High-class French food in a subterranean space on Bligh Street, where the chicken fricassée is the stuff of legend.
They've done it again. The winning streak continues with Restaurant Hubert, the first full-service restaurant from the Swillhouse Group, known for their elaborately themed drinking dens, The Baxter Inn, Frankie's and Shady Pines Saloon.
From the moment you open the door, Hubert will hurtle you headfirst into a C.S. Lewis-style adventure, taking you from dreary Bligh Street to the resplendent old-world opulence of post-war Paris. It's like an adult's version of Narnia, only this time there's steak and wine.
Once you reach the bottom of their winding stairwell, you'll be presented with a series of doorways. If you take a left, you'll end up in the Beatrix Dining Room, a ruby-hued, wood-panelled dining hall, where ruffled curtains and a baby grand piano take centre stage. One long, expansive bar dominates the left-hand side of the room and, behind it, a two-storey wine library, where waiters scuttle up and down, in search of the right burgundy.
Such a beautifully dressed venue will immediately have you looking down and regretting the decision to wear Birkenstocks. Sydney has never had a venue like this before, so take the opportunity to suit up. Air out your dinner jacket, buy a backless dress and give the old monocle a Windex.
Having made a booking long in advance (Hubert now only do bookings for six or more, but at the time of writing we got lucky with a booking for two), we're checked off the list and escorted to a romantic, candle-lit table for two. Be prepared for some serious mood lighting and Frank Sinatra crooning. This won't be a problem if you're here to celebrate six months since your first Tinder date; you might want to think again if you plan on having the "it's not you, it's me" conversation.
The beautifully-designed food menu reveals classic French brasserie dishes which has been put together by chef extraordinaire Dan Pepperell from 10 William Street. The one-page menu progresses from lighter, entree-style dishes — like duck parfait and pork terrine — to heavy cream-laden mains, like the flank steak with bordelaise butter and a confit duck leg cassoulet.
We start our meal with oeufs en gelée (practice the pronunciation at home first), which features a soft egg yolk suspended in bonito jelly with salty pops of trout roe and avruga caviar ($14) — it's wonderful when spread over the warm house-baked bread and cultured butter. The malakoff (that's a cheese puff to you and I), has a crisp exterior and molten centre where melted Gruyère befuddles with Dijon mustard for the ultimate soft-centred experience ($12).
One of the larger dishes, the clams Normande ($29), is served swimming in a rich, dashi-spiked beurre blanc sauce. The New Zealand diamond pippies are not quite as sweet and succulent as our local varieties, but the buttery sauce does its best to melt them into submission while the soft herbs, chervil, chives and tarragon work overtime to keep it fresh. There's also a Japanese twist to the steak tartare ($22) which is made with minced wagyu topside and accompanied with matchstick fries dusted in umami-rich furikake.
The dessert menu has only three options — just enough that you can order them all in the name of experimentation. There's a religieuse au chocolat ($14) — a choux pastry bun filled with hazelnut crème, coated in chocolate with a gold foil habit — along with a young coconut sorbet with fizzy finger lime and sorrel jelly served in half a Santa Claus melon ($22), and, finally, a crème caramel ($18) made with a bitter, burnt caramel to balance out the sweet egg custard.
There's a huge selection of beverages; you could take the hefty leather-bound wine menu to an airport lounge and still miss your plane. The selection is largely French and can be ordered by the glass, half bottle, bottle and magnum. Cocktails come classic — think martinis, Negronis and whiskey sours — but you'll want to try the Bellini which has the added benefit of citrus sorbet.
On a final note, Hubert isn't the only dinner spot in this epic, Alice and Wonderland-style labyrinth. There's also Bar Normandy beneath the wine balcony, Bar Pincer's across the hall, as well as Chester Lounge, Botero Boardroom and a 120-seat theatre. But that's enough for now — I'll leave a few exciting discoveries for you to make on your own.
Images: Bodhi Liggett.