With a woodfired oven as the restaurant's core, Ester's hearth produces food with heart.
Imagine a Friday night when you don't feel like going out because the bilious ghost of last night's pub dinner is still haunting your entrails. Then imagine the feeling when you realise you have to go out because your dinner reservations at Ester were made weeks in advance, just to get a table at 8.45.
So, you get out of your trackies and into something a little more sexy, but not too sexy (because Ester is in Chippendale). You wander in and are seated by staff who do the warm, slightly jokey side of casual very well. You're amid a very 'Chippo' jangle of ages and degrees of trendiness. There are young art students, middle-aged art gallery owners and plenty of representation from the finance industry in between. The space it sparse — done in concrete tones and darkish wood. It's a (designer) vessel that is free of corny trends and all the tiring paraphernalia that comes with them. Relief sets in even before the wine has been poured.
Once you do choose something from the natural-leaning list, however, Ester only gets better. The menu is driven (or fired) by a wood-burning oven which makes the house-made loaf ($3 per person) — a solid, crusty place to start. Calamari ($21) is accompanied by peas and a 'green goddess' sauce. With all the juice bar connotations of that name, the dish is a pretty assemblage of char-tipped calamari, peas and an electric green sauce that is clean in a satisfyingly healthy way.
Carrots with sesame and a parmesan custard ($12) and cauliflower with almond cream ($16) are tumbles of greenery that crown roasted veg accompanied by savoury sauces. Both speak the bright language of their direct contact with honest fire. Vegetables have never made for such pleasurable grazing.
Ester doesn't do dessert with a capital 'D'. While there's not even a hint of chocolate on the dessert menu, there is some great caramel. A 'three milks' dessert (sheep's milk yoghourt foam, panna cotta, goat's milk dulce de leche, $11) is a too-cool-for-school mingling of muted sweet and savoury that comes replete with olive oil biscuit and rosemary sprinklings.
Although humbler, the salted caramel semifreddo ($4) with a black sesame sugar is my favourite. I lean over to recommend it to the girls at the table next door who are tossing up between desserts as we leave, happy that we held onto our reservation after all.