Swimming against the tide of thirsty dark suits at the Hotel CBD bar to the back, we float up the spiral staircase that evokes turrets and attics and evil witches, to the abrupt side-by-side doors which look oddly like a modern version Western saloon doors.
Bistro CBD is empty-ish as we arrive but fills later with a mixed bag of corporate diners, birthdays, couples and girly catch-ups as is the case for us tonight - surprising me as I had it marked in my mind as very corporate. Aside from the gossip and advice, we're also here for the March into Merivale festival which promises a main meal and glass of wine or a beer for $33.
Service is slick and suave with water and bread arriving quickly; a choice of sourdough or soy & linseed. Served with butter, it keeps us going through the intial mind-dump of gossip and menu perusal, especially the entrees, which are an additional $16 with the March into Merivale special (as well as desserts).
At least I think it was carrot puree - sweet and a stunning colour contrast. These plump scallops wore a crunchy, golden coat of caramelisation and were ever-so moreish, but alas, an entree serving. I do wonder how many I could eat on their own - it could be scary. The plating was beautiful, I thought - modern and stylish, but not overly fussy like someone had stood over it for 10 minutes. The tender asparagus was also paired nicely with the puree - but nothing really competes with a scallop cooked so that it retains all its sweet juiciness within. Ooh - craving.
Freshly shucked Sydney rock oysters with golden shallot dressing
The other shared entree is the oysters: freshly shucked and served on a moat of ice about a bull's eye of golden shallot and (red wine?) vinegar dressing. The freshness of the briney local molluscs is intoxicating, while the dressing plays the bridesmaid with aplomb - just don't use it as a dip with the bread.
For mains, I've gone the chicken - which is one of the most exciting chicken dishes I've heard for a while. I think it's the exoticness of the bhaji and pawpaw that take me in, and I'm so glad they have. The onion bhaji are really a bit of fun, and while they're fragrant with Indian spices, they outer batter coating is also a little hard and chewy - detracting somewhat from the otherwise awesome topper. The pawpaw puree, chutney sauce and currants combine to be almost too sweet, but tempered by bites of the ridiculously perfectly cooked chicken.
I've had medium-rare steaks less juicy than this chicken breast. I'm very impressed and also grateful for the vegie fix in the hidden wilted spinach. This dish has given me reason to reconsider ordering chicken in restaurants.
The burnished skin of the fillet of Hiramas kingfish gives it away immediately - I'm no fan of fish skin but when it has a crunch factor comparative to potato chips/crisps, I'm the president of the fan club. The knife literally crunches through the skin which then crackles in the mouth, smoothed out by the butter sauce and just-cooked texture of the fish. The artichoke puree is not my cup of tea, but makes for an interesting, new serving partner with pan-fried fish.
In the absence of the pork belly saltimbocca promised by the menu, the grilled sirloin is equally welcomed to the table with golden fries, a dressed pile of cress, veal jus and a circular pat of cafe de paris butter. The medium-rare sirloin is delightfully tender and juicy, although a little difficult to cut with the normal dinner knife. This is no pub steak and chips for sure, as every bit of jus gets mopped up with the chips.
The girls had already eyed the desserts menu earlier, and were surprisingly keen to get that show on the road. We can never be too sweet, especially with decion-making between the diverse menu of desserts, and when a souffle includes an extra 20 minutes cooking time.
Our table is silenced at the sight of the souffle, and there are a few other awed sets of eyes our direction too. The perfectly formed cylinder that is the souffle and ramekin is almost an architectural feat, as too the perfectly formed ball of sorbet - this from an ex long-time ice cream and gelato scooper. The souffle is just so airy and egg-whitey, redolent with sweet tang of mandarin - but I seem to be more enamoured with the sorbet, which is like the traditional lemonade in frozen, eye-squinting form.
More sweetness came in the form of a fondant, which had just the thinnest crust of cooked chocolate mix and oozed out with molten chocolate goodness at the first jab with a spoon. Rich was an understatement - it was more like ultra wealthy. Again, the perfect sphere of ice cream was my new best friend, dotted with pecan pieces and just oh-so-right on sweet and creamy scales.
Full of good food and gossip, we're able to descend the spiral staircase like princesses - out of our turret and into the dungeon that's emptied of its suited prisoners. Perhaps dungeon is a bit harsh, but I leave pleasantly surprised that all is not stuffy in the world of the corporate CBD.
P.S. They've refreshed their $33 menus at all the restaurants - slightly excited - check it out here: March into Merivale.