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|
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.
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.
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|
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|
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|
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|
|Prawns / capers / brown butter|
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|
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|
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|
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.