Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Painting the town red

Excuse me for sounding old, but these days a night on the town is more likely to involve some new or untried restaurant in the city, as opposed to what it used to mean – at least half a dozen drinks in some seedy club or bar, questionable dancing and a sleepy morning cab ride home. Dining choices are now far more exciting than club nights – and I relish the chance to try somewhere I’ve never been before.

A little while back, I ended up at Foveaux in my old hood of Surry Hills, courtesy of an Entertainment Book offer too good to refuse. The early booking turns out to be a good idea, surprisingly, with the full attention of the staff and kitchen; and time for lingering post dinner cocktails and friends at Foveaux’s downstairs hidey-hole bar, Red Door.

Inside Foveaux, Foveaux Street, Surry Hills

The interior is inoffensively likeable, from the very moment I walk through the sliding front door to the moment I head to the dim downstairs bar. I wasn’t likely to have enough time for the tasting menu this visit, which, at $75 for six courses, is incredibly impressive value. Luckily, I’m in a decisive mood, and a bit excitable too as it’s been a while since hats were anywhere near my plate.

The wine list is brief by the glass, with the French Domaine du Haut Bourg muscadet and Italian Castel Firmian pinot nero our picks. The latter is admittedly a touch too acidic for my tastes but the muscadet is certainly a variety I’ll keep an eye out for in future outings.

Turnip veloute with juniper oil

Promptly following a choice of a petite white or wholemeal bread roll – swiftly demolished with butter and salt; the only remnants being the flour on my black cardigan – the purty glasses of the amuse bouche arrive. A turnip veloute, we’re told, with juniper oil among other ingredients (short attention span). It’s pleasantly warm and creamy; the complex flavours peaking with a strong bitterness at the back of the palate. I’m not sure if I like it or not, but it sets the see-saw tone of the night.

Sautéed Hervey Bay scallops, venison heart, sesame puree, crushed beetroot and la goya jus

Our entrées were selected with uncharacteristic lightning speed, perhaps due to the presence of some lovable starring ingredients. Scallops are seldom bad picks in my books, paired with an uncommon venison heart – very Snow White and not a turn-off to me in the way liver and other offal can be. The sweetness of the crushed beetroot is the perfect foil for the heart – which is medium-rare, of the texture of a rehydrated Chinese shiitake mushroom, faintly meaty and metallic in taste, and unexpectedly affable.

The sesame puree was not at all overpowering as expected, but rather a soft and smooth accompaniment to the slight crunch of the seared scallop, beautifully cooked to a slippery, opaque centre.

Caramelised pork belly, ceviche prawn, black pudding puree, shiso and prawn rice cracker

Decadent as expected, the golden rectangle of pork belly was actually silver medallist in the appearance stakes – second to the pool of black pudding puree, which looked as if it had spilled out of the pork itself. Prawn – in chopped pieces of ceviche and crunchy cracker form – dances atop the melt-in-the-mouth fat and flesh, which has a savoury taste sensation unique to pork, in my view.

It’s a varied collection of ingredients that looks like a contemporary artwork and has a similar polarising overall taste verdict. With the near undivided attention of the kitchen, mains are not long in following.

Braised lamb neck, couscous, prune puree, Spanish onion, carrot and orange

The braised lamb is pure winter comfort; a generous rather cylindrical helping that you could cut with a spoon. Presented on top of a bed of couscous, they were both doused in an intense orange sauce, which actually overpowered any other flavour on the plate, unfortunately.

The carrot was spared, although it was probably one component that could have used the helping hand of the citrus hit. The Spanish onion was a standout, insanely caramelised and sweet that peeling each purple layer off was perversely pleasurable; while the flourishes of prune puree were nicely understated.

Herb baked leather jacket, braised rabbit, lettuce, peas and green olive puree

The leather jacket fillets admittedly don’t look too exciting; herb baked but rather pale in appearance, especially against the lines of verdant green olive puree and dots of peas. The slightly ironic combination of rabbit and lettuce underneath is at some odds with the fish itself. The tender strips of rabbit were slightly gamey, thus making a strange bedfellow for the well-cooked but subdued leather jacket. Perhaps it was all the greenery, but this dish had me thinking spring when it was clearly not spring out of those doors.

Buttered kipfler potatoes, garlic, chive

The kipflers are golden nuggets of fluffy potato, reminiscent of potato gems, dressed in a load of butter, garlic and chives. There’s a vanilla flavour in the potatoes that I can’t quite place, and to be honest, I’m a little too full to really appreciate them in their buttery, golden glory.

By the time we’ve finished our mains, the restaurant’s several tables are filled with many a tasting menu – it seems good value escapes no one. But I’m particularly pleased that it did escape me, as I still maintained a voracious appetite for dessert.

Salad of pineapple, kaffir lime, yellow curry with coconut sorbet and rice paper

It’s an exciting, and also sizeable, pre-dessert we’re presented with, in yet another desirable serving vessel. The mere mention of curry oil is titillating, and the pineapple pieces with finely chopped kaffir lime leaves deliver spoonfuls of initial fascination followed by genuine appreciation. Paired with the sweet coconut sorbet and crispy spiced rice paper, it’s hard not to think to of sweet Thai curries. I was honestly enthralled and my anticipation was heightened for the actual dessert.

Braised watermelon, passionfruit marshmallow, sheep’s yoghurt sorbet, pink grapefruit, fruit salad sage and crumble

And what a stunning dessert it was. Sold on the menu’s mention of marshmallow, I find it to be much more of an attraction than the braised cubes of the softly red watermelon. The marshmallow cubes are torched brown on their flat tops with immensely sticky but firm innards that explode and shout of passionfruit, more so than the actual fruit even. Each cube is a few mouthfuls of bliss that I regret being torn away from, but to try the rest of the dish.

The watermelon is a juicier, denser version of its original self, topped with shreds of the peculiar fruit salad sage, which is a bit minty with a touch of bitterness. On bitter tastes, the pale pink gel of pink grapefruit provided the other end of the scale to the passionfruit marshmallow; an extreme 10 in bitterness and tartness to marshmallow’s pure sweetness.

I kind of understand all the components when taking the sheep’s yoghurt sorbet into consideration. It’s light and undeniably sheep-ish, perfectly partnered with the watermelon and sage, slowly melting on to the buttery shortbread-like crumble like an ice cream sandwich of sorts.

Part of Foveaux's red theme

Pulling away from the oblivion created by the dessert, I notice the restaurant filled to the brim, with table after table arising from the back stairs of the bar. Going in reverse, we lick clean the dessert plate and down the remnants of our French whites and Italian reds, to descend into the dim basement level of Red Door.

There’s an array of seating for twos, threes, groups and masses; and a particularly amusing and extensive cocktail list to ponder while guessing if you actually know those people in the dark distance or the corner. As I pick a drink that’s an “homage to the silent movie stars of the Roaring ‘20s”, it turns out I do know those people in the dark corner, and it’s a few seconds of furniture rearrangement (with help from the staff and flexible seats) before we’re a mass drinking fancy cocktails.

Mine is of the name of a forgotten male actor (really, I’ve forgotten), with a rum of sorts, lemon juice and shaken egg white in a martini glass. It’s expectedly tart but perfect perched on a low stool chatting to unexpected company in the dark lower ground bar – that’s painting the town red for me these days.

Foveaux on Urbanspoon


Forager @ The Gourmet Forager said...

The marshmallow dessert looks and sounds amazing! This place has been on and off my radar but it looks so good (not to mention generous) I'll have to check it out for myself!

Tina said...

Hi Forager - Ooh, the dessert was amazing. Do check it out - I seem to remember the degustation is quite reasonably priced :)

Helen (grabyourfork) said...

Something about toasted marshmallows makes me feel just as warm and gooey inside :) Fantastic plating and intriguing dishes - must check this out soon.

Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella said...

what an interesting mix of flavours and it sounds like in some cases it worked whereas others perhaps it didn't so much! :)

thang @ said...

the watermelon and passionfruit dessert looks divine!

Betty @ The Hungry Girl said...

Ooh I wish they had that marshmallow dessert when I dined there! That looks so yum!

Tina said...

Hi Helen - Indeed, they were warm and gooey... :)

Hi Lorraine - Yes, all I can remember are the desserts at the moment... :S

Hi Thang - Divine it was!

Hi Betty - Oh :( You didn't have that choice? Bummer...

Ms Darlinghurst said...

Yum looks delicious! You always post amazing photo's and I always seem to read your blog around lunch time. Dammit! Boring tuna salad today looks dismal compared to this!

Tina said...

Hi Ms Darlinghurst - Yes, but we can't be having black pudding puree everyday.... can we? ;)


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