Last Friday night, husband and I decided to go on a bona fide date.
We’d both been reading the new Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide and really wanted to try one of the fancy-pants restaurants. We justified it by saying it was a) the first time in a long while that we both had the night AND the next day off from work together and b) a reward for me getting this site up and running and for him playing his first gig with his new cover band (he’s a long-term closet musician).
We were booking at the last minute but managed to get the last table at Justin North’s legendary Becasse. Awarded two hats and known for its super fresh produce, imaginative dishes and intricate chef skills, we were predicting a good night.
We also prepared. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were spent eating very light meals and we put in some hard gym and running sessions.
Why? We were dining on the 11 course degustation. With matching wines.
All soft furnishings, padded white table cloths, dim lighting, tasteful art and simple chandeliers, Becasse is a haven. After leaving the twilight outdoors, it was a little like entering a womb. The muted silence was only ever broken by the smiling greetings of the maitre-de and wait staff.
First up were a trio of breads. All made in house, there was pumpkin bread with pepitas sprinkled on top (and a real cube of roasted pumpkin sitting in the middle), olive oil bread with rosemary and a sourdough branch. These were served with a choice of butter creamed with pork fat and sprinkled with apple salt or a solidified square of herb infused olive oil.
All wariness of filling up on bread and being too full to enjoy all of the courses was thrown out the window and we’d eaten most of the bread by the time our canapes had arrived.
Creamy goat cheese piped onto thin lemon and olive crostini was delicious. These were followed by an amuse bouche – another small appetiser , designed to set your taste buds tingling – this was a tiny fresh tomato and herb emulsified salad.
Then the “real” courses began.
A salad of marinated heirloom vegetables arrived, looking like a cross between seedlings pushing out of the earth and a strange copse of vertical sculptures. A sugar snap pea mousseline was spread across the plate like soft, fluffy grass and black olive “dirt” crumbs were sprinkled around. It was finished with zesty pieces of lemon balm and fresh edible flowers. If there was ever a dish that would make kids eat their vegetables, surely this garden delight would be it.
An exquisite cold Leabrook Estate Gewurztraminer from Adelaide Hills was the fresh, summery accompaniment.
Next up was a confit of miso infused blue-eye trevalla, smoked scallop and sauteed cuttlefish. The soft flesh of the fish and scallops went perfectly with the firm, squeaky cuttlefish, the slight crunch of the buckwheat, the creaminess of the cauliflower and the cool squares of perfectly cut cucumber. All too quickly washed down with a Chilean Vina Litoral ‘Ventolera’ Sauvignon Blanc, I wanted another serving. Our super knowledgeable, young, French waiter explained that this Sauvignon blanc was quite different to the Australian and New Zealand wines I’m well accustomed to as it was from the Leyda Vally in Chile. The Leyda Valley is just 15kms from the Pacific Coast so has a very cool climate Ã¢â‚¬â€œ much more similar to that of European climes – so their wine is much lighter and subtler.
We could smell the arrival of the next course long before it was placed before us. For a moment I thought we were back in a ski lodge, with a roaring open fire around us. But no, the smouldering scent was simply coming from a small piece of smoking cedar wood that was sitting next to a stack of tiny roasted root vegetables that had been slow cooked in the cedar, along with small pieces of aged pork, all in a pool of jus gras – roast chicken and veal stock. It was an excellent Spring dish. Hearty like the warming Winter dishes weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d been accustomed in past months yet lighter in flavour and richness, to herald that Summer is just around the corner. A more full bodied white wine came with this course Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a French wine from the Languedoc region – Domaine de l’Arjolle Blanc ‘Equinoxe’. It was a blend of mostly Sauvignon and Viognier with a little Muscat Blanc.
The only downside to this dish was that we were so entranced by the sight and smell of the burning piece of cedar wood on our plates that I forgot to take a photo!
Course number six was a definite highlight. Each bite made me feel as if I’d taken a small sip of the ocean (but in a perfectly balanced warm, salty, fishy kind of way, rather than a just got dunked by a wave, water’s coming out of my nose way). Fresh Palmers Island (Northern NSW) mulloway had been roasted and was sitting on top of two king prawns, a smoked crustacean emulsion and a soubise puree (a creamy sauce made with pureed young onions). Sprinkled on top were sprigs of red garnet which added a fresh, salad-like crunch. To drink was a light red Burgundy from the French family vineyard of Lucien Muzard. Its berry flavours and acidity cut through the salty complexity of this fish dish and, once again, this glass of wine was a snug fit.
And it was only up from here. Again, this next dish was a big favourite. It didn’t look as visually appealing to me as its predecessors, possibly because the colours were all very dark, so I didn’t bother to take a photo. But let’s just say, it tasted AMAZING.
From left to right was a scoop of minced purple cabbage with a sliver of roasted parsnip on top. Then a square of the most delicious caramelised suckling pig I’ve ever tasted. Next to that was a small section of braised pork tail that was stuffed with a chicken mousse and covered in a creamy sauce. And next to that, cubes of baked apple. The wine was a Sicilian red which could well have been water because I really didn’t need anything else to make this dish taste any better.
Proof of my enjoyment below!
From here, husband and I decided to go our separate ways, with the promise to share our spoils. I had guinea fowl and he had wagyu beef.
My guinea fowl was cooked as a ‘Ballotine’ – basically a large sausage – which had the bird meat made into a mousse and cooked with pistachios and mushrooms. It was served with a square of salardaise potatoes (named after the French town of Sarlat where this dish originates from potatos cooked with parsley, garlic, salt and pepper and cooked in duck fat), brussel spouts, bacon, almond puree and sprinkled with fresh almonds.
The wagyu was pretty damn amazing. The shin meat melted in your mouth and was served with a potato that had been cooked in ash, giving it a lovely smoky flavour, baked Jerusalem artichoke (in my eyes, possibly the most underrated, delicious vegetable in the world) and finished with a Bordelaise jus which is a light sauce made with red wine, veal and vegetable stock, herbs and butter.
I’m not sure why but our lovely French waiter then enquired if, before we continue on to our desserts, would we like to detour from our degustation and order some cheese? He asked this entirely of me, not even glancing at my man, who I think would have probably shook his head with a very full no.
Did I look hungry? Or was it just my visible excitement every time he came to our table with the next course? “But of course” I blurted out eagerly, not remotely listening to my groaning tummy. Husband just laughed then said as long as there was cheddar, he was in.
We ate Pont L’Eveque washed rind cow’s milk cheese from Basse Normandie. The texture was springy and open and the cheese glistened due to the richness of the milk. It oozed all over a slice of fresh pear and was one of the loveliest things I’ve ever eaten.
A white mould, double cream Buche D’Affinois from Rhones Alpes was next, all buttery and creamy and perfect with the crisp crackers and candied walnut accompaniments. And finally, a Quikes clothbound cheddar from Devon. Aged 24 months it had a grassy flavour, smooth, silky texture.
Surely dessert was next? Almost, first came Pre-dessert!
Changing daily, depending on the chef’s whim, today’s was a small glass of champagne creme chiboust – a creme patissiere (pastry cream) lightened with whipped cream or stiffly beaten egg whites. This was flavoured with lavender, served with a layer of orange, sprinkled with some crunchy mini-meringues and topped with kiwifruit sorbet.
I apologise, you’ll have to imagine how it looked.
Then, REAL dessert. Again, we went our separate ways so that we could taste both.
A chocolate and caramel ‘cadeau’, made with 70% Zokoko Bolivian chocolate was served with an organic vanilla and milk sorbet. The shiny chocolate dome wrapped a caramel centre like a delicious birthday gift, hence the name ‘cadeau’ which means ‘present’ in French. This was served with a light French red wine, a 2008 Mas Amiel Languedoc-Roussillon. This was a fairly unimpressive, boring wine but when sipped after a spoonful of this decadent dessert, it was veritable nectar. This sommelier deserves a medal!
And finally, a tropical pleasure. Served like a piece of art was a creamy banana creme brulee, with a layer of real banana slices, a crunchy, sweet-yet-salty peanut brittle and a small scoop of milk coffee sorbet perched on top, with a glass of syrupy Rhone Valley Muscat to wash it down.
Sitting back in our chairs, nearly four hours after we’d arrived, we were done. It was truly one of the greatest eating experiences ever. The price? AUS$130 per person or AUS$190 to also have the matching wines. Clearly this is a special occasion kind of night out but at this particular time in my life (working hard, no children), it was worth every cent.
The only downside? Now I REALLY want to find out how a three hat restaurant could top this…