This dessert is refreshingly light where passionfruit infused kiwifruit cheesecake
is paired with biscuit crumb, lightened with a fresh herbaceous basil ice cream.
Every now and then, a neighbourhood gem uncovers a surprise little package of good food, great wines and generosity of spirit. This is very much the case at Bishop Sessa, a casual French bistro that has been serving french cuisine with a lightness of touch and creative flair without Michelin prices.
With big shoes to fill, this restaurant inherited the space once occupied by the eponymous Tabou restaurant, famous for its traditional French provincial fare. Only a brave restaurateur would open another French restaurant in the same digs. However, what this restaurant has successfully done is to elevate French flavours with an inventive yet lighter flair to appeal to Sydney’s fickle tastebuds, constantly searching for the new and different.
Bishop Sessa, Surry Hills
Why “Bishop Sessa”? You may ask. This restaurant is named after a 15th century small town church figure in Italy who loved food, wine and games. Legend has it he once fasted for a week and carved the game pieces from cheese and forbade players to eat till his gamesmanship provided him with a hard won piece. An avid fan of the local grapes, he made the sacramental wine for his congregation and can often be found tending his vineyard with exactitude but he was also generous, giving food to the poor and grateful church goers.
The restaurant embodies the same qualities – creative dishes that show restraint and don’t cost the earth and served by knowledgeable and attentive staff.
When my friends Rickie and Steven were visiting Sydney from Singapore, Chopinand and I were thinking of a place that would showcase modern Australian cuisine without costing the earth. Bishop Sessa was a perfect choice with its special offer on Mondays and Tuesdays only.
3 Courses $49 ~ Mondays and Tuesdays Only
When we arrived at the restaurant, warm bread and olive oil were brought straight to the table.
Soon after, a plate of irregularly shaped crisps graced the table. Crisp, salty and full of umami, these were delicious oven-baked potato skins dotted with seaweed mayonnaise, a great way to use leftover peels.
We couldn’t decide among the equally enticing entrees so we ordered four different entrees to share.
Our favourite entree is a scallop ceviche, a refreshing dish of thinly sliced cured scallop, swimming in a refreshing cucumber soup, laced with cucumber and carrot ribbons and anointed with a dollop of avocado and piquant lemon and ginger beer sorbet.
Bone marrow and truffle creme caramel
The bone marrow and truffle creme caramel is a modest serving but the flavours are intense, with the contrast of calamari, fennel and grapefruit.
Suckling pig porchetta
The suckling pig porchetta comes in slivers of the sweet, tender and juicy pork, almost reminiscent of ham.
Sourced from Melanda Park Pork in Swallows Rock, the miso-glazed porchetta melts in your mouth and against the crunch of green apple batons and pickled enoki. It’s a refreshing salad on a bed of celeriac puree.
House-made goat cheese beetroot ash
Equally refreshing is the beetroot salad, which has roasted red and orange beetroot as well as thinly shaved raw beetroot to showcase the different flavours and textures of beetroot. Paired with smoked macadamia and goats cheese, this is a familiar combination executed well.
We ordered a bottle of 2012 Domaine Charles Audoin Bourgogne, a medium bodied pinot noir that would go with our duck and beef mains.
Spice roasted Aylesbury duck breast
The mains run the gamut from wild rabbit stuffed with abalone to herb crusted venison but I don’t cook duck often so when it’s on the menu, I can’t resist ordering it.
The duck breast is cooked medium rare and remains succulent while the cured duck leg is soft and tender. The richness of the meat is countered with a persimmon citrus sauce and goes well with smoked baby carrots and walnuts.
We ordered a cos salad as a side dish to all our mains.
The lettuce is fresh and crisp, the pear slices go well with the freshly roasted walnuts and the goat’s cheese adds a creamy edge that binds the whole salad together.
Chargrilled organic Wagyu prime cut
Predictably, the boys all ordered the chargrilled organic Wagyu prime cut.
Hailing from Singapore, they wanted to try the beef that Australia has become well known for in Asia. At Bishop Sessa, the beef is from Gundooee Organics in Dunedoo. When the steaks arrived at the table, we could smell the smokiness of the charred beef and see the characteristic grill marks .
When sliced delicately, the boys could see how well-cooked the beef was, the various layers of the meat still retaining their natural juices.
Served with charred onions, classic red wine jus and a rich parsnip dauphinoise, the steak dish works a treat, with each slice of the wagyu beef melting in the mouth. The only complaint is the cavalo nero, which was a little undercooked.
Pain d’epice & custard terrine
The boys are not into dessert but how can we leave a French restaurant without ordering dessert?
And we’re glad we did as they were the highlight of the meal! We ordered all four desserts to share. The pain d’epice or “spiced bread” is essentially a French bread and butter pudding, but with none of the stodgy soggy bread.
The fragrant bread has just a light smear of custard and a modern take on the classic dessert. One scoop of this dish and it has the textural contrast of soft bread, crisp meringue, firm poached quince and creamy almond and raisin ice cream.
Roast pumpkin & chilli sorbet
Equally inventive is the pumpkin and chilli sorbet, which has all the sweetness of pumpkin but with surprising back notes of chilli at the end.
Dotted with torn olive oil and pistachio cake and sprinkled with orange and pumpkin seeds, this is a great vibrant winter dessert that uses the winter vegetable cleverly.
The rich chocolate nemesis was a dark and mysterious decadence.
Reminiscent of a deconstructed chocolate mousse, there is a just a small sliver with chocolate crumb and a chocolate tuille biscuit for crunch. Paired with slow-roasted pear, cararmelised popcorn and banana bread ice cream, it is a dessert made in chocolate heaven.
The Bishop’s cheesecake
A counterpoint to the chocolate nemisis is The Bishop’s cheesecake.
This dessert is refreshingly light where passionfruit infused kiwifruit cheesecake is paired with biscuit crumb, lightened with a fresh herbaceous basil ice cream.
A neighbourhood gem right on the northern end of Crown street with innovative food, a great wine list and a firm pulse on prices, Bishop Sessa is a restaurant worth revisiting for its well conceptualised promotions throughout the months.
Whether its Duck and Pinot dinners in May, Truffle Tastings in July, Lamb and Cabernet pairings in August or Chardonnay dinners in September, there is a place for Bishop Sessa in everyone’s heart.
Bishop Sessa Bistro and Wine Bar
527 Crown Street, Surry Hills 2010
Tel: +61 2 8065 7223
Opening hours: Lunch and dinner, Monday to Saturday.