Wednesday, April 09, 2008

RESTAURANT: Beluga Wine Bar

Type: Wine Bar, Modern Australian, European
Location: Shop 15, 425 Bourke St, Surry Hills
Booking Required: Usually

Owner/chef Opel Khan has had this place open for nearly three months now, and barely a word has been spoken about it. Yet. I wouldn’t be surprised to see big things happening in this funky Surry Hills eatery soon. But more on that later.

It looked like it was going to be a quiet night when we walked in. Only one other table was taken in the whole place. Sure it was early and a Tuesday, but I’m always suspicious of barren restaurants. But we were there so we took our seats like good children and requested the degustation with matching wine ($156).

The first dish, a sweet corn and tarragon cappuccino with white truffle, arrived. It sounded horribly pretentious, but tasted absolutely divine. The sweetness of the corn was beautifully restrained and the tarragon and truffle made it beautifully aromatic. And, as you’d imagine from something described as a cappuccino, terribly light.

It was a great way to start the night and alleviate our fears.

And then the serious food started. Tomato sorbet over what I think was an ox heart tomato confit and brioche. Wow. The sorbet brought the palate to life with the natural sweetness and herby flavours of the tomato. Hints of vinegar and pepper teased the tastebuds on the way through. A beautifully balanced dish, matched with a nice, bold sauvignon blanc.

Following that came a plate with two seared scallops sitting atop fanned out cauliflower puree and an avocado crème brulee. I wasn’t ready for this dish. Too good. Just TOO good. The scallops were good to perfection, the cauliflower puree was sweet and subtle and the avocado crème brulee was a revelation of subtlety and sweetness. On their own wonderful, together remarkable. Matched with a nice riesling. This really was the dish of the night, if not the year.

Next up was the soft shell crab with wild mushrooms and snapper chips, alongside a lovely riesling. A good dish, but after the scallops it wasn’t as spectacular. The snapper chips were nice, the mushrooms delicious and the soft shell crab sweet but a little underwhelming. Although the soft shell crab was really lifted by a great sauce.

The ravioli took me by surprise. I hadn’t looked that closely at the menu and wasn’t expecting it. A large, bulging raviolo sat on a plate with a thin covering of a buttery, creamy sauce. Inside the ravioli was a chunky and well flavoured mixture of seafood and herbs. While this was a very good dish in it’s own right, the pinot grigio it was matched with was a glorious compliment and lifted it even higher.

After all of that a break of tomato water was served to cleanse the palate for the final onslaught.

First up was the lobster crepe with a saffron and carrot emulsion on top a pea shoot salad. Now we’re talking. Beautiful combination of flavours here. Everything was doing its part. On my notes I’ve just written one word next to this dish: excellent.

While tis the season for white wine, I began to wonder where it was. Waiting for this next dish, our last of the savoury options. Thinly sliced wagyu beef sat atop button mushrooms and a nice jus. Probably the wine of the night, but one of the less impressive dishes. After so much innovation it was a little underwhelming to have just steak and mushrooms. Still, it all tasted excellent so I can’t complain.

Signalling the end of the savoury and heralding in the sweet was a melon ice with black olive granita. A good palate cleanser again, but there was just a little too much salt from the olives dominating the sweetness of the melon.

And then it was time to be blown away. The dessert platter arrived. Hazelnut gelato, strawberry caviar and a chocolate ganache with chick pea dust. The pink moscato it was served with was a little ho-hum but my god the food. The hazelnut gelato was luscious and creamy. Really well flavoured with restrained sweetness. The chocolate ganache was excellent on it’s own but the addition of the chick pea dust cut through some of the sweetest and added a nice nutty flavour. It reminded me a little of tofu chocolate. The strawberry caviar was a work of art. It perplexed me how strawberry could look like salmon roe. The waitress explained how it was made and I had no response. From memory the strawberry is made into a compote, then with an eyedropper a drop is added to hot water, which gives it the shape and texture of caviar. So it keeps its shape they had to carefully pick the little pearls out of the water.

Finally, the warm sangria is the last dish to hit the table. Sweet, aromatic, warm syrup with poached pears, ice cream and toasted pastry. It's a nice way to finish the night.

There really is something happening here. Khan pops out during service to speak to the diners and he really seems to be passionate about what he’s trying to create in the funky brown room. The menu is inventive, the food wonderful, the matching wines all Australian.

It’s almost too much for the setting. While it’s a sexy looking place, the wooden chairs and plain floor tiles don’t scream luxury. The service is friendly and open, not stuffy and formal. That’s what he’s trying to do, but with food so good it’s almost like a really hot person wearing average clothes. They could be so much more if they wanted to be.

But I’m glad the hot person decides to dress modestly. The prices are good for the food on offer and it’s a really inviting place. You want to go there for everything from an informal lunch to a celebratory dinner (if you have the cash). They don’t think of absolutely everything because they don’t try to.

I really do think that this place is going to be big. I hope it is. If the menu continues to evolve and some of the weaker dishes are improved then it really could be one of Sydney’s best.

RATING: Will return to

Beluga Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

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