Olive oil and ink is slick against the squid with thread marks of a Michelin car tyre.
Unfortunately, its texture is also quite similar.
Have you guys been to Gooleemee? our friend Jeff casually asks over dinner.
“Where?” I ask .. a little puzzled.
“French restaurant in Paddo … the Mr. Gooleemee chef who used to run his restaurant at Sydney Opera House” he says in his usual non-chalant fashion.
“You mean Guillaume!” Mysaucepan says, accentuating the phonetics gee yom.
“Ahhh … so that’s how you say it. I can never remember his name … so hard to pronounce.”
We all laugh out loud.
“Maybe the French are more complicated than the Chinese, especially when it comes to food.” I say to Jeff.
It’s been almost two years since Guillaume Brahimi pulled up stumps at the Opera House after a stint of twelve years.
The moved to swanky Paddington in August 2014 is perhaps ideal for a French restaurant, especially when the double storey terrace was home to the old world charm of the former Darcy’s. Many moons ago, I recall bow-tied waiters dressed in penguin suits serving my bowl of spag marinara.
We are here for our wedding anniversary dinner this Saturday evening where diners must order the degustation menu for $180 per head. An a la carte menu is available on all other lunch and dinner sessions at $150 for four courses.
Upon arrival, the maître d’ ushers us to our table upstairs, a longish room of beige walls adorned with Matisse prints.
One of the things I always look forward to in a French restaurant is its fresh bread.
No matter how good or how many amuse-bouche, a warm sourdough with a prolate spheroid of butter seem so at home on this table.
Corn velouté is velvety sweet with succulent prawn and crispy bits of golden crumbs.
Served in a small tea cup to be eaten with a teaspoon, it’s exactly one of those appetizers that gets your tastebuds salivating for more though you are happy to save space and suffer in anticipation for better things to come.
Degustation menu ~ $180 per head for 8 courses
Guillaume’s degustation menu is produce-driven, each course taking on a key ingredient from around Australia and New Zealand.
The savoury taste of raw scampi is enhanced by thin slices of sweet peach, crispy crouton bits, small dice of cucumber, chilli and shiso.
Fresh salmon roe add more savoury notes to a delicious first dish that require almost no cooking.
Guillaume’s butter is made by Naomi Ingleton at her factory in Myrtleford, Victoria. It’s tempting to slather this velvety richness onto Iggy’s bread though I half expected it to come from an in-house oven.
We resist and wait for the next bread basket to come by our table.
I choose a toasty sesame seed sourdough to slather more butter on.
There is ample time between courses for us to digest what we eat and what we see. A large bouquet of hydrangeas stands majestically among bottles of old and new world wines.
Guillaume’s wine list offers new world, old world and sommelier’s selection for $110, $150 and $130 respectively to go with the degustation menu. The matching wines offer a glimpse into an extensive list that spans the vast old world wine regions of France to the new in Australia. Penfolds’ range is well represented with our waiter informing that Bin 389’s 1999 vintage is on special tonight for $50 a glass.
A royale of asparagus is rich with the earthy flavours of truffle.
A mother of pearl teaspoon is a nice touch though it makes little difference when I am concentrating on the sweet flavour of mud crab soaking up the buttery richness of royale.
This modern French escapade continues with a slice of squid paired with mussel cream, fennel crisps and a tissue-thin sheet of jamon.
Olive oil and ink is slick against the squid with thread marks of a Michelin car tyre. Unfortunately, its texture is also quite similar.
Blue-eye trevalla is succulent with a crisp layer of skin, except it’s spoilt by a bitter, garlicky green parsley puree.
Thin slices of abalone are fine with a truffle flavoured sauce but do we really need to sneak in a puree, foam or cream of sorts in every dish just because this is a French restaurant?
Slices of partridge are drenched in a pool of carrot foam, eggplant and cumin.
Yet again, I find the partridge rather decent on its own but when combined with flavours of carrot and a mouthful of small bubbles, the flavours and textures are confusing at best.
Guillaume’s mashed potato is legendary and a waiter arrives with a bowl of that rich and creamy heaven.
I request for an extra dollop of rich, buttery mash to go with a shiro-kin (white gold) full blood wagyu, a brand established by Andrew Meat Industries in 2012 to differentiate full blood beef from its existing Tajima crossbred wagyu.
It is melt-in-your-mouth kind of beef paired with jerusalem artichoke flakes and pickled radish though I will gladly savour the meat on its own.
Tastewise, a palate cleanser of mango, coconut and lychee foam with a sprinkle of lime zest seems a little too busy with sweetness though it does the cleanser job anyway.
Guillaume’s soufflé is the epitome of the iconic French dessert with the waiter pouring crème anglaise into an indent made from a spoon.
Even though I don’t have a sweet tooth, I find the soft and pillowy soufflé rather irresistible. Is the banana and passionfruit sorbet supposed to complement the soufflé or another palate cleanser on its own? The sweetness of banana is thwarted by a somewhat sour passionfruit puree.
By the time a selection of petite fours arrives at our table, I am happy to leave the tasting to Mysaucepan.
The food of Guillaume at Bennelong won its fair share of awards and honours during its illustrious stint at one of Australia’s most iconic locations. But after tonight’s meal, I am not convinced the food has hit its mark at this new location. To me, parsley puree with fish and carrot foam with partridge is not only trying a bit too hard, it is a complete mismatch of flavours.
The best bits of the meal is the bread and butter but those two items came from quality suppliers. I also enjoyed the amuse-bouche of corn velouté with prawns but unfortunately, it’s not part of the degustation menu. The mashed potato and soufflé are brilliant but should we expect these two to be anything less than spectacular in a French fine-diner?
Maybe the food will taste better if it is less complicated. Maybe a little less Guillaume and a little more Gooleemee.
So dear readers, which is your favourite French restaurant in Sydney?
92 Hargrave street, Paddington
New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9302 5222
Opening Hours: Lunch from 12pm Friday & Saturday and first Sunday of every month. Dinner from 5.45pm Tuesday to Saturday.