Even though SIFF 2009 is officially over, I thought I’d post this Becasse dinner anyway because it was a fantastic experience.
I thought I’d surprise F with an early birthday dinner and what better way than to do it with a SIFF Hats Off Dinner – a Hats Off Dinner at Becasse to be precise! I was intrigued and drawn by their theme: an acknowledgement to the Heroes and Masters of French cuisine and I thought he might find it as interesting as I did (and enjoy it).
Even after dragging our feet and spending some time at (and eating) Bon Bon Fine Chocolates, we ended up being 10 minutes too early and were asked by the staff to come back when they open at 6. Loitering outside for a bit, we decided to go back to Bon Bon Fine Chocolates, where F dropped a cool $45 on an assortment of chocolates. Surely by now our 10-minute exile from Becasse was up and made our way back to the restaurant.
We were ushered upstairs, where our waitress began to indicate politely our table, only to stop herself with a start and moved to the table behind, brightly amending her mistake with “Sorry! This is your table”. I brightened up too as the table was well-lit – awesome (so now we all know that if the photos don’t look good, it’s because of the camera’s end user haha).
I could not not take photos of our bread – they were far too interesting! The warm breads were served with an adorable quenelle of smoked butter with pink salts and olive oil butter with herbs; both of which were super easy to spread and seemed to melt quite rapidly once they were separated from the dish. I couldn’t discern any smokiness from the butter, but the pink salts definitely added a certain edge to it.
The sour dough baguette had a pretzel-like glaze to it, making it my favourite bread out of the trio (especially when paired with the smoked butter). It was interesting to see that F’s pumpkin brioche actually had pieces of pumpkin in it!
F and I don’t like oysters. There is just something about them that even thinking about eating one sends a shiver down our spine. For me, it’s the slimy, soft texture paired with a fishy, salty taste that really gets to me. Ugh. It’s safe to say that we don’t touch them unless we have to. In saying that, I was a bit apprehensive with this dish. I decided to one-shot it and after a slight pause with it on my tongue, I swallowed it like a duck (movement included).
It’s something I’ve come to thoroughly regret. F actually abhors oysters, so I was very surprised to see him chewing (out of all things) the oyster and moaning about how good it tasted. I did a double take to make sure the person sitting next to me was the same one I walked into the restaurant with. He opened his eyes (yes, it was so good that he actually closed his eyes in bliss) and looked at me with revelation, as if he’s finally seen the light.
“Oh my God, that was sooooooo good!” he interjected quite unnecessarily between his vocal approvals. He began describing how the oyster was nice and plump, juicy but not fishy and how well it went with the sauce. I began to feel a bit bitter at myself for wasting such a perfectly good oyster, but tried to console myself that at least I got to taste the sauce, which was delectable in it’s cheesy creaminess. While the sago balls added texture to the sauce, I felt that the chives was refreshing and helped cut through the cream.
I thought this dish was rather fun. Our waitress introduced it simply as “beetroot and orange”, but when I went to eat it, the flavours were not what I expected. What I thought was “orange” was actually beetroot and the “beetroot” was really blood orange. Tricky, tricky.
The beetroot was slightly salty, but a bit sweet; F found that it was a bit too intense in flavour for him. I love blood oranges, so I was delighted with the sweet-sour tang the jelly gave up. Separately, they were okay, but when eaten together – it was wonderfully savoury, sweet and tangy all at once.
However, I also felt that there was a bit too much of both (something I never thought I’d ever say in a degustation). The intense flavour and tang of the blood orange seemed to linger on my tongue for quite a while and I wasn’t too sure if I liked that or not.
The herb emulsion was the foundation of this dish. It was incredibly smooth and we could taste the different herbs, but couldn’t quite pinpoint any besides parsley. Palate fail.
Next came the slow-cooked hen’s egg in all of its wobbly gooeyness, the yolk encased in its delicate skin and surrounded by runny egg white. Once the skin was breached, the yolk oozed out but did not quite mix with the herb emulsion or mushroom puree. Rather, it swirled around, leaving orange mini comet tails in its wake in each layer.
The star of the dish was the smooth, almost creamy mushroom puree, though it was more like a soup than anything else but somewhat thicker than soup. The puree had very finely chopped wild mushrooms embedded around in the layer, which added a nice solid, yet soft, texture to the mixture. Sprinkled on top were gloriously crunchy and salty Jamon crumbs. Enough said.
We made sure that each spoonful had every layer, some Jamon (again my rationing for it to last the whole dish was a fail) and a nibble on the amazingly thinly sliced toasted brioche. It was really a festival of flavours in our mouths. I wasn’t surprised that this turned out to be F’s favourite dish of the night.
My first thought when tasting the dish was “it tastes like the sea!” and I suppose it’s not so surprising considering that the dish is mostly seafood. However, it wasn’t the briny taste one gets when you find yourself copping a mouthful of sea-water because your face got hit by a wave, it was the taste of the sea carried by a refreshing breeze. It was light, the idea of the sea, and was tasted somehow … elegant.
What was interesting was what I took to be some sort of cream was actually dense sea urchin foam. It looked substantial but it was anything but. For something so insubstantial, the foam packed full of flavour – being almost as creamy as butter with a slightly bitter after-taste.
The mussel tasted briny but the saltiness was not overwhelming. I normally see eating mussel a bit of a trial, but these were cooked so perfectly and with the flavour combinations from the other components on the dish made it an absolute pleasure to eat.
This is really embarrassing, but the abalone tasted so earthy that I mistook them for mushrooms. Go ahead, laugh. F did – laughed himself silly in the restaurant, but with something so inadequately described as delicious dancing on my taste buds, I did not care. F found them almost sweet-like which helped dull the bitterness from the sea urchin and it was so amazingly succulent that no effort was needed to chew it.
Our waiter explained that with such different preferences to flavouring, the chef invited us to apply the lemon-lime gelee as we desired by “painting” it onto the mulloway. I thought this was tremendous fun, but I overheard one lady at another table say “What is with this painting our fish?? I don’t want to paint my fish, the chef should have done it himself”. I suppose you can see this dish in two ways: the chef’s too lazy to do it himself or he’s inviting some sort of interaction with the dish besides simply just eating it. Just like cooking my own meat on a volcanic rock, painting my fish with a gelee, controlling the outcome of the taste, really tickled my fancy.
After a tiny bout of giggling as we “painted” our fish, silence reigned. We were gobsmacked with the perfection to which the fish was cooked – I can honestly say that it was the most perfectly cooked fish we have ever had. I could describe it with the usual adjectives such as “soft”, “tender” and “moist”, but really I need to expand my vocabulary as they are quite inadequate to describe how amazing we found the mulloway and why.
When we were reading the menu (or really haphazardly guessing as most of the dishes were in French and my grasp of the language is really atrocious), I was puzzled with the white chocolate component, but sure enough, it was there – sitting rather meekly under the fish, looking as if it wanted to blend in with the plate. It was intriguing, something you don’t think would work actually does and very well too. The white chocolate sauce wasn’t overpoweringly thick, it actually added a very gentle and light touch of sweetness to the fish.
The lemon-lime gelee reminded me of lemongrass marinade used in Asian cooking, where it added a bit of acidity and tartness to the fish. F preferred the fish without the gelee because he felt it paired a lot better with a “sweet wingman”.
As the next course was presented to us, our waiter hurriedly assured us that the “forgotten” vegetables and potato puree were coming. As we waited, I gazed at the veal blackened with ash. This was not how I imagined this dish would look like and a sense of uncertainty fluttered into me.
The “forgotten” vegetables consisted of sweet turnip, radish and celeriac. They were perfectly seasoned and had a whole clove of garlic nestled inside the “forgotten” vegetables jar.
The potato puree was simply potato and butter. It was incredibly buttery, creamy and smooth; quite thick in consistency as well. Being huge fans of all things potatoes, we loved it.
My little flutter of uncertainty fled when F was quite vocal in his approval of the veal. I loved how perfectly cooked and seasoned it was – so tender and succulent, yet tasted quite hearty, where no piece was found to be chewy. The ash added a slight smoky tang to the veal and it wasn’t as harsh tasting as I was worried it would be. F thought, on first impressions, that the veal would be dry and overcooked, but he was happily proven wrong.
While the “forgotten” vegetables were good on their own, when combined with the potato puree and the veal, the flavours really shone.
With my first bite, I blurted out to F: “THIS is my favourite dish of the night”. It was the perfect balance between the sweet strawberry soup with fresh strawberries and the light creamy flavour of the milk sorbet, while the meringue added a slightly chewy texture (but didn’t stick to the teeth). I found it to be so refreshing and so light, I swear I could have eaten 100 of these, while F likened the refreshing feeling he got from the dessert to one of having a clean crisp beer on a hot summer’s day.
My first though when I saw the praline block was “is that it?”. Terribly ungracious of me to think that, considering the effort gone in to making that gorgeous glossy sheen alone. I had to take back several of the things I said and thought earlier in the night as soon as I’d had a spoonful. Seriously, this was my favourite dish of the night.
The layers of hazelnut praline, salted caramel and the almond meal with meringue base were unbelievably scrumptious together. The base reduced the richness of the chocolate and hazelnut praline, as well as adding crispy texture, while the perfectly creamy Chantilly quenelle helped cut through the richness of the dessert.
We were informed by our waiter that the base was baked at 150 degrees Celsius so it’s crisp on the outside but retained its chewy-ness on the inside, while the almond meal added to the crispy texture.
I am proud to say that I managed to keep the ratio of cream and chocolate even throughout the dish and did not finish one before the other, unlike the other time. Yay!
I love petit fours – it’s like I get to taste and eat more dessert without feeling too guilty! The brandy snap was filled with what we thought was Chantilly, where F described it as being excitingly crunchy and ever so sweet, tempered by the cream. It’s safe to say that it was his favourite. The chocolate ganache macaroon was slightly chewy, rich and gooey – it was chocolaty goodness with all the aspects of perfect macaroon thrown in. My favourite was the apple/pear vanilla friand – I’m unsure if that is exactly what it is, so I’ll just call it one til someone corrects me. The friand was served warm and was wonderfully soft, moist, sweet and delicate tasting with a hint of cinnamon.
Becasse’s wait staff had impeccable manners, as well as being quite friendly. Their willingness to explain and depth of their knowledge was pretty awesome. We had a lot of fun at Becasse and it didn’t hurt that the food was spectacular (particularly the desserts). My only gripe was that I was sitting on the top level of Becasse and happened to be inline with the air-conditioner, which was turned off and on during the course of the night and so I had to do the cardigan-off-cardigan-on-cardigan-off routine.
204 Clarence St
Sydney, NSW, 2000
Ph: (02) 9283 3440