By Franz Scheurer
Owner and chef Roy McVeigh hopes his place is going to be a trendsetter for the area and he gambled everything on this, including taking out a 9-year lease.
Nestled amongst the Indian restaurants and food stores the scent of Indian spices rules the area and every now and then wafts into the space of the restaurant.
Dragoncello (which means ‘tarragon’ in Italian) is different to any other place on this strip; a combination of upmarket, refined cooking and an almost New York warehouse-chic kind of look. At the moment there is a long bar and a few tables. The art on the walls is striking and the combination of fruit baskets for light fittings over the bar and a huge, holed, copper lightshade in front of a superb painting, also on a holey substrate, shows a lot of thought and presents perfect synergy.
Chef McVeigh’s pedigree is impressive and he comes from a fine dining background, yet he chooses to ‘be out there’ and when you read the menu you either trust the chef or you’ll think this a bad joke. The food, as described, cooked by a lesser talent would be truly awful, yet in McVeigh’s talented fingers it takes on a life of its own and will not only woo you, but also convince you that this guy can cook!
The tables are bare but good, large cloth serviettes are provided and the the stemware, plates and cutlery are elegant and work well.
An amuse bouche of ‘Fish head curry’ sets the scene and not only is it wonderfully fragrant and quite hot, it also presents very well. The menu is divided into Snacks, Entrée, Main, Sides, Composed Cheeses and Dessert.
From the ‘Snacks’ menu we tried ‘Sydney rock oyster mayo with crispy potato skins, confit leek and citrus leaf gel’. A superb contrast of gooey, crisp, hot and cold with a huge umami hit. We also tried the ‘Morcilla with banksia nectar, beetroot with salted cinnamon popcorn’ and the moist, dark and savoury morcilla is grounded by the earthy beetroot and lifted by the banksia nectar and the salted cinnamon popcorn carries this dish into the stratosphere.
Time to move on to the 'Entrée' section and we chose the ‘Pumpkin pot stickers on crispy puffed grains with nasturtium flower gel’; another winner and I never knew just how good pumpkin pot stickers could actually be. Next was the ‘Scallop sashimi with elder flower mousse and cucumber’ and apart from Rockpool and Fishface I don’t think I had scallops that fresh and I loved the coolness of the cucumber.
From the 'Main' section we tried the ‘Slow cooked chicken ballotine on hay cream, pickled onion, shiitake mushroom and Jerez sauce’, this had to be the dish of the night. Beautiful flavours, great presentation and this is a dish that will guarantee my return. We also tried the ‘BBQ potato gnocchi, savoy cabbage, confit garlic, beurre noisette’ and this is the only dish that, in my opinion, should be taken off the menu or be totally rejigged. Heavy, soggy gnocchi did not do this dish justice.
We ordered both ‘Sides’, the ‘Fat potatoes with fenugreek leaves’ and the ‘Dressed weeds and garden leaves’. The potatoes are sickeningly addictive and absolutely superb! If you try and stay on your weight, don’t order them; if you don’t care, order 2 portions. The weeds turned out a to be a bowl of mainly iceberg lettuce but it was good and cheap.
I desperately wanted to try the ‘Le dauphin brie with salted almonds, almond granita and bottlebrush syrup’ but lack of space prohibited a cheese course... next time.
For 'Dessert' we shared a ‘Potato chip cake with sour cream snow, salted caramel and pear’. What can I say? Superb! The cake (in the vein of a banana cake slice) was warm and the sour cream snow balanced this with its coolness and the relatively bland flavour worked a treat with the salted caramel.
A short and concise wine list with an adequate offering by the glass worked well and the beer and spirits list is impressive. A wonderful Rosé from Soligny worked well and I stayed on Ardbeg 10 and beer. I noticed that they stock the Macallan Amber... unusual and impressed.
The food service is timely and the quality outstanding with good presentation. The service is friendly and professional.
I wish chef success because, selfishly, I want to return often to eat Roy McVeigh’s food.
Noise: 55 db
Would I recommend this place to my friends: YES, go, this chef deserves your support
Would I go again: no hesitation, YES
Best dish: the chook
The ‘je ne sais quoi’: the ambience and the decor
466 Cleveland Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
+61 2 8399 0907
Restaurant Review by Franz Scheurer
Eight months is a long time waiting for Guillaume’s new restaurant to open, but it was worth it. Guillaume Brahimi managed what no one before him has ever achieved (and I believe no one ever will again): he made the iconic Bennelong Restaurant at the Opera House work, where even Gay Bilson and Janni Kyritsis did not succeed.
Guillaume Brahimi spent a very long time making the site of the old d’Arcy’s his own. What he has done is not only remarkable, but I do believe there is not another restaurant even close to what he mastered. This place oozes style with Laguiole knives, Riedel stemware, (and I love the touch of the blue water glasses) triple linen on the tables, soft, fabric walls, perfect background music and much more. It’s a haven of traditional European style with an unmistakable, modern Guillaume touch, which I believe makes it quintessentially ‘Sydney’.
The restaurant spreads over two levels with the kitchen downstairs and the private dining room upstairs, facing the city. A wonderful collection of Matisse paintings covers the walls and there is a real design synergy in everything; the attention to detail is astounding.
From the moment you step through the door you are in the hands of professionals who anticipate every wish and seem to have an uncanny ability to read your mind. Once seated, your choice of water locked in, you have time to peruse the à-la-carte and the degustation menus and absorb the rather extensive drinks list. This is a place where they take their sherry, wine, digestive and whisky seriously. If you need to discuss what beverage might work best with the food you order, then talk to the sommelier. I like the fact that you can keep your budget under control nor lash out and spend up big. There is something for everyone.
The menu is a great read; something old, something new, something for everyone. You can choose à-la-carte or the 8-course degustation menu. On our first visit we started with a couple of amuse bouches of Crab Mousse and a Prawn with Sterling Caviar. We tried the Blue Fin Tuna, the Jurassic Quail, the Truffle Risotto, the Turban of Scampi, the Veal Sweetbreads and the Patagonian Toothfish. Iggy’s bread and Myrtleford butters complemented the excellent food and the Quail and the Turban stood out. The Turban is such an iconic Guillaume dish and I am glad he returned to incarnation 1 over the less texturally exciting incarnation 2. Oh, and don’t forget, there is always Guillaume’s incredible Paris Mash… And let me say right here that I do think that Naomi Ingleton’s Myrtleford butter is the best in Australia and it’s great to see it at Guillaume’s Restaurant.
On our second visit we were four of us and my attention was focused on the guests not on the food and again the restaurant shone. To be able to serve perfect food with matching wines without intruding on an obviously focused and private conversation is a difficult task and the staff succeeded admirably.
On our third visit one thing changed: this was no longer a brand new experience or a typical Sydney ‘must-do’, but a place that almost felt like home. Simply beautiful, a mix of hushed silence and noisy exuberance, a place of comfort and a place where I wanted to be. To my palate Guillaume’s food is more French than ever, but his brigade now works as a team and everything is perfect. Chris Morrison on the floor knows his drinks and his advice is poignant and worth taking on board. Interestingly I will return not just for the food, but for the whole ensemble. What Guillaume offers here is a Sydney one-of-a-kind. Last nights Scampi Tartare was sensational and I just couldn't help myself and had to have the ‘Peas and Asparagus’ a simple dish of tortellini, crème fraîche and tarragon. As truffles were in season we also had the Chicken Demi-Deuil; probably the most succulent chook we had in a very long time and the amount of truffle under the skin really confirmed that there was no ‘demi’ to that mourning.
The squab, served with cabbage, endive, onion and foie gras was flawlessly executed. Indeed a pleasure to the palate, and the cheese platter diverse and all the cheeses perfectly ripe and at the right temperature.
The first time, a bottle of 2005 Chambolle Musigny Grand Cru worked beautifully and I applaud the decision that still and sparkling water are served free. This time we stayed away from wine and drank beer, whisky and sherry. The Sanlucar de Barremeda (Palomino) - Delgado Zuleta ‘La Goya XL’ En Rama Manzanilla was particularly good. Again, the staff knew their drinks and knew how to serve them. Top marks for serving the whisky in a wine glass and not in a tumbler.
On our first visit we tried the Vanilla Bean, a tiny Crème Brûlée, Green Apple Sorbet and a house-made Macaron, and I said at that time, that this is the best dessert in Sydney right now. Last night’s Raspberry dessert, with lemon, ginger and buttermilk, was another high point, a mix of refreshing and substantial. Alex Schubert is the pastry chef and although Kirsty (who used to be the pastry chef on opening night) has moved on to a more senior role in the kitchen, she still keeps an eye out over the desserts that go out. They rock!
Service was polished, slick, knowledgeable and friendly. These guys know how to smile and I love the way they explain food or drink and never make you feel you’re ignorant.
The conclusion: One of the world’s great restaurants
Noise: 64 db
Would I recommend this place to my friends: Yes to everyone who listens
Would I go again: absolutely
The ‘Je ne sais quoi’: the understated, Sydney elegance
Best dish: The Turban of Scampi
For more information or bookings:
92 Hargrave Street
Tel.: +61 (0)2 9302 5222
By Franz Scheurer
Ajò literally translated means ‘Let’s go’ In Sardinian dialect and it’s also the name of the restaurant inside the Welcome Hotel, run by Daniel Mulligan, who used to be Pilu at Freshwater’s head chefs for about 10 years. Giovanni Pilu taught him well and Mulligan learnt quickly and soon developed his personal style. Now running the burners at Ajò this comes through loud and clear and I must say I was impressed.
The venue, a renovated old pub in Rozelle, is modern but still old-fashioned comfortable with an inside and an outside dining area (protected from the elements) and the space is airy and immediately makes you feel at ease. The chairs are simple, straight café-style and the banquettes extremely comfortable and upholstered in a grey-olive leather that works really well with the overall colour scheme and the wait staffs’ aprons.
As we relaxed at a table to peruse the menu I felt like a beer and asked (foolishly) what do you have on tap? Apparently the owner is a craft-beer aficionado and they have no less than 17 beers on tap and I was in beer heaven. Not only do they have an incredible range of beers, they know how to pour it and serve it. Top marks! Liam looks after the wine list and it’s just as impressive. The wines by the glass are listed by glass or carafe and the bottles by weight and origin. One thing I did notice is that the choice of wines is superb and everything is very reasonably priced.
Daniel Mulligan’s pedigree is impressive and I expected a lot and I got it. Starting with an amuse bouche, little deep-fried balls with pork mince and a chilli mayo were terrific and our entrées consisted of a ‘Bottarga crusted swordfish belly, pickled beetroots, grapefruit’ and it was a revelation. Crusty crunchy bottarga with a strong umami flavour encased a wonderfully fatty belly and the sourness of the pickled yellow baby beetroots cut through the fat perfectly. Then we had the ‘Zucchini flowers cooked in a fennel seed batter, with goat’s cheese, pine nuts and thyme’ and I confess to having found a new favourite for stuffed zucchini flowers. The fennel seed batter works incredibly well and I would come back just for these.
A few years ago I invented a pasta dish, which I called ‘Pasta Francesco’. It’s fresh pasta with lemon zest in the dough, then quickly cooked in salt water and topped with lemon juice and burnt butter. Quite a few chefs have cooked this for me but Mulligan always made the best version and I am glad to report he still does. This was our next course and to me this is everything Italian cuisine stands for; fresh ingredients, few but punchy flavours and great texture and to me this dish was a 10/10. As this dish is not on the menu I suggest you ask for it when you book; I’m sure Mulligan would be only too happy to make it for you!
Next we had the South Australian Mulloway with eggplant, another superb dish with great contrasting textures and the main course was ‘Seared mutton back strap, broad bean, baby artichokes, olive caramel’ and it was another winner. Beautifully rare, rested meat; just beautiful. Let’s not forget the wonderful bread rolls: they bake their own and they’re superb, served fresh out of the oven and the EVO that comes with it is quite peppery.
For pre-dessert we had a panna-cotta with blood orange sorbet and to finish a cheese platter with a choice of Swiss raw milk cheeses, even including Sbrinz. Most impressive indeed.
Service was efficient and friendly and Steph, a knowledgeable lady originally from Argentina, did a superb job of looking after us and seemed to know what we wanted at all times.
Noise: 68 DB
Would I recommend this place to my friends: Absolutely
Would I go back? In a flash
Best dish: Pasta Francesco
The ‘je ne sais quoi’: the easy, laid-back atmosphere
For more information or bookings:
Ajó at Welcome Hotel
91 Evans Street
Rozelle NSW 2039
+61 2 9810 1323
CHIOSCO by Ormeggio
By Franz Scheurer
Alessandro Pavoni is a human dynamo who lives every day as if it might be his last and never lets an opportunity slip through his fingers. He saw the space on the wharf at d’Albora Marinas at the Spit and he converted it into Chiosco (Kiosk) a wonderful outdoors, covered restaurant/café space with its own kitchen. He’s also a perfectionist, so the staff is from Ormeggio, the chef that oversees the Chiosco kitchen is Alex Joslyn also from Ormeggio and the food is 100% vintage Alessandro comfort food – and it’s fantastic.
Chiosco is open all day and they serve a mean breakfast. They are BYO so this will suit a lot of people and the prices are more than reasonable. Where else can you sit right on a wharf with your bum almost in the water, amongst all the moored boats, eat fabulous food with a great view and BYO?
It’s an amazing space.
The restaurant (except the kitchen) is totally outdoors and it’s covered by a ‘boat like’ ceiling with fans for summer and heater bars for winter. The sides can be rolled down to shield you from the worst of the weather and chairs are comfortable and the tables, albeit small, are not covered with cloth and you get an abundance of good quality paper serviettes and the glassware is good.
We ate ourselves silly last night and literally rolled home. Starting with fantastic ‘burrata’, served with basil oil, beetroot and sourdough crumbs and a wooden board full of superb sourdough from the Ormeggio bakery and a house-made ricotta. Then we had a ‘fritto misto’, bottle squid, Hawkesbury river school prawns with mayo and it wasn’t just good, it was amazing. Tiny bottle squid, full of crunchy gooey goodness. Then we had the ‘pizza fritta’ simple and moreish with tomato and ricotta. The next dish was ‘orechiette’, house made pasta with mussels, bottarga, tomato and lemon and not only was it exquisite, it reminded us of the time when Giovanni Pilu ran Cala Luna across the road. The next dish was really unusual: charcoal grilled ‘corn on the cob’ served with paprika and pecorino. Smoky, spicy and moreish (except the corn kernels have a habit of getting stuck in your teeth). Staying with the charcoal theme we tried the ‘polipetti’, baby octopus skewers, salmoriglio, and the ‘arrosticini’, the lamb skewers with salsa verde. The octopus was so soft it almost disappears in your mouth and the lamb, although very strong, is superb and cooked rare. Next we had ‘porchetta panini’ and they knocked our socks off. So incredibly good; perfect combination of flavours and textures. Next it was back to the charcoal grill with ‘gamberi’, split, grilled king prawns and by now we were about as full as you can get without exploding. Thankfully we only had the dessert to go and you always have a dessert stomach. A serve of ‘bombolone’ nutella filled doughnuts and ‘cannolo’, ricotta filled crunchy cannoli with pistachio, and that filled the spare stomach admirably.
Being BYO we stayed on beer and Manzanilla all night, which worked a treat.
I had a bit of trouble scoring this place; the food is vintage Alessandro Pavoni comfort food and it’s superb; I’d have to give it an 8.5/10. The wait staff is superb (from Ormeggio) and they know their stuff. For a place that only just opened there are very few teething problems and the timing is pretty perfect. Alas, being an outdoors venue, with outdoors toilets, with BYO and no tablecloths, paper serviettes, etc. I can’t give it the score the food dictates. I have to look at the overall.
Noise: 72 DB
Would I recommend this place to my friends: certainly, it’s so Sydney!
Would I go again: just watch me! (and brekkie, too)
The ‘je ne sais quoi’: the atmosphere and the view
Best dish: corn on the cob
Chiosco by Ormeggio
d'Albora Marina, Upper Spit Road
Mosman NSW 208
+61 2 9046 7333
By Franz Scheurer
Pilu at Freshwater, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, is better than ever! Giovanni Pilu is an amazing chef and with the help of Marilyn Annechini, his wife, they run a superb restaurant in Freshwater on the northern beaches of Sydney.
The place has always been good but it was obvious to me that chef was searching for something during the last few months. Giovanni is devoted to Sardinia where he grew up and understands not just the food and drink of the island but also the way of life. His food has always been Sardinian but it seemed to me that he was also busting to find a way to implement a more modern take on the cuisine without ever losing sight of, or respect for, the traditions.
Well, with the implementation of his new menu Giovanni Pilu has succeeded in presenting Sardinian food with a modern edge that elevates the food beyond what I ever expected would be possible. I was blown away when I first ate at Cracco in Milan and found that chef could make a Risotto Milanese that was both modern but also steeped in tradition; Giovanni Pilu has achieved the same level of combination of old and new with Sardinian food right here in Sydney.
His 'Scampi, cavolfiore, cime di rapa, e rafano' is a dish of shelled scampi tails, pickled cauliflower, a couple of cime di rapa leaves and horseradish cream and it's simply fantastic. You haven't lived if you have not tried the 'Brodo di Pecorino, fregola, zucca, castagni e olio al timo limonato', a stylish, totally unexpected pecorino consommé, with hand-rolled fregola, smoked pumpkin, chestnuts and lemon thyme. Exquisite! Giovanni's 'Pane frattau' a 'mountain' of carta di musica layered with tomato, pecorino, and a 60º soft boiled free range egg is always superb and texturally amazing. And the simplicity of the little pasta circles in the 'Talluzzas' served with Coronga lamb ragu and Balsamic di Modena is a symphony in sweet and savory that has few equals.
Don't forget the suckling pig… and leave room for some seadas for dessert. No, I'm not going to tell you about the seadas; just order them! Go! Try it! Enjoy it! and the wine and beer lists are comprehensive, interesting and totally appropriate. Service is always with a smile, competent, never too aloof, never too friendly.
Noise: 70 DB
Would I recommend this place to my friends: Absolutely, quintessentially Sydney!
Would I go again: I do, regularly
The ‘je ne sais quoi’: the food, the atmosphere and the view
Best dish: The scampi
Pilu at Freshwater, Moore Road, Freshwater Beach
+61 2 9938 3331