Thursday, September 22, 2011

RESTAURANT: Black by Ezard / Balla / Messina

It's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open.

It's open. Star City was a pretty good place to lose money and to drink overpriced drinks. No doubt about it. But when they announced they were going to undergo a huge development and bring in some of Australia's and the world's best chefs, I was suddenly contemplating a move to Pyrmont just to be closer to it all.

Had all of the restaurants opened up together, I was also planning on taking leave from work for a couple of weeks just to eat everywhere and not have to worry about getting up early. But alas.

While some of the other names are still yet to open (Zumbo, Chang, Golden Century, etc), the all shiny The Star has been launched with some excellent eating options. Yes, ones worth going to Pyrmont for!

So what better way to try them than in one night. One after the other?

I start things off at Black by Ezard because I'd checked the websites earlier and Balla didn't seem quite as busy as Black so I reckon I have a better chance of rocking up later without a booking. See, I'm a researcher and all that. I'm not some uneducated blogger spouting off at the... spout.

I'd visited Teage Ezard's Melbourne restaurants--Gingerboy and Ezard--and enjoyed them quite thoroughly, so Black was high on my list of anticipated openings.

The first thing you notice is that it's quite black. The designer that suggested a black colour scheme is a genius, because it looks sleek and sexy as hell. Dark wood, moody lighting and a communal table (aka slab of wood) all fit together nicely and do a bloody good job of making you forget you're in a sort of shopping centre section of a casino. At least, until the tourists come in wearing what appear to be tracksuit pants.

The ipad-housed wine list is tempting and thorough, but in the interests of a quick evening I don't waste any time locking in an awesome half bottle of the American Elkhorn Peak pinot noir.

To start, a poached egg with potato cream and what appear to be potato threads with a herb and truffle salad. Apparently, it's a signature dish of the place. Not apparently, it's bloody awesome. The crunchy threads on top, the perfectly poached egg in the middle, the cream on the bottom. Every mouthful has all of the textures covered.

You don't come to a steak restaurant without ordering steak, even if they do offer fish cooked sous vide in 2000 year old sea water. The wagyu flat iron (marble score 9+) gloriously satisfies the steak component. Perfectly cooked and incredibly rich. It's delicious.

A side of potato gratin is equally rich and delicious. It's cheesy, creamy and a stupid choice if you're thinking about eating another entire meal shortly.

The dessert menu is hard going. Of the half dozen or so choices, they all look great. I thought I'd decided on the chocolate dessert, before I decided on the apple cake, until I finally rested on "Honeycrunch", an exceptionally good honey parfait with great textures.

Petit fours took the form of a chilli and jam filled doughnut with a chocolate dipping sauce. Excellent.

The restaurant only opened last week but the staff are holding things up well. A few kinks to work out but that's totally expected at this early stage of the game. But at their best they're already friendly, charming and helpful.

Black is definitely going to get a revisit.

RATING: Will return to [?]

Black By Ezard on Urbanspoon

While it would have been nice to take a break after eating a full meal, I don't really get the option during the walk to Stefano Manfredi's Balla, since it's only 10 metres away.

Contrasting Black's (er) black, Balla is on the whiter side. This isn't very informative.

I walk in and it's immediately apparent that shit is hectic. A party of four have just been turned away, every table is full in the restaurant, the bar is busy, waiters and waitresses are furiously darting all over the place and staff appear to be doing a lot of what can optimistically be described as "prioritising".

I manage to snag one of the last seats in the bar where they, thankfully (for the sake of this experiment anyway), serve the full menu.

While Black did a great job of making you forget you're in a casino/shopping centre, the bar section of Balla is more exposed, with it's top to toe glass walls. Black gave me a view of a sexy dining room and a bit of the harbour, but Balla's bar view is mostly of the people coming and going from the casino. Admittedly, I was enjoying the people watching that it provided.

In the space of a couple of minutes, a whole heap of someone else's food arrives at my table, gets confusedly taken away, I get asked for an order before I'm given a menu, a waitress appears to be "checking with her manager" and the kitchen appears to be stressing the fuck out. Concerning.

But then it gets better all of a sudden.

I have a solid valpolicella in front of me one second, then I have a solid valpolicella and all of my food in front of me the next. Best.recovery.ever.

They have lardo. Oh dear sweet lord they have lardo. Cured pork fat. I haven't had it since I was in Italy, yet I still dream of it. The waitress warns/checks that I know that lardo is cured fat and I feel like laughing at her for delaying the delivery of my lardo with such nonsense.

It's shaved so fine that you can almost see through the fatty ribbon. I wrap some around some grissini, put it in my mouth and IT.JUST.MELTS. It's stunning. And it's only something like $7. It's a brilliant appetiser or bar snack. Get a bottle of sparkling wine and a bucket of lardo and you have a party.

Macceronchini with yabbies, butter and sesame seeds is perfect in its execution. Good ingredients that compliment each other, thrown together. A joy to eat.

Ox cheek braised in red wine on a pea puree is so soft that I have no idea how it has maintained it's structure. It's stupidly tender to the point of disintegration. Unfortunately, it doesn't have the big, rich flavour that the menu promised, but it's still a very solid dish.

Dessert time (again) and while I was tempted to just get another plate of lardo, the chocolate tartufo seems like it's worth a shot. Deliciously rich chocolate mousse encased in chocolate, surrounded by citrus segments. It's a nice dish, and good value, but doesn't really blow me away. Something about the combination of citrus segments and chocolate just doesn't quite work for me. It's the mouthfeel of thick chocolate with thin citrus juice. Just not right. But still a good dish as a whole and chocolate lovers will go nuts for how rich the non-citrus part is.

Similar to my journey to Spiedo the other night, there's a trolley full of grappa to choose from. I go for age again and this time it's the Nonino 12 year old that fills my glass. At $40 a glass you expect a lot and it delivers. Rich, robust flavours with a looooong finish. I could sit on it for a while if I didn't have to get some sleep before work tomorrow (should have taken that damn annual leave).

The service had some problems during the night but they'll easily sort it out with time. And it was partly my fault for rocking up right at the high point of a packed dinner service. The staff were friendly and seemed to be enjoying the place.

With it's reasonable prices, extensive wine list and tempting menu, I can see Balla being a good destination for some mid-range Italian food. Time will tell if it has to pull to drag me across the bridge--away from the likes of Pendolino and Spiedo--when I want good Italian food, but I'm certainly going to give it a few more stabs before I make my mind up.

RATING: Will return to [?]

Balla on Urbanspoon

For some stupid reason I leave Balla and walk another 10 metres to Messina, the new outpost of the Darlinghurst gelato store with a cult-like following. I've never tried their gelato before and I didn't want to miss another opportunity.

I see what the fuss is about. Excellently made gelato and a great range of flavours.

I can't wait to repeat this stupid journey once he next lot of restaurants at The Star open up.

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