By Franz Scheurer
Last night we had the privilege to be part of the Caviar Dinner at Guillaume at Bennelong. It’s been a long time between drinks for caviar lovers in Australia due to the import bans in force for so many years. They have now been lifted and chefs throughout the country are rethinking their menus.
Guillaume Brahimi is no stranger to the delicacy and the dinner promised to be an experience not to be missed.
It started with an amuse gueule of a delightfully delicate crab sandwich with caviar served with a 1995 Moet et Chandon Cuvee Dom Perignon. The first dish, ‘Salad of Local Lobster’ on a bed of avocado, crispy potato and Osietra caviar shone texturally and the hint of cumin in the avocado lifted the dish to incredible heights as the Dom Perignon complemented the flavours perfectly.
The second dish, ‘Egg Mollet’, a soft boiled egg sitting precariously on top of a pea puree and pommes allumettes, crowned with a glorious and generous heap of Sevruga caviar took my breath away. This was a dish with an absolutely stunning combination of flavours that seemed to engulf all the senses and lingered on and on and on. This masterpiece will stay on the menu and I beg you all to try it if you have a chance. The wine Christopher Morrison chose, a 1996 Louis Sipp ‘Kirkberg’ Tokay Pinot Gris from Alsace, was clean and crisp, showing only moderate fruit and worked perfectly, cutting through the rich flavours and offering an almost symbiotic relationship with the sweetness of the peas.
The ‘Spaghettini tossed with Scampi’, served with Osietra caviar and a Champagne sauce was a definite wake-up call for the palate. Up to now the flavours were incredibly complex whereas this dish was straight out power. Salty, earthy, seaside flavours with aromas wafting up from the plate strong enough to make you dizzy. An outstanding match provided by a superb 2002 Chateau de Viviers Chablis rounded off a mouth-filling explosion that I can still recall in every detail this morning, and probably will for many years.
The main course of ‘Western Australian Bar Cod’ served with delicate, double-shelled broad beans, fennel, asparagus, oysters and Sevruga caviar showed off one of Australia’s east coast’s most underrated species and Guillaume’s mastery at combining textures. For a French chef his understanding of textures, a far more Chinese chef’s passion, is unbelievably developed, and it makes the difference. The last time I have eaten dishes of this complexity, with such a masterful and seemingly natural use of textures, was over 25 years ago when I ate at Fredy Girardet in Crissier. The 1999 Grosset Chardonnay from Piccadilly Valley provided another terrific match; the sommelier was obviously on the ball!
Feeling rapidly like a stuffed turkey at Christmas, it was time to find that ‘dessert stomach’. A delicate and extremely refreshing glass of Queensland strawberries with a fabulous strawberry sorbet was doused in Moet et Chandon Rose 1995; with a glass of the same served alongside. A perfect finish to a perfect meal!
Congratulations to Guillaume Brahimi and the incredibly proficient team in the kitchen. Thanks to Craig Hemmings and his informed, friendly, efficient team on the floor - they not only know how to please a guest but each and everyone seems to really enjoy what they are doing. To Christopher Morrison, the sommelier: ‘you have outdone yourself’.
It was indeed a privilege to have eaten this meal last night!