“Fine dining, without the pretension” – that’s the philosophy of Bouche on Bridge. A focus on produce, core ingredients, and exceptional cooking without overt complications round out the package. Head chef Harry Stockdale-Powell’s ostensibly got the chops for it too – having worked at both Marque and Rockpool. Looks like it’s time to head back to Bridge St for something that isn’t Eleven Bridge and see what “no fuss fine dining” is all about.
Date Last Visited: 23/11/2016 (1st visit 29/10/2016)
Address: 6 Bridge St, Sydney NSW 2000
Go-to Dish: eschallot tarte tartin (if you like onions a lot)
Price Guide (approx): $80-$100pp plus drinks
Stockdale-Powell’s not so keen on consigning Bouche on Bridge as a boilerplate fine diner, and to his credit, the interior speaks to it. The dark, moody wooden tables and wood trim accents contrast beautifully with the raw brick wall aesthetic. There are no starched linens, and waitstaff aren’t dressed to the nines, and that’s okay.
Having said that, it’s not a spot for a cheap bite either – Bouche may not call itself a “traditional” fine diner, but you’ll still spend about $80 per head for a three course, and that’s before drinks. But then again, this almost seems like a midpoint cost of entry for any upmarket bistro these days in Sydney.
While what you’ve seen so far depicts the restuarant’s ground floor, there are actually two other levels to Bouche – one is the 6-seater chef’s table located up a level. The other is accessed via stairs leading to a subterranean bar. Along with the counter seats, this all adds up to a plethora of seating options.
One thing I found rather incongruous was the music – it’s a jumble of loud and the quiet, with more of the latter, and no particular theme to it. I believe the idea is for a more vibrant and dynamic atmosphere, but the interior and clientele is perhaps still a little too upmarket for the music to be a fitting companion.
Onto the food. During my first visit in October, the menu was broken into three self-explanatory categories: farm, earth and sea. A practical approach, that wasn’t duplicated in my November visit, with a much more traditional entree/main/dessert/sides menu structure. The restaurant is clearly still refining its approach, though the one thing that appears constant is the protean nature of the menu itself. Though there was only one month’s gap between visits, over half the menu had changed!
Probably Bouche’s unofficial signature dish, the eschallot tarte tartin is a head turner. Not so much because of its looks (though it is visually striking), but because it’s your nose turning to the smell of the tart that drags your head with it – this dish is unapologetic about the use of onion & cheese flavours.
The most prominent aspect of this tart is the parmesan ice cream on top. There’s no gimmick here, it literally tastes like parmesan-flavoured ice cream, and the flavour is strong. You’ll be tempted to try the ice cream by yourself, and I won’t stop you – but you’ll quickly appreciate the ice cream as a flavouring agent for the tart itself.
The onions were crispy, buttery and charred at the edges – pretty much as good as onions can get cooked like this. What really clinched the deal was the tart base – thin, crusty and an all round exemplary example of puff pastry done right.
You absolutely must love onions and cheese to enjoy this dish. A great dish that showcases the two core ingredients – but even then, it’s so rich that sharing is wholeheartedly recommended.
On the flip side, a much lighter dish of ocean trout was not too dissimilar from gravlax, and as such flavours were very familiar – briny, fishy, slightly smoky. The pickled cucumbers added a bit of crunch and zesty interest, an all round solid, albeit safe dish.
And now, onto the mains!
A very delicious fish dish in the form of gurnard was a winner in our books, despite the technical niggle in calling it a flathead*. I’ll forgive it as the fish was perfectly cooked, with very thin but crispy skin, juicily sweet flesh and immersed in a minty broth, with lots of lusciously chewy green beans.
*Side note: technically, flathead is a different species of fish, and is more expensive than gurnard, though the two cook very similarly.
A well-cooked, but slightly less stellar dish of pork belly was the star of the other main. For me, this was just a touch too rich (and I shared this!). The yoghurt-like broth hid away much of the impact that the thinly-sliced white strawberries could have brought, and added to the overall oleaginous nature of the dish.
On the plus side, the pork itself was most flavoursome, with a great layer of crackling. Credit where it’s due!
While Bouche provides for a standard set of sides such as chips and veggies, we decided a more adventurous onion & bone marrow in beef sauce was in order.
As with all well-cooked marrow, Bouche’s was practically like butter unto itself. Overwhelming, in fact, if it weren’t perfectly portioned. That honey mustard & onion-y flavoured beef sauce was also what you might say “to die for”, and it begged to be mopped up with bread.
Which is exactly what we got! The house-cultured butter, being a milky, creamy whipped concoction that while got the job done, wasn’t anything to write home about. Instead, that crusty, chewy Sonoma bread was destined to be a mop to the bone marrow’s beef sauce.
Bouche’s dessert menu is very limited – coming in at three dishes, one of which is a cheese selection. However, this made the “Ferrero Rocher” an easy pick. A generously-sized, peanut-covered chocolate ball holds within it aerated chocolate mousse, resting on a bed of almond chocolate soil and is paired with a malt ice cream.
For me, the best part of the dessert was the airy mousse inside the ball, and the deliciously crumbly soil (it was very fine). The chocolate ball itself was actually slightly underwhelming as it didn’t have the snap I was expecting, and the malt ice cream had a bit of an egg nog taste which didn’t suit my palate.
A great dessert overall, worth ordering pretty much just for Instagram alone.
For a truly bracing dessert option, the Ferrero lost out to the Poached nectarine & sorrel granita. From a pure flavour perspective, this was a winner – the sorrel crumble was ace, with nothing coming close in its level of refreshingness. The poached nectarines were sweet & fleshy, and the crispy biscuit hid beneath it what I believe was a honeycomb sorbet.
My kind of dessert!
Bouche on Bridge – October 2016 Visit
When I see bug on the menu, it takes a mighty power to stop me from ordering it. Still on the menu as of my November visit, the bug & fennel held much promise. However, in execution, it was perhaps let down somewhat by the fact that the bug didn’t carry much flavour (despite it being texturally well-cooked) and that the lemon curd in the dish didn’t quite work out. The brioche was quite nice however, but then again it’s brioche we’re talking about here.
When I beheld the oysters w/wakame, I wondered how I didn’t see this coming – of all the oysters I’ve had, chewy wakame has never been an accompaniment. And yet, it just made so much sense, given the notion of “food that lives together tastes better together”.
It worked well – but missed a crunchy element. Thankfully, that was never going to be an issue as the blood orange granita more than compensated.
For its name, the duck neck sausages sure didn’t taste all that much like duck. Rather, “unspecified ham” described it. To its credit, there’s a good amount of chewiness interspersed with fattiness – though even this was a bit inconsistent. The flavour could have used a bit more impact other than just “a little briny”, but the sweet, chewy prunes really came into their own.
Maybe it’s a coincidence, but this dish didn’t make it into the November menu…
The rabbit rillet was another underwhelming dish in that there was very little flavour, was texturally pasty with bread that was more tough than it was crispy. The crunchy pickled vegetables were the best parts, which is not saying much. I’m not surprised that this dish also didn’t make it into the November menu.
This one made it to November’s menu – no words needed 😉
Chewy diamond clams aren’t too dissimilar to pippies, which I really like, so this dish already scored some points. The sauce however, was surprisingly uni-dimensional in flavour, with only a bit of saltiness being the main flavour I could detect. There wasn’t much of a richness or depth to it, which was somewhat disappointing – not even the clams could have saved that.
While it’s cool to cut bread like this, I think traditional slices like the ones we were given on our November visit are the right way to go, as far as ease of use is concerned. Good move here!
Surprisingly, the best part about the chicken & white soy dish was the – excuse my layman’s description – “mush” on which it was served. Essentially, it was a thick congee/porridge sporting a meaty savoury flavour. Think gruel, but in the best possible way.
As for the chicken, it was cooked well texturally speaking, but was actually inadequately flavoured relative to the congee. There was however, a little bit of smokiness that helped it stand apart somewhat, but overall there were balance issues with this dish. A further coincidence that this dish didn’t make it to the November menu?
Oh hi there again 😉
Of the three unique desserts I’ve had at bouche, the mandarin sorbet was perhaps the least exciting. It’s a case of dots and blobs on a plate, that lacked acidity and punch. The cream was chilly and refreshing, but the sorbet didn’t carry, and the dried mandarin didn’t really do all that much for the dessert.
Two visits over two months to Bouche on Bridge has shown me that the restaurant is very much still evolving in finding itself. Many dishes weren’t balanced properly, nor polished, and the service was perhaps overly attentive (we were asked what we thought of every dish after plates were cleared). That said, my second visit was far better than my first – showing marked improvement. If this kind of trajectory continues, then great things are around the corner – the good things are for the most part, already here.
This post is based on two independently-paid visits to Bouche on Bridge
- While a shaky start, the restaurant is improving in leaps and bounds
- Somewhat overly attentive service
- Most dishes still aren’t yet polished gems
- Almost everything we ate had onion in it, people thinking of taking a date here, bring mints!
I have a new scoring system! Read all about it here.
Most important takeaway – three separate scores for food, service and ambiance to give the final score. The new system is not compatible with any score given prior to 11/11/2014.
F6.5 | S3 | A1