Monday, October 21, 2013

Ester brings Chippendale to life

The quiet backstreets of Chippendale are coming to life. For too long out-publicised by neighbouring Redfern and Glebe, there’s a new brigade of modern, casual restaurants like Ester bringing some spark to the inner city suburb.

Ester stands out like a beacon on the dark, quiet street between busy Regent and Abercrombie streets, with warm yellow light emanating from the small restaurant's front entrance.

Ester Restaurant and Bar, Meagher Street, Chippendale
A large wood-fired oven is the feature of Ester's menu and open kitchen, which has full views of the entire intimate dining and bar space – vibeing a slightly retro-vintage feel with lots of arches. The fitout is kind of homely without being ostentatiously hipster, despite the area.

From the same group behind Berta, Vini and 121 BC all in Surry Hills, Ester raises the expectation for simple, if not rustic, flavours with a modern, youthful sensibility.

Chefs Mat Lindsay and Nic Wong are both ex Billy Kwong, so it shouldn't have surprised me to see celebrity chef Kylie Kwong sitting at the bar when I climbed up to my somewhat tall bar seat perch.

Rosemary chickpeas
The service at the bar is friendly and helpful especially when it comes to the list of natural and biodynamic wines, which is still new ground for most. The white I tried had an earthy murkiness to it but a short length on the palate, ensuring its drinkability and necessitating a second glass later in the night.

Start off with addictive deep fried chickpeas, gratis, seasoned with loads of salt and rosemary while perusing the well-considered menu with snacks, small plates, larger wood-fired dishes, sides and desserts categories. All the dishes are made to share as is the trend with a lot of new, casual venues.

Roasted oysters
We started, as you should, with the roasted oysters – served singularly or by the half or full dozen. This evening they were Sydney rock oysters in the full shell, receiving a bit of a sauna treatment in the wood-fired oven so as to just warm and open a little (without shucking and hence broken shell bits) to be served with finely diced eschallots and red wine vinaigrette.

I'd never have imagined warm oysters could be such good eating. As well as being a highly appropriate introduction for those new to oysters, the roasting warmth rounded off the mineral flavours and brine of the mollusc incredibly well, while the vinaigrette lifted the "snack" to glorious, food-fantasy-worthy levels.

Blood sausage sanga
I'm not so much a fan of blood products but others are, and the blood sausage sandwich is a creative and even approachable take on the divisive ingredient.

Served on a cute, crustless square of steamed white bread, the miniature sausage of blood and stuff was actually very palatable and described as one of the better, textural versions of the sausage, with a mustard aioli and caramelised onions to help it all down.

Bone marrow / XO
While blood isn't my thing, bone marrow most certainly is. Beef bones, split lengthwise and topped with Asian seafood XO sauce before roasting, proffered a tempting aroma of the complex sauce and fat.

The XO sauce acted as seasoning for the fatty, jelly-like bone marrow – appropriately salty but at times, overpoweringly fishy, even with the toasted slices of the excellent house-baked bread in support.

Crab / rice / egg
While the snacks menu is straightforward enough, the brevity of the menu descriptions for the small plates and beyond makes it a little more difficult to know what you're getting.

The crab dish was a hybrid between a risotto or congee with plenty of blue swimmer crab flesh and crisp curry leaves within the creamy, buttery dish.

Topping it all off was a curious sprinkle of powdered fried chicken skin, spices and sesame seeds that, interesting as it was, somewhat detracted from the crab experience.

Crab / rice / egg
There was a perfectly oozy egg hidden within the mound of crab and rice and despite the varied textures, there was a flatness to the flavours which made the dish a bit of a chore, although helped with lemon from the prawns.

Prawns / capers / brown butter
The large roasted prawns were divine as expected, delicately half-peeled for easy access and delivered with a lip-smacking brown butter sauce, salty pops of capers and grilled baby cos lettuce.

The prawn shell was completely edible, with the prawn legs particularly crisp and full of flavour, while the wilted lettuce and bread were ideal mops for any leftover buttery sauces.

Steak / bagna cauda / radish
To the larger dishes the 200 gram serve of flank steak (also available as a half kilogram option) arrived pre-sliced to reveal perfectly rare to medium-rare beef that was full of juicy flavour.

Served with bagna cauda anchovy and garlic sauce and refreshing slices of radish, it was a highlight of the meal – perhaps just behind the roasted oysters.

Cauliflower / almond / mint
We added an order of the roasted head of cauliflower as almost all the surrounding tables had them, and to boost the vegetable intake.

Burnt in some places, the very natural approach didn't excite me much, even as a massive brassica fan. Whole leaves of mint added interest and a second flavour note, while the almond puree and chopped almonds, I suppose, were designed to bring out the nuttiness of the wood-roasted cauliflower.

Potato / duck fat / coriander seed
We had clearly not thought ahead to dessert as we also had a side of duck fat roasted potatoes. No regrets here though, as they were some of the best I've had – roasted golden and crisp at the edges, and well-seasoned with lots of salt and crushed coriander seeds.

Dessert-less, we rolled out and onto quiet Meagher Street, with the stark difference between the warm, inviting restaurant and the pretty empty street only adding to Ester's charm, and that of Chippendale.

The suburb is starting to shine bright; indeed with Luke Powell, ex Tetsuya's and of recent Mary's fame, said to be opening up a restaurant right next door by the year’s end. Food and restaurant-wise, Chippendale is alive.

Ester Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon


chocolatesuze said...

oh my freaking god that bone marrow yum im totally visiting ester asap

gaby @ lateraleating said...

Looks great! (except for the burnt bits in the cauliflower).

Vivian - vxdollface said...

very interesting dishes, loving the sound of those roasted oysters!

Anonymous said...

Hi. My friend told me about your blog and also "Cooking With Mr. C." on Facebook, which I just "Liked". I'm so glad when people share blogs with each other. Denise

missklicious said...

the roasted oysters sound great. tried to stop by the other night (sans-booking) but they had an event on unfortunately! will have to schedule a visit soon. food looks fantastic!

Annie said...

so keen to try the bone marrow and the crab dishes. been planning to go here for a while since it's close to my friend's workplace

Tina said...

Hi suze - Hope you enjoyed it!

Hi gaby - Yeah, not sure if that's intentional or not...

Hi Vivian - The oysters are soooooo good, I have food dreams about them.

Hi Denise - Thanks for coming by (and thanks to your friend!)

Hi missklicious - I think if you drop by early sans booking, it should be OK.

Hi Annie - Nice to see more stuff popping up in Chippendale.

Amy zhong said...

ive heard amazing things about this place!

Neil Chung said...

Yummo. It sounds like there's problems with balance and flavours. But bone marrow. And roasted oysters...

Sara - Belly Rumbles said...

All looks good, but prawns, capers and brown butter, oooohhhhh heeeellllooooo!

Tina said...

Hi Amy - Yeah, I think/hope there will be some evolution/maturation over the next several months. Would be keen to go back.

Hi Neil - I'm hoping the oysters are a permanent menu fixture. Forever.

Hi Sara - Yeah, that was definitely a standout dish. Mmmmn, butter....


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