It’s a long flight.
Fourteen hours and three movies long.
But once you arrive in Sydney, you’ll quickly forget the confinement and monotony (if not the agony) of a trans-Pacific flight from Los Angeles.
For Joanne and me, Australia may be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. But what an adventure it was.
So if you go, here are a couple of important tips.
First, if budget allows, book yourself into THE PARK HYATT. And don’t just book any room: BOOK ROOM #112. Check out the view from our window of the Sydney Opera House at dusk, and again when dramatically illuminated at midnight. Every night was a different show.
Second, Joanne and I spent a few hours every day strolling the spectacular BOTANIC GARDENS, a green oasis right in the heart of the city. While soaking up the lushness of it all, we were both able to clock several thousand healthy steps on our FitBits.
However, the benefits of our daily exercise were neutralized every night by our divinely decadent dinners – the best of which was at EST. (spelled “est.”, but screw that; names should be capitalized). It’s located on the second floor of THE ESTABLISHMENT HOTEL overlooking George Street in the middle of the Central Business District.
EST. is a splurge restaurant – not in the league of, say, an Alain Ducasse restaurant in Paris, but you should still expect to pay at least $250 (US) for two with a modest, but good, bottle of wine. However, the prix fixe lunch is a bargain at around $40 per person with a glass of wine.
The handsome dining room dazzles with high reaching white Grecian columns and crystal chandeliers that twinkle and sparkle. The effect is luxurious, but not stifling, and the soft but theatrical lighting throws a flattering glow on all diners. Double-clothed tables and discreetly eager servers set a professional tone, yet one of ease and comfort. Joanne and I watched as tables were served by “masters of the swoop”…where all guests at the table are served simultaneously by an army of servers. At MANNY’S we call it “gang service.”
Another important tip: If there are two of you, request table #90 in front of the oversized French windows overlooking George Street.
The EST. kitchen is seasonally driven under the watchful eyes of Chef Peter Doyle, whose beautifully orchestrated dishes combine “Modern Aussie” with French technique.
Joanne and I went there looking for ideas and inspiration for both SALUTs, but, alas, we didn’t find much that directly applied. It was at once obvious to me that Doyle’s plates – each a sensory knockout – all involved very expensive ingredients and time-consuming labor steps that would send Salut menu prices into the stratosphere.
We began by sharing six briny fresh oysters from Tasmania. Next I ordered Duck Foie Gras with grilled rhubarb, caramel nougatine and crispy, seedy flatbread. Joanne, having none of that, opted for a beautiful starter of local Spanner Crab with kohlrabi, a citrusy/garlicky yuzu kosho, and I believe a garnish of nasturtium leaves on top.
Both dishes proved to be culinary catnip for what was to come: BUGS! MORETON BAY BUGS! What the hell are those? After all, the creatures scuttled their way into several menu offerings, in several iterations.
So I asked.
Our server returned to our table in seconds with an uncooked “bug” on a plate. It looked a little like a flat lobster without claws, and is apparently unique to Australia. He also brought two books from the kitchen explaining the difference between a Moreton Bay and a Balmain bug.
Of course I had to order one…and I certainly was not disappointed. It was just as firm and flavorful as lobster or langoustines, and the preparation — with yuzu curd, finger lime, baby cos (a type of lettuce) and macadamia nut “dust” – was a stunner.
Joanne found herself torn between the Grilled Scallops with parsley-shallot puree, potato wafers, pickled onion and black truffles, and the Murray Cod Filet with shaved abalone, snow peas, ginger, black mushrooms and green shallot vinaigrette. She chose the cod – and loved it.
So I’m only slightly embarrassed to say that because the scallops and black truffles sounded so good, I caved and ordered the dish as a third entrée. I simply had to see it and taste it. And it was worth it! OINK!
Because our food was so good and artfully plated, I made a point of wandering the dining room and looking at what other diners were having. All – and I mean ALL – plates were beautiful and unapologetically decadent. Although I couldn’t identify exactly what each and every dish was, my memory coupled with another look at the menu enabled me to identify a few of the game offerings, including Roasted Quail with foie gras, nectarine and champagne jelly, and slow-roasted Venison Loin with coconut-dusted black cherries.
Dessert did not disappoint either. A light-as-air, yet potent, Passionfruit Souffle was perfect to share, as was the Coconut Sorbet masquerading as husky coconut shells, accompanied by passionfruit curd.
So make a note: if you go to Sydney, do not pass up EST. The food thrills, the service coddles, and the room glows. As Myffy Rigby of Time Out Sydney stated, “The entire experience is consistent…assured…and simply represents straight-shooting excellence.”