Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Etch: A portrayal of tough times

It’s sad to see yet another restaurateur impacted by what seems like tough times in the hospitality industry. With small and large falling amid continuing new openings, it feels like the changing undercurrent towards casual eating is finding its unfortunate victims.

One of these victims is Justin North’s Etch, which was nestled into the Bridge Street side of the Intercontinental Hotel. A recent voucher meal I had there was superb but was perhaps a bad omen of the times. Here are the memories.

Etch dining room, Bridge Street, Sydney
The Etch dining room had always perplexed me a little: its atypically narrow restaurant space, plush with carpets and banquettes, almost feels like an extension of the Intercontinental Hotel, but the food definitely stands/stood on its own.

The voucher entitled us to a six-course tasting menu, and an option for discounted matching wines, although being a bit early in the week we instead elected from a brief selection of wines by the glass.

Amuse bouche: Sweet corn veloute
Without delay, and even before I’d decided on a glass of pinot noir, the waitress brought over a complimentary amuse bouche – as they do for all diners. The piping hot and creamy sweet corn veloute was just the thing to warm us from the cold evening outside.

Local figs, Woodside goat curd
The first picturesque course featured airy blobs of goat’s curd, paired with adorable fresh figs and drops of lightly scented lavender honey.

The sesame crackers were a dream to munch through with a smidgen of everything in the mouthful. It wasn’t a big-impact dish to start, easing in rather, I thought, and could just have easily have served as dessert.

Crispy Spencer Gulf prawns, avocado, wasabi
A single crumbed and deep fried prawn, split into three sections, comprised the next dish; its presentation somewhat highlighting the lone crustacean.

The mild wasabi dots and avocado could easily be confused on appearance but not in taste in this delicately and slowly eaten dish.

Field mushroom risotto
The cooler seasons were well represented by the field mushroom risotto where chestnut and enoki mushrooms met amid a supremely buttery risotto with rice just on the under-side of done.

The deep fried lotus slice was a beautifying touch to the utterly satisfying risotto, of which I could have easily had another two serves.

Caramelised pork belly, beetroot, pear puree
The more substantial protein dishes started with everybody’s favourite cut – pork belly – in a unique fashion.

The well-coloured and stickily caramelised slice of pork was thin but hit the palate with sweetness and seasoning that was enhanced with the pear puree and a white wine gel of some sort.

The lack of crackling was consoled with the cracker garnish and a well matched beetroot puree.

Aromatic slow braised lamb shoulder, pumpkin, garlic spinach, mint, balsamic
The round of soft lamb could barely hold itself up it was so thoroughly cooked with a cavalcade of spices.

The rather classic accompaniments of mint, pumpkin (in puree form) and spinach were appropriate given the big flavours of the lamb, with the balsamic vinegar sauce penetrating the richness of the fatty meat.

Pre dessert: Chantilly cream, pear jelly with sherbet and poached pears
An unexpected pre dessert tasting plate arrived looking almost too pretty to destroy. It would appear that it was the season for pears – not one of my favourite fruits due to the sometimes grainy textures – but the poached specimen was nothing short of spectacular in texture and flavour.

The triangular jellies of pear covered in sherbet brought momentary childlike fizzy joy, followed by the sophisticated taste of real pear. But despite all the seasonality, my favourite component was the cloud-like Chantilly cream: just sweet and light enough to be a primer to dessert proper.

Lemon parfait, pineapple, coconut salad, coriander
The pretty sight of yellows and whites signalled the lemon parfait, with what has to be the crunchiest-ever mini meringue topper as a garnish. The pastel yellow block of parfait itself was citrusy perfection while the tropical additions of pineapple and fresh coconut shreds erased all memories of the cool weather.

Not that we weren’t satisfied with the six course offering – indeed, with an amuse bouche and pre dessert, it was more like eight gorgeous and very well- choreographed courses – the delivery of a cheese plate to a nearby table was enough to put in an extra order.

The Old Telegraph Road Sapphire Blue cheese was served on slate with tea-smoked pears and more than enough lavosh crackers, which is a sad rarity. The intense smokiness of the pears played interestingly with the fruit’s sweetness, the latter of which is a personal should-have component with blue cheeses.

At the end of the meal I sat thinking that there was really nothing more that I could have wanted: the beautiful, seasonally-focused dishes were presented well and tasted even better than they looked and the service was efficient across the well-timed meal.

It's such a shame to see Etch go but I've got my fingers crossed that North can get through the current tough times.

Etch on Urbanspoon

16 comments:

Tina @ bitemeshowme said...

It raelly is sad to see wonderful places like Etch struggle and possibly fall through. The best thing is that Justin North hasn't quite closed anything yet. There may still be light at the end of the tunnel. What an exceptional feed. I really enjoyed my a la carte experience at Etch.

gaby @ lateraleating said...

Yeah, such a shame... especially because I haven't been there and all dishes look amazing...

chocolatesuze said...

really going to miss etch, the lolly tray in particular!

Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) said...

I think it's a real reflection of how tough the food industry is doing it of late, but also perhaps how saturated the market is. Yes, the profit margins are slim - if there area any to be had at all - but, similarly, there is only so much that the average consumer can afford to eat out as well.

MissPiggy said...

We bought this voucher too - and when I saw nearly the entire restaurant handing over their TravelZoo vouchers I thought "uh-oh"...it's a pity as the food was lovely and it was a lovely space.

SarahKate (Mi Casa-Su Casa) said...

The food sounds beautiful. Hopefully North, who is an amazing chef, will be able to scale back and continue making great food at his remaining venues.

Jacq said...

So sad to see Etch go, it was truly a great restaurant!

Vivian - vxdollface said...

Great recount, really sad that they've shut their doors :(

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

It is such a shame about Etch and the other restaurants. The food at all of them was always superb.

joey@FoodiePop said...

i am very sad indeed, especially as I had a dinner there booked for July. :-(

JasmyneTea said...

I'll be really sad if those other restaurants close their doors, I mean look at the quality of the food!

sugarpuffi said...

oh no! i didnt know etch closed until i read this!

Tina said...

Hi Tina - Unfortunately Etch and Le Grand Cafe have closed, and likely the Quarter 21 cooking school.

Hi gaby - It was one of the best meals I've had lately, so it's a real shame...

Hi suze - I never even go to try the lolly tray... :(

Hi Rita - There was definitely a flurry of openings in the past couple of years and now we're seeing the other side of it.

Hi MissPiggy - Hoping we don't see the 'voucher' effect too much more then...

Hi SarahKate - It's too bad I preferred the Etch style than some of the others...

Hi Jacq - It is, and sadly they're not the only ones.

Hi Vivian - I wonder what will open up at that spot now...

Hi Lorraine - Indeed, I was looking forward to a return visit...

Hi joey - Oh. I suppose there's the other restaurants in the group. But we are not short of options in Sydney...

Hi JasmyneTea - It was just gorgeous and was one of my favourite recent meals.

Hi sugarpuffi - Sorry to be the bearer of bad news...

retrodaze said...

I loved Etch! I was so surprised when I initially heard about all these places closing and now it seems like every second day, another one bites the dust. Very sad about Berowr Waters Inn closing before I ever had a chance to try it.

Ashley said...

oh no :( I haven't even tried this place out yet.

tastyfoodsnaps said...

such a shame etch closed down.. risotto would be so good in a degustation! I could never finish risotto as a main dish!

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