French dining is experiencing a renaissance in Sydney with a spate of new bistros — like Hubert, Bistro Rex, LoLuk and the soon-to-open Eté and Frenchies — slowly but surely taking over. The latest is District Brasserie, a new fine dining venue committed to bringing affordable luxury to the masses. All we can say is, let the revolution begin.
Located on the lower ground floor of the Chifley Tower, the new 200-seater venue consists of an all-day bakery serving tartines, croissants and Single O coffees as well as a restaurant designed for long business lunches and romantic wining and dining. The venue is luxurious, and was designed by Paul Kelly (the hospitality designer, not musician). Expensive details extend all the way from the mid-century leather furniture, striking green marble bar and aged brass furnishings, to the Riedel glassware and fine linen napkins. If it weren't for the shopping centre escalator outside you could be in one of Paris' finest.
However, perhaps what's most surprising is that when you open your schmancy leather-bound menu, the prices seem quite reasonable (gasp!) not at all the eye-watering costs you had planned to pass on to your finance department or significant other. And perhaps even more surprisingly, the portion sizes are quite generous — not the petite, miniscule, itsy-bitsy, quail egg on a crouton-sized dish that we have come to expect from the French. Take for instance the charcuterie ($32) which is served as a platter of house-cured salami, peppered duck prosciutto, burrata, pickled vegetables and charred bread — it could easily satisfy a ménage à trois.
While we're similarly impressed with the diameter of the steak tartare ($25), for us, the flavour fails to live up to its esteemed reputation. The avant-garde, modern take, is spicy — like Mexican spicy — and the top layer of black smoked onion crumble renders the classic zesty dish completely unrecognisable. If you do give it a go, skip the tapioca crackers provided (which only serve to confuse us further) and load it up on the naturally-fermented organic sourdough, which comes complimentary from District's on-site bakery. It's some seriously good bread.
For us, the pièce de résistance is the steak frites ($37), which promises to bring a tear of pride to a carnivorous French person's eye. The lean Jack Creek's sirloin is flamed in a Josper charcoal oven, ours cooked just how we asked, and served with a whipped béarnaise sauce and a side of seasoned fries and watercress. The 120-strong wine list is also a highlight. Compiled by sommelier Benjamin Moechtar, the selection includes plenty of interesting drops from Australia, France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, with gorgeous boutique Greek wines scattered here and there as a treat.
While individual dishes are reasonably priced, after you end up over-ordering — and then polishing off several bottles of fine French Burgundy — it probably won't feel like a cheap night for long. We just hope you reach that level of contentment (and mild drunkenness) in which you don't mind.