Thursday, December 24, 2009

Review - Restaurant Atelier

I am a longtime fan of Restaurant Atelier, a treasure that was previously located at the dodgy end of King Street in Newtown (next to a tattoo parlour) now located in a lovely sandstone cottage on Glebe Point Road in Glebe. It has been some time since I visited and decided that I would celebrate the end of my working year by indulging in Atelier's latest menu.

Chef Darren Templeman's classical french training under the tutelage of Michelin Star winning Bruno Loubet shines through in his beautifully executed dishes. Along with the discipline of classical training, I think Darren's real talent lies in not putting style over substance and ensuring that at the heart of every dish, produce, texture and flavour are everything. Yes, his dishes are gorgeous to look at but he never descends into wankery as so many chefs are wont to do these days. The same can be said of the restaurant itself. Yes, it is fine dining but it is fine dining with warmth and heart. From the moment you step into the burgandy walled dining room, you are at ease. The hustle and bustle of busy Glebe Point Road that you have just entered from seems a long way away.

We started our evening with a bottle of Torralto Prosseco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene a lovely dry sparkling wine from Italy. I had decided not to drink wine with the rest of the meal - with the amount of wine I have consumed in the name of the festive season lately, I thought a relatively "dry" evening was in order! I did, however want to toast the beginning of my Christmas holiday, so bubbles were in order. This Prosseco was the best I have ever tasted - highly reccommended. Atelier have a small but very well put together wine list so there are some great choices if you do want to wine match with your meal.

The chef's partner Bernadette, who also runs the floor and is a talented Somellier, presented us with an amuse bouche which comprised of a sphere of delicious fishcake - fluffy in the middle and crispy on the outside and a tangy lime aoili. It was delicious and a great start to the meal. I stuck with seafood for my starter - West Australian Marron Tail served with Foie Gras Mousse, Fresh Pea Salad & Pea & Ham Ice Cream. What an inspired combination. The marron tasted so fresh and clean, and teamed with the delirious richness of the foie gras mousse and the pea and ham icecream (swoon!) the dish was an absolute knockout. My pick for dish of the evening hands down.

My dining companion chose a starter of Chermola-Spiced Quail Supremes, Cauliflower Royale, Red Elk lettuce & a Golden Sultana Jus. I managed to snaffle a taste and the dish was lovely - not as adventurous with flavours as my dish, but delicious. My friend Mark felt that the chermoula coating on the quail was a tad salty and I can see how that could be the case, however whilst the salt was quite dominant, being a salt fiend I really liked the briny tang of the seasoning.

For main course, Mark chose the Poached Fillets of John Dory, Piquillo Pepper Puree, Confit Fennel & Black Olives - a fresh tasting lively dish with the delightful aniseed undertaste of fennel that lingered on the palate. The tiny black Ligurian olives were a nice touch - the dish had the feel of a peperonata, but refined and less rustic.

My main course selection was the Roasted Boned & Rolled White Rabbit, Snail & Broad Bean Ragout, Potato Gnocchi & Wilted Mache. Templeman loves cooking with game and I think when dealing any game meat, he is at his best. The rabbit was perfect with the snails and broad beans. You don't really see snails on menus very much in Australia, but I'm a fan. The flavours in the dish were perfectly balanced and the dish is a winner. I think rabbit is a hugely underrated and underused meat - it is so lean and lends itself to so many styles of dishes and flavours.

Mark's mum Jan who joined us for dinner chose  the main course special - a dish of pan roasted veal that was served quite rare and looked delicious. When dessert time came , she also chose the special of the night, a Summer Berry Souffle w Cassis Sorbet, Chocolate Mint Milkshake. From the the sighs of contentment across the table, this dessert got the tumbs up (in fact, when time came for a cheese course later, Jan declined - she said she wanted to keep the taste of the souffle in her mouth!)

My dessert selection allowed me to indulge my love of rhubarb, with Darren's Poached Rhubarb & Blood Orange Terrine with White Chocolate, Rhubarb Sorbet & Strawberry & Red Wine Consomme. Wow. What a beautiful combination. The richness of white chocolate, the tang of rhubarb and blood orange and the unexpected addition of the consomme that our waiter poured into the dish at the table made for a fabulous dessert.

Prior to our "real" desserts, we were served a complimentary pre dessert - an eggcup of impossibly creamy basil custard with marscapone, fresh raspberry and tiny, tiny puple basil leaves. To die for!

Mark chose to skip dessert and head right for the cheese course - a great selection of cheeses to choose from, from all around the world. I loved that Atelier did not offer the screamingly obvious choices that many restuarants do - the cheeses were obviously chosen with a lot of care and there is a really tempting selection on offer.

Atelier was completely packed out on the night we visited, and my one complaint was that we a waited a very long time for our dishes. (Something that has never been an issue all the times I have eaten there) I did notice that a number of large tables seemed to be having the degustation menu, so that may have been the cause of the slowness. The waitstaff, led by Bernadette were as attentive as ever though and sitting in a cosy environment chatting between courses wasn't exactly the end of the world!

A bonus of visiting Atelier during the week is that on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday you can enjoy 3 courses of Darren Templeman's beautiful creations for $59 - that gets you a starter, a main and a dessert. You can substitute your dessert for a cheese selection too if you like. Exceptional value.

I really rate Atelier as one of Sydney's true gems and I think Templeman is one of our finest chefs - My only warning would be that it is not for people who struggle with the unfamiliar or who like their food very plain - he often pairs quite unusual combinations and some may find that there is not anything on the menu that appeals to them based on this. A trip to the website will show you the latest menu and you can make a decision from there as to whether it will be your cup of tea.

You will find Restaurant Atelier at 22 Glebe Point Rd (Near Parramatta Rd), Glebe.
They serve dinner from 6pm, Tuesday to Friday.
For bookings phone: (02) 9566 2112

Note: Bernadette told me that they will be having a well earned break from Christmas day to 15 January. So, check them out in the new year.

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