It's been a while since I've been to Establishment; the lure of the ivy somewhat cannibalising custom. I'm surprised at the door with vouchers for a free glass of sparkling - apparently Thursdays are 'ladies nights', although you be wouldn't able to tell by just looking at the large, firmly packed crowd.
It is, as ever, a bazaar of human forms, and we're lucky to scrounge up a couple of seats amid the end of week winding down (close enough) and loosening ties of the mostly business clientele. I'm luckily able to escape the marketplace for the far more conservative yet elegant surrounds of the floor above; booked in for a Merivale Winter Feast at est.
There's a quiet hush at est. in contrast to the frivolity downstairs. I feel like I should be carrying a portfolio of budgets and important documents; however, the staff don't seem to mind. In fact, the service is a bit of a highlight of the evening: from the offering of a glass of Dom to start, to the bread service, to the concurrent serving of dishes at every table.
The sourdough bread is airy and soft with a thin, crunchy crust; the alternate option of soy and linseed bread also deemed worthy of the polite round pat of butter. We're handed both the a la carte menu and the winter feast menu, and after a brief aspirational glance at the former, we knuckle down our decisions on the latter menu.
I'm normally scared away from pates and terrines, for fear of that smushy liver texture and cold, blubbery aspic. The lack of mention of any organs in this terrine entree is a good start, and its appearance settles any qualms about my decision. Looking like a hybrid salami in its reddy pinkness, it's much like a cold, pressed sausage dotted with vibrantly flavoursome and crunchy pistachios. The perfect savoury earthiness of the meat is wonderfully contrasted with the sweet pear and date relish - overall a dish of brash flavours reserved by toasted sourdough bread.
The alternate entree is a typical 'me' order, if not for my companion choosing to order it before me. The linguine is more like a fine spaghetti and generously sized for an entree. It's in a light cream sauce dotted with small, firm scallops and crunch-filled snow peas cut on a diagonal. The fennel was so subtle I couldn't tell you what form it came in, but the flavours in the overall dish were quietly-spoken next to the terrine.
The wait for mains is filled with people and deal watching, staff service commentary, financial system and economic forecasting, and weekend plans. One guess as to which we were eavesdropping on. One thing I noticed at est. was their considered, if not contrived, delivery of plates to a table. A table of five would all receive their entrees/mains at the exact same time courtesy of five waiters. I've only ever seen this at weddings in the past, and I'm undecided as to its neccessity. I suppose you can chow down as it hits the table, eliminating the need to wait for others' dishes to arrive.
I don't know where to look when our mains arrive. The lamb acros the table looks divine in a tickled pink rare state, but I can smell the mouthwatering aroma of my confit. In a display of impeccable cooking, the lamb rump is without an inkling of gaminess and impossibly tender. Paired with al dente white beans and sweet cherry tomatoes, it's a classy take on simple winter favourites.
The duck leg confit sits imposingly on the plate, as if supremely confident in its own abilities to impress. Well, fair enough. The skin crackles ever so slightly to reveal a flavour-infused, melt-in-mouth experience that is truly poultry gone luxe. The frisee salad, with evocative roasted hazelnuts, is welcome lightness to the rich duck leg, as too the well-hidden half of a roasted kipfler potato.
The mere thought of desserts is a struggle, and luckily so given the arrival of petit fours before we leave for the night. Petite they are, but a huge impact they make. Starting from the left of the dark picture there's a miniscule toffee caramel tart with decorated with a speckle of gold leaf. Then there's a dark chocolate rectangle with an indiscernable dark chocolate ganache inner. The third item was the eye-opener: not a lime jelly jube as it may appear but an olive oil gel covered in sweet and sour crystal flakes. I'm still not sure if I liked it, but I certainly still remember it.
The chocolate and cocoa covered almond brittle stuck to the tooth a little whereas the dense caramel (and date?) mini cake was resplendent with caramelly decadence in every crumb. Finally there was a soft chocolate truffle with golden 'est.' prints atop, as if we didn't already know this was a glittering dining experience.
The evening ends on this sweet, sweet note and as the faultless service extends to the lift, we descend and quickly exit the still-packed Establishment of newer generation priorities and standards, knowing that all was happy and right for at least another dining moment.