or more. The concept and delivery at Becasse, and your photos have definitely progressed a lot since the previous Becasse post. Thanks for sharing!

    To answer Dan's question, when my group of six went, it was $190 per person for food, $10 pp for water (unlimited bottles), some had matching wines $80 pp, and made the minimum charge with a bottle of champagne to start and tips. Although if I am going to do it again, I will do lunch instead. It gives you more time to enjoy (and digest) the food and save $500 on min spend :)

  • At 5/12/2011 4:55 am, Anonymous Jayson James said…

    Another great article!

    This is what's great about food blogging. Some are getting good access to kitchens and see how great chefs do it. I am completely jealous. I now have a place where to take my mom for dinner this weekend.

    Thanks again for sharing!

  • At 5/12/2011 1:46 pm, Blogger susan said…

    I would so love to eat at a chef's table, but I can't eat that amount of food anymore, so I probably wouldn't be able to spend the min charge, unless it was on wine of course...

  • At 5/12/2011 2:28 pm, Blogger Kate said…

    Honestly, this post made me want to cry. Beautiful!

  • At 5/12/2011 5:36 pm, Anonymous Forager @ The Gourmet Forager said…

    Can't get over how beautiful his restaurant is - loved that entrance and the thought that went into the design. And the food - so very beautifully presented. The cedar aroma dish looks just like one of the courses at Alinea. One definitely on the to-try-soon list.

  • At 5/14/2011 11:00 am, Anonymous Jake said…

    Wow! This review is incredible. I love the idea of incorporating a forest inside the busy Westfield shopping centre. Thanks for sharing photos of not just the amazing dishes, but the restaurant as well.

    On another note... your reviews are very inspiring! The photos especially. I can imagine it's taken years of practice :) Do you generally use a phone camera? or a proper digital camera? I find it difficult lugging around a large camera, not to mention the stares from everyone :)

  • At 5/14/2011 7:43 pm, Anonymous kay said…

    yum yum!! some guys told me they love your work (at work lol).. so far they've tried restos you've recommended and they said its spot on!! :) this one looks like one of them... hehehe

  • At 5/15/2011 9:09 pm, Blogger Gianna@TheEmptyFridge said…

    You know that caption "can't talk. Eating" you wrote.. Well I'm just speechless after finishing reading this epic post. it's art on a plate, and the attention to detail in creating this dining escape is just out of this world!

  • At 5/16/2011 7:03 pm, Anonymous Shelley said…

    I'm dying to go!!!

  • At 5/16/2011 7:04 pm, Anonymous Nicole said…

    Your Becasse blogpost is amazing. It's well beyond my budget but we all can dream! Amazing pics too!

  • At 5/17/2011 7:29 am, Anonymous Nick said…

    What an amazing experience. Did you happen to finish with a coffee? They're serving the incredible Bin 35 Mountain Top Estate Australian bean. http://www.facebook.com/singleoriginroasters

  • At 5/19/2011 2:00 pm, Anonymous Vivian - vxdollface said…

    Everything is so beautiful! I'm loving the new premise, must definitely make a visit and dine on the Chef's table as well!

  • At 5/24/2011 9:26 pm, Anonymous sara (Belly Rumbles) said…

    Speechless. I was lucky to dine at Becasse's old home on Clarence, and it is one of the most memorable meals of my life, food but also the company that I was there with. Looking at the degustation menu that you enjoyed, it almost looks like Justin has upped his game. Oh and the new digs look amazing.

  • At 7/01/2011 1:10 pm, Anonymous Johanna Anning said…

    My that is some review! They take so much care don't they, right down to the Becasse crossiant in a pretty little box. How delightful!! Cheers


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