The upside of saving so much money via my meal-deal buying obsession (spending money to save money some might say, but I prefer to put a positive spin on things) is that I can splurge out on a truly fine-dining experience every now again.
Miss M, Miss Chicken and I decide it’s time to check out the newly relocated Restaurant Arras which shut up shop in Walsh Bay mid-2011 and reopened in Clarence Street at the end of last year. To say we’re excited is a bit of an understatement. I’m literally jumping up and down outside the restaurant as I see the others arrive.
Now some advice. If you are going to Restaurant Arras for dinner you need to plan ahead. A light breakfast and an even lighter lunch are in order if you’re to get through the 9 course degustation unharmed. Or you could be like me and eat a mega-sized muffin for breakfast, pasta for lunch, a few snacks along the way and leave the restaurant looking like you’re about to give birth to a food baby. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
The restaurant is lovely – an airy light space that feels “special” but not intimidating and the wait staff are very friendly and knowledgeable. A large bar/table situated in the middle of the dining room and a few larger than life lamps make me think of an Alice In Wonderland type landscape.
And we’re off. The meal begins with complimentary canapés; a quenelle of mackerel rillette and a cheese something or other that I can’t quite remember. I was beside myself with excitement at the onslaught of food about to hit us so I didn’t quite have my wits about me in regards to remembering what the waitress was telling us.
A little wooden tray approaches with a selection of house made breads. We’re advised to take as many of the petit loaves as we like – probably ill advice given we scoffed the lot quickly and sacrificed precious “degustation stomach room” (except for Miss Chicken ‘cos she did have her wits about her).
The degustation proper kicks of with a very generous sized Amuse Bouche – a pretty garden of dehydrated olives, shaved cucumber, potted prawns, soy and chorizo. All of the courses at Arras are on the generous size, there is no need to worry that you'll leave the restaurant hungry. In fact the serves could be quite a bit smaller and you certainly would feel well satisfied by the end of the night.
After three plates of food (bread included of course) the meal proper starts with a delightfully fresh entree - spiced and dressed crab in a lettuce with soy beans. This is such a simple looking dish - so fresh and vibrant - and is filled with clean, fresh flavours.
Next is another light and simply flavoured dish that the waitress refers to as "In the Garden" - pickled marinated vegetables, slow cooked onions and bitter leaves. I really appreciated the slightly acidic flavour of the pickled vegetables, a great way to put our taste buds on full alert for what is to come.
The final entree is a pearler - cooked tuna, smoked eggs, green beans and potato. The crumbled smoked eggs looked like gravel dotted over the plate and was a delicious addition to the dish and a nice contrast to the fresh tuna. I really enjoyed the different textures and flavours in this dish and would happily have eaten another serve if one was on offer. I'd probably even seek out smoked egg in my future foodie endeavours.
The first main served was the milk-cooked Pork belly, whey puree and cracklings with crackling cooked THREE ways. Heaven. The pork was incredibly tender and the squiggle of crackling sitting atop the pork was crispy perfection.
Next is the black and white squid with sweetbreads, Jerusalem artichoke crisps and scallops that sat in a puddle of lovely rich chicken gravy. The presentation of the squid in this dish was very interesting - presented as a mousse and pipped onto the plate, yet it retained all of its squiddy flavour despite some molecular trickery from the kitchen.
A tip to the punters, it’s worth saving some of your bread (if you can)
to sop up the moreish chicken gravy. Of course I didn’t do that having
scoffed my bread 47 courses ago, but our waitress thinks it one of the
best parts of the dish.
The final main served to us is the lamb rump ‘bruised shoulders’, pease pudding and curd. The pease pudding is great - a little solid mountain of peas that tastes reminscnet of pea soup. The lamb is tender and cooked to a perfect pink. There is another sphere of lamb wrapped in black pudding. Before starting my blog I NEVER EVER IN A PINK FIT would've tried black pudding EVER EVER EVER, despite my English father professing it's the best food on earth. I've tried it two or three times now and have to admit...it's not too bad.
Ah, time for dessert - Cinematic Soufflé “the sequel” (the name no doubt a nod to the restaurants new digs at Clarence Street). The feather-light popcorn flavoured Soufflé was a sight to behold with so many tempting elements on the one plate. The Soufflé, which came served in a little copper pot, is served with popcorn ice cream, popped corn and a jug of sticky sweet caramel sauce that we pour all over our plate. Definitely one for the sweet toothes although the Soufflé did have a very eggy flavour to it...my experience to Soufflé is now limited to twice and I'm not sure if that is how it is supposed to taste??
Just when we thought the meal was over a second dessert arrives at the
table. Now we know what the colourful banquettes along the front wall of
the restaurant are for – lay down and stretch out your poor full
stomach. The Branylus vinegar ice-cream, black salt fougasse (the crisp
bread under the ice-cream), vegetable and fruit crisps was fantastic. I
LOVED this dessert. It was the perfect juxtaposition of savoury and
sweet with both flavours playing off each other nicely.
It would be a great dis-service to the incredible meal we just had to
say they saved the best til last. In fact I had been hoping Restaurant
Arras’ famous petit fours tray would come out before the meal...as I
knew I’d be too full by the end of the meal to fully enjoy it (I gave it
a red-hot go though). We tried a few things amongst us - mainly taking a bite and passing it along so that we could try everything that took our fancy. What a fun and whimsical way to end the night.
Our degustation cost $140 (Arras automatically add an 8% gratuity that you can asked to be removed if you like) and took a little over 4 hours. This is one of the more pricey meals I've had (EVER) but I think it was all about the experience for me so totally worth it. And whilst I loved it I'm going to limit my future degustations as there is just way too much food and piggy is getting porky - it really is a true (over)indulgence.
204 Clarence Street, Sydney. Phone them on 9252 6285.