Saturday, December 03, 2011

RESTAURANT: Number One Wine Bar

It's been a crazy couple of years for Tony Bilson.

After being dropped to two hats in the 2010 edition of the Good Food Guide, 2011 looked like it was going to be a redefining year for Bilson. He regrouped and appointed Diego Munoz as head chef at his flagship restaurant in the Radisson. It took the team a while to readjust to the new approach, but once it did Bilson's was one of the suddenly hottest restaurants in the country. It continued it's spectacular run with restoration to three hat status a few months ago.

Then, pretty much overnight, it was all gone. Bilson's had gone bust. Along with Number One Wine Bar.

A few weeks later, despite Bilson's and Number One still being under administration, Tony Bilson flagged that he was going to reopen Number One with new backers. Much to the delight delight of staff and creditors that were still owed money. In fairness to the man, Bilson too had lost money in the collapse.

It all makes for juicy reading, but I went to the relaunched Number One purely to try and get some good, simple food from a dude that has been cooking French food at a high level for pretty much ever.

Number One and Bilson's share more than a chef in common: the decor is dated in both. My chair feels like it's going to retire at any second.

The menu is mostly classic, simple French bistro fare. Tripe a la mode de Caen sits happily next to a pot au feu on the menu. Prices are reasonable: entrees average around $20, mains $30 and desserts $15. And we're in a wine bar, so there's a good range of wine on offer by both the glass and bottle, with plenty of bottles around the $50 mark.

Snails in puff pastry are a good start. Each snail individually wrapped in a puff pastry shell, with watercress and an amazing sauce that is something like bernaise. It's not modern food and it's not modern presentation. It looks like something you'd see in the 90s. But it is a good dish.

Gazpacho is a fresh, simple starter, served with a piece of jamon on toast. It gets good reviews, as does the creme of foie gras, again served with toast.

Mains are a little less successful. While the flavours of everything on the plate make the confit duck a tasty dish (again, superb sauce), the meat isn't as fall-off-the-bone as you want from confit duck. Nor is the skin quite uniformly crisp. I wrestle with the meat for a while before leaving a fair amount of it on the bone.

The execution of the duck breast is more on point, and goes down well. Though the whole cherries it's served with make for some difficult eating.

The suckling pig gets a good but not great verdict. It too is served with whole cherries and potato chips.

Desserts are solid efforts. Again, the presentation is fairly dated and, again, the sauces are excellent.

Bilson's daughter and son work the room, looking after the front of house and wine, respectively. The family feel adds some warmth to the place, but when Tony comes out of the kitchen to survey the room (which happens often) the stress of the still-warm collapse is clearly affecting them all.

Service as a whole still has some kinks to work out (the re-opening was only last week) but I can see them getting there.

Putting aside the past--which isn't easy when you're in a restaurant and the godfather of Australian fine-dining is in the kitchen--I leave Number One having had a decent meal. The prices are reasonable and the food is reasonable. But reasonable food isn't enough in a city that is bursting at the seams with places in this price range that can deliver great food. I would happily go back to Number One to eat again and look forward to a good meal, but I don't think I'll be rushing back or recommending the place to others. That said, here is a man that has done a lot for the Australian dining scene and I hope he succeeds.

RATING: Okay, may go back [?]

Number One Wine Bar & Bistro on Urbanspoon


joey@FoodiePop said...

I would have thought with him in the kitchen (supposedly) the food would be spot on. I didn't like my previous visit there when he wasn't in the kitchen so I'd hoped his presence would improve the food. Maybe give it a few months and see, but I like the sound of snails in puff pastry.

Jobe said...

Yeah I thought so too. But I suppose it's worth remembering that I don't think he was behind the stove too often at Bilson's in recent years.

Not that he didn't nail some of the elements. There was just a few things that need a bit of work, in my opinion.

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