I see the light!

It's been some time since the light brigade has been open, however I am glad its back.

The elegantly sophisticated art deco refurb is ‘tres’ chic. The upstairs lounge decorated in classically hip tones of red, black and white. The silver lights dangling in the dining room.

As I stood in the cocktail lounge perusing the décor, and the crowd, sipping my apple and lavender sling, I felt I should have been wearing an elegant silk dress with a mink stole and pearls.... not my jeans. But who am I kidding although I love an exotic cocktail and people watching I was really here to check out the food!

Knowing that James Privett was behind the stove I had been eagerly awaiting the sneak preview of their new menu, before the official opening on Saturday, as I am an avid admirer of James, having tasted his creations before at Bistro CBD and Lotus.

On arrival the licensee, & my sisters partner (thanks Dave!), also boasted that James has an even more impressive background than I was aware. Working in the kitchen with Damien at Bistro Moncur, and also at Bennelong, he would certainly have some solid French training and so was now even more on edge as I awaited in anticipation, and expectation, of the culinary delights ahead. And I was certainly impressed.

Eagerly I scoured the entrée’s and on my first read, amazingly, I instantly decided on the lambs brains, much to the horror of my vegetarian co-diner. Elegantly sautéed in a sage beurre noisette, yet still retaining its light crisp breadcrumb coating. They just melted in the mouth, so velvety and silky inside and perfect with a scattering of tender baby peas. For many, brains & butter may be too rich however with the addition of preserved artichokes the acidity balanced well with the extravagance unctuousness of the dish, although they were a little firmer than I felt they should be as fought a little with the other soft textures on the plate.

Now choosing a main was not so easy....oooh too many options for this foodie's eyes. Tantalised by the combination of duck breast with cavalo nero and brussel sprouts. Extremely intrigued by 'cauliflower couscous' served with the snapper and an anchovy beurre noisette my mind trying to envisage what it would look like, how it would would taste. The braised pork belly started calling to me, teasing me with its partners of smoked pork hock, celeriac & witlof salad.

To ease my decision making process I used repetition of flavour as my guide. Since I'd started at the head I felt should continue on my sheepish adventures and chose the crisp lamb shoulder, slowly braised, then carefully formed into a pressed log. Gracefully coated in a light crumb and perfectly cooked, giving it a crisp outer shell that still allowed me to experience the full experience of the inner centre - tender, melt in the mouth meat and the delicate creamy lemon aioli.

The side of confit lambs toungue was a little misplaced but then, when up against such a big bold main attraction, it was easily forgiven.

My dining partners’ ordered less complex dishes and thankfully let me share some of their delights. The sirloin so tenderly seared as per my sister's medium rare request served with crisp shoe string fries, which although to some very casual ‘pub’ food, it is the classic French match 'steak & pomme frites ' topped with maitre d'hotel butter. But one thing did let it down being quite thick my sister found it a struggle with a standard dinner knife. I think a 'set of steak knives' is needed in the cutlery canteen.

The atlantic salmon grilled to perfection, still soft and a little pink in the middle, set atop a warm potato salad. But the amazing thing on this plate was the smoked eel butter – an new unusual ingredient I haven’t experienced before – with its creamy texture and lightly smoked flavour and surprise combination with the salmon, as it married well when I had initially thought when reading the menu it would overpower. Bring on the smoked eel more often.

The vegetarian option was a little underwhelming, but then I am a little omnivore biased. The morel mushroom risotto was well crafted, creamy, still a little wet and the morels gave a great meaty flavour, but felt the radicchio overpowered the mushroom & delicate pea flavours. But then I'm not the vegetarian and she was pleasantly delighted with her dish & that is what counts.

Then just when I thought I had enough sampling Dave stole a chance to sit down with us and to my amazement with the pork belly. Even though I had finished my lamb, and already had an elegant sufficiency, I started to have meal envy again!! A millionaire pot of pork belly and hock that if I'd selected it would have given my cholesterol a workout but with my one mouthful that i 'endured' it was instantly worth the danger!

Now for me where there’s food there has to be wine and with a balanced list of local and international options the night was delightful. We started to share the Catalina Sounds Sav Blanc but for main I needed to get a red fix. And what a tempting array of fixes on the menu!

As my eyes meandered down the list my mind went into overdrive again. Should I explore the Italian Nebbiolo from Piedmont, dabble with a Barossa GSM or entertain one of my personal favourites a Margan Shiraz ... then I found my hit a 99 Henshcke Keyneton Estate Shiraz ! Although this hit would make the night a dangerous adventure for my credit card at $17 a glass, when I swirled the wine and breathed in the heady spice, oak and blackberry aromas I knew I had reached nirvana and this meal would be 'priceless'! After one glass of this fine textured wine I still craved more that I had to have another two hits. My sister, after one sip, also became hooked and decided to hang the expense and also enjoy a bottle. Needless to say the car was given a stay in Woollahra that night!

Just when you think I had exasperated my tastebuds....desert menu arrived. And of course I had to give the pastry team the same care and justice and sample their efforts. So it was good to see some sweet inspirations to tempt our fully loaded palates....so tempting we ordered one of each and the cheese!

The warm sugared brioche was delicately light and perfectly created. With the first bite I reminisced back to the Loire Valley where I was initially first tasted such a delight. The beautiful aromas hypnotising me into a daily trance as I lined up with the locals for fresh brioche at the local corner bakery in Tours. The accompanying Creme Fraiche ice cream was a little soft but a gentle sour partner to the buttery sweet brioche. Now the menu only mentioned 'orange' as the other accompaniment though I was pleasantly surprised to receive a seasonal blood orange salad with petite cubes of soothing ginger beer jelly. It is a great delight to discover this innovation rather than be spoon fed with every detail on the menu!

However I had to keep my menu travels going so again managed to steal some of my fellow companions' selections. The pineapple carpaccio with marshmallow and passionfruit sorbet was a little too tropical for me and although marshmallow seems to be a new resident on Sydney’s menu's I am not a fan – not sure if its the texture or the sweetness or maybe this dish just had too many flavours and overloaded my savoury devoted tastebuds.

But then the piece de resistance of desserts arrived….the caramelised banana split. I didn't chose it however I wish I had. Luckily my little tasting revealed the crisp, caramel snap which enveloped a buttery warming banana with notes of toffee and burnt sugar all topped with a soft cloud of white chocolate mousse. The result was sublime. Caramelised banana is also another trend on menus, yet I have never indulged ....until now and am soo glad I finally succumbed.

Dinner for me is not just about the food it’s also about sharing the pleasurable company of my dining companions, however you also need great service to make a restaurant, and your night. It was not until after our dinner that I found out this was a very new crew on the floor and they have to be applauded. For a pre-opening night I did expect there would be a few hiccups but for a new team amazing. Some staff weren’t 100% familiar with the exact details of the menu but thankfully they were open enough to ask the chef my probing questions and attentively reported back with answers. A couple were a little nervous in serving down the plates, and one almost gave me my sisters order, but they delivered them with care, friendliness and no pretension or attitude, which is refreshing in this part of town.

Team I applaud you all for your collective efforts and that you will be a perfectly tuned ‘brigade’ in the future. If you get the chance go towards 'the light' and indulge yourself.