Saturday, November 03, 2007

Restaurant Balzac, Belmore Rd, Randwick

Restaurant Balzac, Belmore Rd, Randwick

Saturday 3 November, 2007

I visited Restaurant Balzac for the first time many, many years ago when it occupied it's former location at The Spot. I was so impressed with the value for money and innovative food. Since then, Matthew Kemp and his partner Lela Radojkovic have upgraded into the stunning sandstone building which suits their style, food and service perfectly.

There are many descriptions of Matthew Kemp's experience and journey to Restaurant Balzac - this is one of the most concise,

"Matthew Kemp is one of our best young chefs. After arriving in Sydney in 1992, he worked with Dietmar Sawyere at ‘The Park Lane Hotel’, then with Liam Tomlin at ‘Brasserie Cassis’. He returned to the United Kingdom in 1996 and worked for Philip Howard at the two Michelin star restaurant ‘The Square’. It was during this time and under the influence of Philip that Kemp really began to understand the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of cookery. With this experience, he returned to Australia and worked at ‘Banc’ as Chef de Cuisine. During his time as Chef de Cuisine the restaurant won every accolade possible from ‘Best New Restaurant’ to ‘Restaurant of the Year’. In Matthew’s vision for Restaurant Balzac he wanted to create a restaurant his Nan, Mum or his best chef mates to be able to walk into his restaurant and all choose something off the menu without feeling any apprehension."

Tonight, our party of 4 were ready for the Balzac experience. We had booked several weeks ago and I thought the phone service then and the friendly confirmation call earlier today very impressive. We arrived ready for an experience and were warmly welcomed and shown to our table in the upstairs dining room. The decor is subdued to fit the stunning sandstone exterior - the white linen tablecloths, dull lighting and the dark wood floorboards all add to the atmosphere.

We reviewed the degustation menu and the a la carte - decisions, decisions. It was really hard especially when our engaging waiter (who had just graduated from NIDA) shared the specials with us. What to do? The trouble is everything on the menu sounds so enticing however we agreed to try the a la carte menu. For entree we ordered:

- New Season Asparagus with Baked Goats Cheese, Truffled Honey and Pain de Mie x 2

- Ballotine with quail, squab and foie gras x 2

After we ordered an amuse bouche was promptly delivered and we asked to see the Sommelier for guidance on the wine. The amuse bouche was a cauliflower soup served with a sprinkle of cous cous in a charming white china tea cup - it was smooth, creamy and very, very good.

The Sommelier arrived and we were very impressed with his suggestions - he offered a variety of choices of all different $$ values and steered us towards a cheaper red. Thanks! One of my dinner buddies just wanted a glass of white so without hesitation the Sommelier took her preferences and then said, 'Leave it with me' and disappeared.

Just before the entrees arrived we received a plate of large white crusty bread rolls and a small dish of butter. I don't know about you but a small dish of butter just doesn't cut it - everyone should be served a dish of butter to be as generous or as lean as possible. The wine served was superb however the glass of white came to the table with no explanation - it would have been nice to have this explained.

We were bowled over by the presentation of the entrees - actually we were for every single course. The ballotine was presented in small piles with delicate toast slices strategically positioned alongside each one. It was truly delicious and I thoroughly enjoyed every mouthful.

For mains we had ordered:

- Shank of Aurora Lamb with a Warm Salad of Crisp Belly, Broad Beans, Chick Peas and Ras el Hanout x 2

- Pig trotter stuffed with pork belly and foie gras x 2

Again, we were seriously impressed. The food at Balzac is outstanding. The shank was incredibly tender and the mix of broad beans and chick peas soaked up the mildly spicy sauce.

The restaurant was full and as we were seated in a nook we weren't distracted by other guests or the noise. We enjoyed the atmosphere and the friendly nature of the staff and all agreed that dessert was a must. That said, we ordered:

- Hot Chocolate Fondant with Cappuccino Ice Cream x 1

- Bread and Butter Pudding with Mandarin Ice Cream x 1

- Banana and Hazelnut Strudel with Roast Hazelnut Ice Cream and Banana Milkshake x 2

Before our desserts appeared we were provided with another complimentary dish. Presented in a large shot glass was coconut tapioca topped with fresh mango. It smelt and tasted like summer - which was ironic considering the mother of all storms had just started outside.

As a fan of bananas I was seriously impressed by the Banana and Hazelnut Strudel. This was a truly innovative dessert and the first upright strudel I have ever seen. The banana milkshake came in a large shot glass and was rich and flavoursome. There was a streak of chocolate across the bottom of the plate that kept the rolled strudel upright and the wonderfully warm banana & hazelnut strudel was a stand out! WOW!

Restaurant Balzac is a must - it is really affordable. For three courses, pre dinner drinks and a bottle of wine our bill came to $100 pp. Loved it.

Restaurant Balzac - 141 Belmore Road, Randwick - (02) 9399 9660


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