When I think about it, the last time I spent more than four hours in a commercial kitchen was wearing chefs whites, a well-used apron and had asbestos fingertips that could withstand extraordinarily high temperatures. Late nights, not much of a social life and coming home smelling of oil and food. Only a small part of me misses the energy of it all but it’s this blog that help keeps my food passion alive.
Being contacted by Tourism New Zealand to partake in a sumptuous dinner at the Bécasse chefs table was something no ordinary person would decline. A small party of diners sitting at the prime table of the house postioned a few metres from Justin North, head chef Monty Koludrovic and their well-organised team. Pure food theatre in the Bécasse kitchen, and we had front-row seats.
A chilled Campari sets the mood before we’re seated and collectively we all hush with the arrival of a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t canapé that’s inhaled in mere seconds. A flakey butter-puff disc topped with whipped green olive mascarpone lightly sprinkled with golden citrus salt. A variety of breads – 7-seed, brioche, quince sourdough – is soon to follow sided with an azure glass plate of piped whipped butter dusted with black salt and wakame.
You’d think the butter-puff was the amuse bouche but we were pre-warned that a few surprises were in store. Amuse bouche #1 arrives after the canapé and is a morsel of scallop-studded carrot jelly topped with a cloudy layer of kohlrabi mousse and puffed grains.
Amuse bouch #2 is a scaled-down version of a current menu staple – bespoke autumn vegetable garden. This edible garden has a soil of hazelnut, walnut and pistachio with roasted baby carrot and radish sitting upright in a mulch of dehydrated goats curd and black olive crumbs.
A glass of Marlborough NV Pelorus Cloudy Bay is poured to have with our next course of Marlborough Sounds salmon with king prawn, pomegranate and Vietnamese dressing. A thin layer of opaque king prawn meat forms the base of the dish and it’s topped with confit salmon that has a surface of pomegranate jelly made even more vibrant with beetroot. Tiny drops of coconut milk and Vietnamese dressing form a salty arc around the rim. It truly is picture perfect.
Another fish course follows on from the salmon and it looks just as impressive. Squid ink coddled hapuka with squid, Spring Bay mussel, cauliflower and miso. I find that squid ink is usually quite overpowing to a dish but the flavours here are balanced and subtle. The flesh of the slow-cooked fish is soft and silky against the firm florets of cauliflower and herbal olive oil. A Marlborough 2009 Timpot Hut pinot gris comes with.
I’ve never been known to say no to a truffle at any given chance and when Justin said he had a suprise, we all sat up and oohed when he revealed a box containing a 100g truffle from Tarago in Tasmania, nestled with eggs in a bed of rice. After the aromatic show-and-tell we’re served a gorgeous mushroom and truffle risotto, another bonus that wasn’t on our menu. The aroma the freshly-shaved truffle emits is deliciously-pungent to say the least but the flavour of it is surprisingly subtle against the beautifully creamy rice.
The Bécasse signature is the forgotten vegetables, smoked pork jowl, yabby tail with aromas of cedar. Served upon a hand-formed ceramic dish made in the Blue Mountains, a medley of Hawaiian sweet potato (farmed in QLD), turnip and purple congo potato sits with fatty pork jowl and tender yabby tail in a drizzle of bisque made from the yabby shells. A thin shaving of cedar is lit then extinguished and placed on the side of the plate, smoking and smouldering as it’s brought to the table.
Justin brings us another show-and-tell box, this time containing what looks like two dinosaur eggs. Baked on top of soil taken from where the truffles are unearthed, the two clay “eggs” are sliced open to reveal a variety of tiny potatoes bundled in muslin and steam-baked in truffle oil.
Our truffled potatoes are served alongside the next course of Cervena venison, sprouts, black pudding and Armagnac jus. The final savoury course is matched with a 2008 Te Mata Estate “Awatea” cab merlot from Hawkes Bay. The Canterbury venison is cooked to perfect rareness and is set with a creamy Jerusalem artichoke purée, roasted chestnuts and nettle purée.
Our pre-dessert acts as a palate cleanser with its sharp and refreshing jolt to the senses. Sweet wine jelly mixed with Granny Smith brunoise, a good scoop of apple sorbet, topped again with apple brunoise and two short batons of apple mousseline.
Dessert is a choice of 68% Alto Beni Zokoko chocolate cadeau and salted black cumin caramel or a silken lemongrass & lime caramel, passionfruit crunch with vanilla yoghurt sorbet. Decisions decisions. I went with the latter but had a sneak taste of the chocolate as soon as it was cut to reveal a gooey caramel centre. Divine! Not that the zesty lemongrass & lime dessert was too shabby, it was perfect. A sweet 2009 Marlborough Escarpment Hinemoa Reisling helps things along nicely.
Like we needed it, Justin gave us a winter still life that’s an exquisite forest microcosm of cocoa and licorice gravel sprouting mushrooms made from meringue and Baileys parfait and chestnut parfait, sugared fennel sprigs and crunchy twisted toffee twigs. A dig around with the spoon revealed poached quince, caramel and quince mousseline. The overall flavour was heavy in aniseed and it was almost a shame to ruin the beautiful arangement. To end the fabulous meal we get little raspberry butter macarons and Armagnac dark chocolates.
Big thanks to Justin and Tourism NZ!Bécasse Level 5, Westfield Sydney Sydney 2000 02 9283 4400 Lunch Mon-Sat from 12pm