Thursday, October 13, 2011

All welcome at The Montpellier Public House

Pushing through the door into the Public Bar at The Montpellier Public House, I felt like I was in a movie scene – you know, the ones where as the character enters a restaurant, it's convivially noisy, warm and welcoming inside, with customers and staff bustling round and a smiling face to greet you.

First floor dining room at The Montpellier Public House, Belmore Road, Randwick
The Montpellier Public House is the relaunched venture of the former Restaurant Balzac by Matt Kemp, situated in the sandstone building that marks the fork of two main roads in Randwick.

It now comprises the ground floor Public Bar as a gastro pub with small share plates among larger posh pub meals for more casual dinners, and interesting sandwich and platter options at lunch.

The upstairs Dining Room is for the more formal eats with a modern British-French bistro bent, but by no means stuffy fine dining (I don't believe they serve pig's heads at double-clothed establishments). Both up and down stairs are enticing with a wood on wood on wood on sandstone look, but this evening, we're booked in to the Dining Room.

Shiraz (back, potentially Yarra Loch) and 2009 Lethbridge Estate chardonnay
There's still some formality in the lengthy and broad wine list; it's something to behold especially in the relaxed surrounds. But thankfully, the staff all know a thing or fifty about the list which features champagnes next to sparklings, cortese and torrontes, then tempranillos and a whole section of right or left bank Bordeuax wines

This makes it a breeze to order, especially when it comes to wines by the glass. I start on a Victorian chardonnay that's, as promised, a fruity and unoaked one, while my dining companion heads straight for the off-menu shiraz of which I forget the name but enjoy the boldness.

Complimentary bread (by Brasserie Bread) - country white (bottom) and quinoa and soy (top)
Not so much the white sourdough, but I'd recognise that quinoa-topped seeded loaf anywhere. Half slices of these Brasserie Bread goodies arrive with a generous block of soft salted butter; both speedily demolished, at times with mouthfuls of more butter than bread.

The monster steak knives were already at the table as we took our seats, giving the diner a good indication of perhaps what the kitchen intended us to eat. Chef Kemp is well known for his use of 'lesser' cuts of meat. And sure, you can eat fish with a gargantuan steak knife, but looking at it alone made me want meat.

A dozen oysters from Mooney Mooney
I'm sure Kemp knows that he has the cheapest oysters in restaurant town. At two bucks a shuck – almost half the amount most restaurants charge – it was hard to resist a full dozen, served with lemon and a dressing of red wine vinegar and finely diced eschallot.

The oysters, from Mooney Mooney on the Hawkesbury River, are particularly plump varieties of presumably Pacifics given their subdued flavour and limited minerally-ness. With dressing and/or a squeeze of lemon, the full dozen are an almost endless reward for those more accustomed to ordering just one or two overpriced molluscs.

Terrine of rabbit and turnips, bitter leaves, mustard grain
I adore a good terrine and the bunny one on the menu gets the tick. Interspersed with, I think, confit turnip, the rabbit meat itself was cooked down to a flaking tenderness perfect for smooshing onto the grill-marked bread.

The flavours were lifted to happy heights by the mustard grain; a sweet and lightly tart sauce atop the terrine slice that was a heavenly match with the bitter baby red and normal witlof leaves.

Fried duck egg, black pudding and baked beans
I had breakfast déjà vu at the sight of our third entree, though admittedly, I'm not a blood-for-breakfast kind of person. Or for any other meal of the day really, so a few bites of the thick cake of black pudding had me running to the shiraz more than a couple of times.

The egg was quite amazing; larger as a duck egg should be, but fried with the texture of a firmly poached egg white and a perfect oozing orange yolk. A peek beneath the white revealed a still white surface; not the golden, bubbled outer of your normal, at-home fried egg.

I think the amount I do not like blood in food goes towards how much I like home-made baked beans. Probably navy beans for their incredible likeness to the canned stuff, these were in a tomato sauce enriched with speck or other scrumptious cured pork chunks that were also in the bean mix. Breakfast for dinner – works.

Whole oxtail in ale, baby carrots, Yorky puds, potatoes in dripping - for two
The mains menu gets really interesting. Of course, interesting proteins, dishes and combinations, but excitingly, a range of shared mains, some even for four, at very, very reasonable prices. They were mostly hearty sounding, so I'll be interested to see what the spring/summer menu might look like.

There was some debate over head to tail, but tails won out with the whole braised ox tail over the pot roasted pig's head.

Whole oxtail, served with jus
The ox tail had been braised for hours in ale, and fell apart without the aid of the monster knife. In fact, a fork was all I needed to merely push meat off the fiddly bones, and to even push the fat off the meat.

It's definitely something I would have preferred to pick up and eat, although some parts of the tail bone were a little too large to do so in a ladylike fashion. Most the flavour came from the jus, which was served in a little jug for us to pour quite liberally over whatever we pleased.

There were more than enough baby carrots to keep us and the terrine happy; these cooked with the meat and taking on lots of meaty goodness on top of their baby sweetness.

Yorkshire puddings
I think these were my first ever Yorkshire puddings, and who better to pop my Yorky cherry than a through-and-through Englishman. Delightfully crisp, rich with egg and impressively hollow within, I can understand why these are so popular with roasts and other hearty meals where gravy is involved.

Potatoes roasted in dripping
Proper dripping cooked with the potatoes, we're told. And you sure can taste it. Golden to an almost deep-fried hue, these spuds of various sizes had an inner savouriness that would be hard to place were I not told that they were cooked in animal fat. Crunchy and yum all round with a sprinkle of sea salt.

Knickerbocker glory
Heads turned as dessert came our way. Continuing to share dishes was a grand idea given the size of the Knickerbocker Glory and its shadow-casting sail of a tuile. Aside from the great difficulty of choosing just one dessert from so many temptations (think Eton mess, bread and butter pudding, spotted dick?), the Knickerbocker Glory would simply be too big for me to consume after two courses.

It was described to us as a tall glass of strawberry ice cream and many other sweet, beautiful ingredients. Fresh mango segments, blackberries, strawberries, chantilly cream, nut brittle, coulis – it was like the best Easter showbag ever where the good stuff just kept coming.

The end of the meal was a fantastic, sugar-assisted high. Although we were in the more formal part of The Montpellier Public House, it's obvious that the kitchen and menu aren't taking themselves too seriously; instead focusing on value, creativity and an honesty that makes the experience comfortable and extremely welcoming – whether you head up or down the stairs.

The Montpellier Public House on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

Glad to see hearty & tasty old-school meals making a comeback! Food looks awesome, and $2 per oyster is a steal.

joey@forkingaroundsydney said...

Great review, and I like the changes, although the name is quite a mouthful. :)

Mel said...

I never went to Balzac, but the new menu (and the new place) sounds great - so very English!

Jobe said...

Man... those potatoes look nuts!

Dumpling Girl said...

I think the oysters have me there, but the knickerbocker glory, sounds amazing, but you are right it looks huge.

Tina said...

Hi lateraleating - Yep, hearty is definitely the right adjective. Very interested to see the menu in warmer weather.

Hi joey - Thanks mate. I've been calling it just "Montpellier"... :)

Hi MissPiggy - Very very English, with a touch of French ;)

Hi Jobe - They were awesomely good. I'm now so sad we didn't manage to finish them all, especially with the gorgeous jus.

Hi Dumpling Girl - Yup, I don't know which of those I liked more... Such a simple but fab dessert!

Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) said...

Now that is one serious sundae! And I'm liking the English turn of events for the reincarnation of Balzac.

Corinne @ Gourmantic said...

Looks very rustic and more British influences than French. Not sure about the name... I look forward to checking it out. Had many many Balzac dinners over the years!

Tina said...

Hi Rita - Mmm, worth dreaming about ;)

Hi Corinne - Might have to ask Matt Kemp about the name, although the Public House bit is quite applicable to downstairs

Lex (A Food Story) said...

Nice review Tina. Love the pic of the steak knife - we had a similar shot but omitted it from the blog post at the last minute, hehe :)

Tina said...

Hi Lex - Thank you! We didn't even need it though, the ox tail was SO tender!

Removalists Melbourne said...

Your post makes me hungry.

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit sad I never got around to visiting Balzac before it closed but this new reincarnation looks really warm and lovely. Hoping to also lose my yorkshire pudding virginity.

Tina said...

Hi Removalists Melbourne - Thanks for the compliment ;)

Hi food in hand - I think it's a pretty exciting development. Next time, I might be game enough to try the pig's head!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...