The first thing I realise when we arrive at the Chef’s Table in Becasse is that the table really is set in the middle of the action. We’re set a mere meter away from the induction stove tops and have front row seats for the plating station where the man himself, Justin North is putting the final touches on some dishes before sending them out.
It’s my second time dining at Becasse, but thanks to an invitation from Tourism New Zealand it’s the first time I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Justin North and my first experience of dining in the heart of a working restaurant kitchen.
Tonight’s dinner is a celebration of New Zealand wine, set just before Justin’s appearance on Masterchef in his hometown of Wellington. The menu is a 5 course degustation but the Chef tells us with a grin to expect a few surprises along the way. My first bite of the night is a deliciously flakey Butterpuff with Green Olive Mascarpone, it’s a one-bite wonder with easily the most delicate pastry I’ve had the pleasure of eating and instantly I know we’re in for a treat tonight.
Being a glutton for punishment, I’m utterly unable to resist trying all three variations of bread presented to us. Served with whipped butter, the Seed Roll and Quince Sourdough go down a treat but it’s the fluffy Miniature Brioche that’s my favourite and I savour it one tiny slice at a time.
We’re surprised by a second amuse which arrives in palm sized bowls all delicately adorned with micro herbs. The Carrot Jelly and Kohlrabi are set in distinct layers waiting to be scraped away by our spoons, the Carrots are a burst of sweetness while the puffed rice is a quirky crunch at the end of each bite.
I’ve watched the plating of this dish from the sidelines marveling at the Chefs as they weld tweezers to gently transfer the vegetables from pan to plate. The miniature Bespoke Autumn Vegetable Garden is a dizzying array of colour that teams together tiny servings of various vegetables all planted in a bed of olive, dehydrated goats cheese and nuts, but my favourite component is easily the vibrantly green pea mousseline hiding below the surface.
When the Salmon arrives I’m surprised at the presentation of the King Prawn having expected them to be served whole. Instead they’ve been thinly sliced and serve as a resting plate for the Marlborough Salmon, vibrantly red thanks to its thin Promegranate skin. It’s a plating choice of genius as the King Prawn is layered thinly enough that a nudge with a fork is enough to gather up a quick bite with the gloriously fatty salmon. The crowning touch is the dabs of coconut milk and Vietnamese dressing which serve up a delicious tangy counterpart.
Visually arresting, the Squid Ink Coddle Hapuka is easily one of the most interesting taste combinations of the night. The Hapuka is a fish which Justin grew up with locally and has been cooked to a mouth wateringly perfect texture, the squid ink combined with the mussels and lightly salted broth leave me with a taste that make me feel like I’ve just stepped onto a beach while the Borage flowers amazingly enough taste like oysters.
Delighting in his tricks much like a magician showing off his repertoire Justin declares that he has another surprise for us before whipping out possibly the largest truffle I’ve ever seen in my life. At 100g this locally sourced truffle from Tarago in Tasmania is currently resting with a half-dozen eggs to infuse them with truffle scent. Somewhat incredulous at this claim I pick up one and am utterly amazed to find that it’s giving off the scent of truffles!
It’s the makings of a brilliant brunch of truffle scrambled eggs, with no need for extra truffle oil (although Justin is quick to grin and add that a little extra oil wouldn’t hurt). The truffles are taken away from temptation but not too far as it quickly makes an appearance on a surprise dish.
I’ve finally made peace with my arch nemesis Risotto. It turns out that all I needed to accept this dish is enough lightly shaved truffles to cover the entire dish! But of course the truffles are only a plus to what is undoubtedly one of the best cooked Risottos I’ve had the pleasure of eating, the Porcini mushrooms and truffles give off an intoxicating scent and compliment the creamy grains of rice without being overpowering.
The taste of the truffle shavings are no where as near as strong as their scent would make you believe, instead serving as a nutty counterpoint with a flaky texture easily crumbling at each touch.
There’s a real sense of showmanship that comes with the plating up of our next dish, Becasse’s signature dish Forgotten Vegetables. The Potatos in the dish are slowly baked with Cedar to impact a subtle flavour and it’s emphasised with a final piece of smouldering cedar placed on each plate.
The ceramic plates are circular and are not unlike a slice taken out of the tree trunks of the Cedar bark which is still smoking as the waitresses carefully place each plate in front of us. Crunchy slices of purple congo potato, Hawaiian sweet potato and turnips are nestled alongside a serving of Yabby tail which provides a sweet contrast in texture to the richness of the vegetables.
It’s the decanter for our final red wine that gets the biggest gasps of the night. With the decanter reaching close to a metre long in length, our waiter smiles at our reaction before pouring the rest of the glasses with calm efficiency.
We’re onto our final savory dish of the night but Justin has yet another surprise in stall for us with the arrival of two large chunks of clay in a wooden box. It’s the ultimate show as the clay stones are cut open to reveal a heart of baby potatoes, Justin reveals that the clay casing has actually been sitting in truffle soil before being baked to better infuse the potatos with that delicate flavour.
Our final savory dish of the night is a perfectly rare serving of Cervena Venison, sourced from Canterbury, New Zealand. It’s tender enough that the meat parts easily below our knives and has a sweetness to it made all the better by the slight bitterness of the caramelised sprout hearts, blanched outer leaves, nettle puree and intriguingly enough, Black Pudding. I make the perfect bite over and over with the various components and it is indeed, bliss every time.
Our pre-dessert is a much welcomed hit of Granny Apple love, Sweet Wine Jelly teamed with an Apple Sorbet with so much flavour packed into it I feel like I’ve just taken a bite of an apple which just happens to be made of ice. There’s a natural sweetness in the sorbet which does its job perfectly of cleansing our palates and I have to admit is easily my favourite of all the desserts served.
Earlier in the night we’d been given the choice of the two desserts mentioned on the menu. Initially in a sweet mood I’d decided on the Alto Beni Zokoko Chocolate Cadeau, but as my stomach began to fill up over the course of dinner I’d started to second guess myself on this decision. All of my concerns vanish however as a deliciously smooth sphere of chocolate is placed in front of me.
A quick attack with my fork reveals a gorgeously molten center that slowly begins to ooze onto the plate. It’s a decadently rich dessert that seemingly melts in your mouth although I struggle to taste any of the cumin in the caramel. I’m torn between the Cadeau and the Lemongrass dessert which Helen has decided on and end up alternating between the two much to her despair.
Helen has opted for the Silken Lemongrass and Lime Caramel which arrives in a beautiful scattering of Sobert, Fruit Crunch and delicate swirls of orange. The Fruit Crunch and slices of citrus are actually hiding a miniature slice of Creme Caramel which is creamy and light and my favourite component on the plate is easily the zingy tang of the Vanilla Yoghurt Sorbet.
Because dinner wouldn’t be complete without one last surprise, Justin’s final gift to us is Still Life – Winter. It’s a conceptual dessert built to capture the textures and flavours of the seasons and for winter its primary focus is on Coffee and Liquorish, flavours that come through the most predominately when eating the soil that forms the base of the dessert. Puffy Merringues, Caramel Flakes, delicate leaves made of Egg white tuile and caramelised sugar are just a few of the components hidden away in a dessert which Justin promises will be back for Spring and Summer this year.
Our Petite Fours are Raspberry Macarons and Armagnac chocolates. The macarons are perfectly formed and are also miniature ones much to the relief of my stomach, the Armagnac chocolates turn out to be my last bite of the night and it’s the end of a brilliant night.
There’s a level of calmness in the Becasse kitchen and it’s almost surreal watching the sheer levels of efficiency as the chefs dance around each other plating up, by the end of our meal the chefs are putting the final touches on a few last dishes and the clean up begins.
The experience at the Chef’s Table in Becasse is unlike any other dining experience I’ve had, the front row seating provides an insight into just how much work goes into the preparation and presentation of each dish that goes out into the restaurant and won’t be one that I’ll forget any time soon.
eatshowandtell was a guest of Tourism New Zealand at Becasse Chef’s Table.
Level 5, Westfield Sydney
Cnr of Pitt St Mall and Market St
Sydney, NSW, 2000
Ph: (02) 9283 3440