Thursday, November 21, 2013

Arras takes Days Off for Good Food Month

I haven't had a day off in a while - sick or otherwise - and I think I'd like one. While I wait for that not holding my breath, it was a treat to experience the 'Days Off' degustation menu designed by the chefs of Restaurant Arras for a couple of special dinners as part of Good Food Month last month.

The menu, with matched wines, was about showing diners what chefs like to eat on their days off from the kitchen and unsurprisingly, it featured a lot of my lazy favourites too - just in fancy, fine dining style.

"Pizza - no half and half, no pineapple!" from the Good Food Month 'Days Off ' menu at Arras, Clarence Street, Sydney 
Pizza was offered as an appetiser in a deconstructed manner featuring crackers of pizza base bits, cheese foam, tomato paste, basil oil and powdered versions of both black olives and capers.

The idea was to get a bit of every topping onto the cracker like a DIY pizza, although on the crackers that were very much like days-old leftover pizza crust to me, the whole thing tasted a little like Pizza Shapes - another of my lazy favourites.

Soy and quinoa bread roll with butter and salt
It was still fine dining so we were offered a selection of bread which are baked in-house daily and sold in the neighbouring Arras Too café by day.

"All Day Breakfast"
Our first course was named "All Day Breakfast" and I was expecting a rendition of a typical Aussie big breakfast which are available in many cafés as an all-day option.

Instead, we got an intriguing Seinfeld-esque take on all-day food with a creative and probably pretty healthy cereal mix of puffed wild rices, flavoured with spices and cubes of apple, and dairy in the way of goat's milk crème fraîche.

Eaten delicately with a teaspoon, this was an intriguing and light, sweet-savoury start to the 11-course meal.

"Sushi Train"
The fine dining re-imagination of a sushi train dish was my highlight of the degustation, featuring a thick but petite fillet of cured and torched kingfish, just a little raw within.

Topped with puffed grains of wild black rice, the fish was accompanied by daikon white radish threads, a sheet of soy sauce jelly and the most fantastic puree of sushi rice, gari pickled ginger and a touch of wasabi.

While demonstrating a lot of technique in their separate components, all together it was a deliciously, delightfully and cleverly constructed dish that was much more fine dining than conveyor belt sushi.

Soup going into the "2-Minute Noodles"
Instant and 2-minute noodles are definitely one of my guilty pleasures, especially when I'm sick. However, my mi goreng and Nissan "doll" noodles are nothing like these house-made Hokkien-style noodles, served with a complex, flavoursome consomme poured at the table.

"2-Minute Noodles" with Arras seasoning
Adding to the authenticity of the 2-minute noodle experience was the plastic packet of Arras-branded noodle seasoning that came with the course; an array of spices that were best not added at height and thus inhaled.

The seasoning added a kick to the fatty, flaking salmon which was crisp on the surface while bean sprouts and sliced shallots brought freshness to the dish that usually comes out of a packet.

"Prawn Tandoori"
We moved on to Indian takeaway with a lobster-like king prawn cooked to perfection in tandoori spices, leaving it fragrantly red and full of well-rounded spiciness.

The prawn was served skewered with a deep fried potato flatbread and a vibrant trio of sauces - cucumber, yoghurt and mint - in a deconstructed raita, with powdered coriander to finish it all off.

"The Henry"
The next course was inspired by a sandwich at Glebe café The Wedge. "The Henry" comprised bread crumbs, pesto, avocado, a googy egg yolk, holladaise sauce and pork cured and cooked to resemble the most amazing and soft ham; all topped off with a mysterious consomme of gruyere cheese.

Eating the parts and eating the whole, it was a completely whimsical experience and most surprisingly, it was so true to the flavours of a sandwich it had me in happy awe.

"Parma and a Pot"
I'll admit that schnitzels (and close cousin, chicken nuggets) are one of my absolute favourite naughty comfort foods and I'm sure I'm not alone as the American-Italian chicken parmigiana is one of our nation's most popular - or at least common - pub meals.

So it was "parma" and a pot of beer; not quite a Melbourne pot but a delicate sampler of Happy Goblin Pale Ale - a fruity brew from northern Sydney.

The poussin schnitzel arrived heart shaped - just like a certain brand of processed chicken schnitzels.

Served with the thin, pan-fried and crumbed schnitzel was a rather oily potato roesti and a puddle of intense tomato sauce covered with a non-descript circle of bacon jelly, all showered in grated cheese and herbs - by far the fanciest parmy I'll ever have.

"Steak and CHIP"
They weren't kidding when the menu listed a singular "CHIP"; perhaps the largest potato chip I've ever eaten. The impressive chip featured alongside a roasted mushroom, rump steak portion, onion rings and a crumbed cube of - wait for it - gravy.

Cracking the thin shell of golden crumb was some of the most fun I've had at dinner in a while, with brown gravy oozing out, perfect for dipping both the chip and medium-rare cooked steak.

"Beer Nuts"
Getting pretty full by this point, the palate cleansing pre dessert was welcome reprieve. It played on the pub staple of beer and nuts: an accurately beer flavoured sorbet, topped with lime jelly and sugar, with a side of sweet glazed almonds and peanuts.

"Burger with the lot"
Dessert was essentially the piece de resistance of the meal. My younger days are very familiar with burgers with the lot; a uniquely Australian creation usually including egg, cheese, bacon, pineapple and beetroot in addition to a meat pattie and token salad offerings. I'm just not that familiar with the dessert version.

Served on a miniature brioche bun, Arras' "burger with the lot" comprised a lot of fun and sugar, starting with a berry jam "tomato sauce" spread on the bun and dripping on the plate.

A dehydrated pineapple thin and passionfruit sorbet "egg yolk" provided the refreshing flavours among a panna cotta "egg white", creme caramel "cheese slice", chocolate praline ganache "meat pattie" and berry jelly "beetroot slice".

It was all too much for this non-sweet tooth after 10 courses, but the sheer fun and creativity made this "burger with the lot" a contender for Sydney's best burger.

Arras petit fours
And then to finish, the stuff of legends and dreams. For the sweet tooth, the Arras petit fours tray is heaven: a custom-made perspex tray covered in sweets, chocolates, biscuits, jellies, miniature ice cream cones and so much more.

Indeed, so legendary are these petit four offerings that Arras offers them in takeaway boxes; popular with tourists and office secretaries, we're told.

Arras petit fours
Like a kid in a candy store, I dived in to grab an ice cream cone, a marshmallow, a Jammie Dodger, a piece of honeycomb and an earl grey tea chocolate. And all this for a non-sweet tooth.

Arras interiors
Completely and utterly sated, Arras' "Days Off" menu was a triumph in fun and creativity, for both the diner and the kitchen I'm sure.

And with another year's Good Food Month over, we are now racing towards Christmas where, for me at least, a few days off are well overdue.

Food, booze and shoes dined at Arras as a guest of Citibank Dining Program.

Restaurant Arras on Urbanspoon


Sherrie Huang said...

Ah I swoon at the petit 4s every time I see it. I will eat it eventually!

squishies said...

Arras' petit fours were always awesomely ridiculous... glad to see that hasn't changed! :D

And what a fantastic, whimsical dinner!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I keep meaning to get to Arras! I can't believe that I still haven't. The sushi train and noodles looks fun!

missklicious said...

love the petit fours at arras.

what a fab idea for a degustation, especially like the dessert burger. too cute!

Tina said...

Hi Sherrie - It's insane. I'm not a sweet tooth, but I wanted it all!

Hi squishies - It was much fun (and so much food..!)

Hi Lorraine - The Days Off menu was lots of fun, but just for GFM I think.

Hi missklicious - Yep, it would have been loads of fun and creative thinking for the kitchen :)


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