Location: 163 King St, Sydney
Booking Required: At peak times
Sometimes as regular diners and amateur food critics, we all get carried away looking for the next big thing. We want to find that new tapas joint doing funky dishes, that modern oz place putting flavours together you could never imagine, that French/Japanese place fusing ingredients and styles in unforgettable ways. But sometimes it’s the simple things that surprise us. The home truths.
Because I don’t get a chance to eat out that often, when I do eat out I want to try something new, something I haven’t had before. It’s rare that a place pulls me back, especially if it’s a little costly. But Element Bistro manages to do that.
Pardon the pun, but it pulls all of the elements of dining together in a fantastic way.
It’s only a small place, tucked away basically under the sidewalk on busy King St. So you go in and see if they have a table. They usually do. You take your seat and you’re offered tap water, but of course sparkling or bottled if you so wish. It’s great to see a place that encourages tap water, rather than looks at you weird if you ask for it. And have a bread roll and some delicious butter while you’re at it – complimentary of course.
I find it an odd menu. Made up largely of classic French dishes, but with a tiny twist that makes everything look so appealing. It makes me want to order everything there. But, of course, I can’t.
A nice wine list too. Small, like the surroundings, but strong. Some really good choices on there. Excellently priced too. I’m sick of seeing the price list of wines and thinking “ambitious” straight away.
We settle on the kingfish carpaccio, marinated in citrus with pomegranate, and the baby beetroot salad to start. The carpaccio is beautifully flavoured and plays well with the pomegranate and other ingredients on the plate. The beetroot salad is just fantastic. Combined with soft, creamy feta, greens (tiredness and poor memory don’t help) and nuts (again) and just the slightest tang of balsamic, it all comes together perfectly. I use the remains of the bread to greedily mop of the juices that have stayed on the plate. On previous visits we have also enjoyed the textbook French onion soup (delicious) and richly delicious duck liver parfait.
Mains are where this place really succeeds. On my first visit I had one of the best pieces of corned beef I can remember and enjoyed the grill of the day. This visit was even more successful. The salmon was out of this world. The skin reaching it’s ultimate crispiness, covering the perfectly cooked flesh and that melted apart. This sat atop a bed of fennel and beside – interestingly - a colcannon of potato, bacon and shallot. While the colcannon was a little dull and oniony on it’s own, with the salmon it was fantastic. I tried this before my main arrived and nearly regretted my order. But when it did arrived – the duck confit with roasted potatoes, seared scallops and asparagus heart puree – all regrets totally disappeared. This dish was truly something else. There was not a grain of this duck that was not packed with flavour. Whether it was the subtle taste of the brine that gave it a nice salty punch or the fat that soaked up everything, it was all good. The jus it was served with only added to the experience. My only question, and it was such a small question, was the scallops. I didn’t really feel they added much to the dish. Fat, juicy scallops would have. But these ones were a little dry and were a little overpowered by the huge flavours going on elsewhere. But man, I didn’t care. I ate those scallops up and enjoyed them.
On our second visit the service was really called into question. For the most part it was fantastic. The waitress on the floor was utterly charming at all times, sharing jokes and sharing information about the dishes on offer. She even remembered that on his last visit, the person I was eating with felt a bit under the weather. That visit was a month ago and it was only the second time he had visited. When we arrived he immediately mentioned that the last time he was here the waitress was fantastic. We only saw more of that on this occasion. Even a stuff up – not bringing the correct main for me – was handled with genuine apology and bucketloads more charm. While this would have annoyed me at a place I didn’t like, I really couldn’t have cared less at Element.
The first time I ate here we were too full to have dessert. But this time we made sure we had enough room. We didn’t even need to see the dessert menu, with that trademark charm the waitress offered to make the selection herself for us if we trusted her. We were more than happy with this, and so it was. She even warned that what she had in mind would take a while, so she can think of something else if we were in a rush. It’s the small things like that which add up to a good dining experience.
The desserts selected, crème brulee and chocolate fondant with mint and lime granita arrived with matching wines (botrytis Semillon and muscat, respectively) and looked inviting. The crème brulee was quite good but lacked a bit of body to it. Not disappointing but not remarkable. The chocolate fondant, filled with rich chocolate sauce, was much more successful. The richness was beautiful contrasted with the refreshing granita, which stopped that sickly sweet feeling that plagues many rich chocolate dishes from creeping in.
The desserts are finished, the water glasses are filled again – just as they have been all night – and the bill comes. The price is good for what we’ve eaten, and my happiness doesn’t subside like it does at many other good restaurants.
Element really is doing something special with essentially basic things. Why this tiny place isn’t constantly booked out I have no idea, but I’m thankful for it. The food isn’t on the next level, but for the price it goes for, it really is something special. Not many places will make me want to go back and spend that sort of money. Not that it’s astronomic (of even “ambitious”), I’m just a bit poor.
So that’s why this place becomes only the fourth ever and only the first pricey place to get the following rating:
Rating: Will Constantly Return To