I’ve been longing to visit Restaurant Arras ever since I’ve read many excellent reviews by food bloggers. But for a lazy moi, its location at Walsh Bay is definitely the major hindrance for an earlier visit. Earlier in March this year, with a little more effort and finally found myself in the restaurant having an exceptional meal with my usual posse of sexy food aficionados. Restaurant Arras has been awarded one hat in the SMH Good Food Guide since 2008 as Head chef and co-owner Adam Humphrey continues to push the envelope, creating a modern contemporary British menu with whimsical, over-the-top presentations that even Joan Rivers’ face is considered pasty in comparison.
The restaurant was intimidatingly quiet on a Wednesday night with only two other tables occupied. We had a booking at 7pm, the maitre d’, man of a few words immediately showed us to our table and handed the menu over. Soon followed by a waitstaff welcoming us with a plate of complimentary house spiced almonds and olive twists as we were trying to guess the dishes on the menu. Without any descriptions, it is up to your imagination to decipher the dishes with names like “Ta Jean” (a tagine dish), “Plate for Mr Mcgregor” and “A Plate of Mirepoix“. It is half of the fun to build up the anticipation. A tasting menu of $130 including 9 courses is probably a better value for money option for first timer, but tonight we were more interested in the desserts and decided to go with a la carte. The menu is priced slightly higher than average with entrees start from $26 and mains at $40 mark. A basket filled with freshly baked house breads were offered to us throughout the night, including caramelised onion bread, petite malted sourdough loaf and fruit bread studded with walnut and candied fig. Our tastebuds were soon tantalised with a complimentary amuse bouche, a thin sliver of cured sardinerested on a bed of buckwheat salad, topped with micro greens and a peeled cherry tomato on the side – it was a classic combination that packed with umami to keep my mouth salivated.
I have a soft spot for crab and ordered the crab eggy breadfor entree. I didn’t expect any less from its presentation with precision. The crab was prepared in gazillion ways in this dish – an eggy French toast topped with crab meat sausage set in jelly as casing; spherification of crab consomme looked just like tapioca pearls; dots of crab bouillabaisse were fragrantly intense; a quenelle of crab and dill custard offered a soothing relief, balanced perfectly with the bold flavour of the crustacean.
Helen‘s inquisitiveness begged for ordering the Plate for Mr McGregor, a homage to Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit. The dish resembled a colourful English country garden in spring time, edible leaves and flowers were scattered delicately across the plate where rabbit was burrowed amongst the foliage. The rabbit had been prepared in three ways – tender pink rolled loin in sous vide style, smooth rillettes and the rack was frenched, wrapped and roasted into a crispy golden lollipop. I could tell Helen was having great time foraging and exploring different flavours combination.
For mains, The Pom and Suze both ordered the beef. The two slices of medium rare Angus beef looked well rested and perfectly cooked in its own dripping. It was like cutting into butter, tenderly soft with a rich flavour from the cooking fat. Aligot, a classic French potato and cheese concoction had been deconstructed into whole roasted garlic cloves, and a frame of white potato Cheddar cheese sauce. Nasturtium leaves added a hint of peppery touch while the black wild rice is the backbone of texture.
The word “charcuterie“ excites me and decided to go with the monkfishdish. It was truly a feast for the eyes with countless components literally filled to the edges and so many I had trouble to figure out what they were. Monkfish is notorious to be easily overcooked, but these cylinders of firm flesh were tender and sweet, happily swimming in a piggie land composed of vegetable curls, spiced chewy pork skins, bacon crumbs and quenelles of chia seeds which annoyingly kept getting stuck between the teeth after a few mouthfuls.
Helen’s pork belly dish was plated with precision. A long finger of slow cooked pork belly and a potato and leek gratin were symmetrically arranged next to each other. Expect nothing less from this dish, even the pork crackling had been prepared in three ways – crumbed, deep fried dehydrated chicharron and a thin strip of candied pork crackling planking over the top of head cheese raviolomade from the pig’s jowl. Amongst all the porky richness, there were also thin layers of rice crisps had been blackened with squid ink offered the extra crunch and slices of mustard apple for the sweetness.
Another round of trivia with the dessert menu – “Life Gave Us Lemons….and Limes….and”, “The Cinematic Soufflé”, “Revel in it”, “The Perennial”, just to name a few. We were curious and really wanted to find out what they were but the Maitre d’, put on a blank face like Lawrence Fishburne in The Matrix whispered in his deepest voice, “Do you really want to take the blue pill and go back to your normal life, or take the red pill and follow deeper into the rabbit hole?” We really wanted to take the red pill, but our hearts already settled on two desserts. Pre-dessert of caramelised fig with hazelnut ice cream arrived not long after. The sweetness was nicely balanced with the acidity of yuzu jelly and balsamic vinegar reduction. Not so much of a palate cleansing dish as I found it was more sweet than sour, but a good teaser to a finale of wild sugar ride.
Based on the UK confection Revels, Revel in itwas a dessert that reminded The Pom of his childhood. In the pool of chocolate sauce and hidden underneath a cloud of chocolate foam were homemade chocolate clumps with mystery fillings of orange creme, toffee, peanut butter, coffee, or rum and raisin. Served with a quenelle of vanilla ice cream, thin crispy tuile and pistachio crumbs. We felt like big kids all over again as soon as we took the first bite revealing what’s inside the chocolate we picked. Peanut butter was my new best friend.
The long awaited theatrical dessert was finally here. A souffle, a cinematic souffle, popcorn flavoured puff of airy sponge rose proud and tall in a copper pot. Then there were popcorn ice cream rested on a soft bed of candied popcorn, extra plain pop corn in a paper bag to go with the souffle together with a jug of luscious salted caramel sauce to pour over the top. The only way I can describe it – light, airy, sweet, salty, rich, hot, cold, crunchy, smooth…… orgasmic.
Suze’s face immediately lit up when the petit fours platter arrived at our table to go with our teas and coffee. It was a sight to behold, rows of chocolate truffles, jellies and toffees were meticulously arranged on a big slab of slate tile. How I wish every single tile at home was covered in chocolate mosaics like this one, I’d died happy or solidified chocolate coated arteries. For $10, you are allowed to pick as few or as many as you like, without looking like a greedy goose. But I’d like to believe in my Chinese culture, when a host is offering you food, you should respect his hospitality and accept it with wide open arms. We definitely weren’t shy. Neither is Chef Adam, ready to challenge his diners with an elusive menu that one does need an open mind to prepare for a wild ride. Arras Restaurant has recently closed its door at Walsh Bay and is relocating to a new space (formerly Becasse) on Clarence Street in the CBD and will be reopening in August.
Restaurant Arras Ground floor, 24 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, Sydney Tel: +61 (02) 9252 6285 Note: Arras will be reopening in August at a new location- 204 Clarence Street, Sydney CBD. (Formerly Becasse) Opening hours: Lunch Friday 12pm-2.30pm Dinner Tuesday to Saturday 6pm-10pm