Guillaume Brahimi is a French giant in Sydney – both in real life, and in his eponymous restaurant which, for many years, has been a French institution at the Sydney Opera House. They say that you can’t miss what you’ve never had – I beg to differ.
See, I never got the chance to visit “Sydney’s best French restaurant” during its stint at our most famous landmark. The chance escaped me – Guillaume at the Opera House closed its doors in 2013. I missed out on what surely must have been wonderful food, set in an iconic location and complemented by world-class service. I missed what I never had – until now.
Date Last Visited: 30/07/2016
Address: 92 Hargrave Street, Paddington, Sydney, NSW
From the Opera House to a house in Paddington. It’s a stark change. Guillaume originally moved out of Sydney’s most iconic landmark due to creative differences in what Opera House management wanted the restaurant to be, compared to Guillaume’s restaurant vision. See, the Frenchman believes that fine dining – with all the trappings of haute cuisine and exceptional service, is hardly in decline. Opera House management however, understandably wanted a more casual, accessible restaurant that doesn’t take 3.5 hours from start to finish, and a $200 chunk out of the wallet. We now have Bennelong for that.
And so, we come to Guillaume, reincarnated in Paddington. The new (well, not so new as of now) restaurant is quite small – 7 tables per floor. I was surprised at how much I fell in love with the decor – it’s almost like visiting a friend, not a restaurant. Having said that, the service is definitely not what I would call friendly – overall, it could have used a bit of the same charm as the place itself. The waiters never smiled (and we had three), and that’s despite me trying to crack some banter to break the ice – to no avail.
Or maybe I just suck – haha.
Onto the food – while you can go a la carte, the degustation menu offered at $190pp is as usual, my aim. Those looking at this option should note that it is a fair bit of food – even I was pretty stuffed at the end, and this is me we’re talking about here.
Let’s get eating.
Bread is offered as mini-baguettes in two types – mixed seed rye & caraway (pictured), or sourdough. Iggy’s Bakery, widely regarded as one of Sydney’s best, sources the bread. It’s served with a quenelle of house-churned butter, and represents a standard, albeit appropriate start to the meal. Not surprisingly, I made a huge mess tearing up the baguette – sesame and poppy seeds dropping all over the place. Can’t fully blame me though – the bread is quite tough, and will give teeth quite the workout. Yes, it was a bit too tough for me, but the creamy butter was a boon.
Shame I never got a chance to try out the sourdough! However, I knew a second piece of bread would have been a mistake from an appetite perspective.
Guillaume serves Pambula oysters w/red wine mignonette as an optional extra, at $4 per oyster. Fresh and juicy, with a sweetness from the red wine that’s fortunately balanced out by a ton of acidity. The only minor issue I had was a surprising difficulty in actually getting them out of the shell – the meat wasn’t fully decoupled from the shells.
Our amuse bouche comes in the form of a chestnut velouté. And oh, it’s already one of my favourite dishes in the entire degustation. This is buttery, chestnut heaven. I mean fair go right – veloute is essentially stock that’s been uh…shall we say “infused” with the gift of lots and lots of butter. In making a chestnut version, Guillaume imbues a notable, but not overbearing sweetness into the dish that is indeed reminiscent of chestnut flesh my folks used to boil for me. Good times.
The chestnut wasn’t the best part though – that honour belonged to the beurre noisette (burnt butter) emulsion that was present in the dish. Its bitterness and sweetness went oh-so-nicely with the rest of the dish, and the charred sweetness of the crumbly brioche was like a secondary analogue of the same flavour profile that adds an extra dimension. Oh, and there’s truffle. Enough said.
As for its texture, it’s incredibly smooth, but hardly too rich for the portion size.
Hey, I can be fancy right? While I’m still not much of a drinker, everybody loves a bit of bubbly – and mine’s a half bottle of Louis Roederer NV. A fruity nose was followed by very smooth drinking – pear notes are dominant, which went quite well with our first course below.
The first course of Bateau Bay kingfish w/smoked eel graces our tables, and I almost balked at just how large the dish was – this was only the first real course! Can’t complain though – it’s a good starter, though the smoked eel was what actually stole the show. It’s more textural, buttery and more flavourful than the kingfish, packing one hell of a punch – albeit with not enough smokiness. The kingfish itself was a lot more subdued, and needed a bit of a lift. Apples on top are Granny Smith, which provided the requisite hit of acidity, while puffy brown rice delivered a dry crunch that always works with raw fish.
This was an interesting one – Rangers Valley wagyu tartare. Not so much the tartare itself – which was cut up a bit too large and rough, was oddly gamey, and thus average overall. No, this was made interesting by the oyster mayonnaise and deep fried oyster perched on top of the tartare. Its flavour wasn’t that of oyster, but its texture was – albeit with a deep-fried coating. Pairing this with beef tartare was a curious choice, though I guess there is some interplay with textures here.
As for those crisps on the side – they’re made out of potato. Literally potato chips, tasting like such!
Unfortunately, the dish was overall not all that spectacular – primarily attributable to the tartare. You can find much better examples elsewhere.
For the rest of the courses, which involves both white and red meats, we went for a half bottle of William Downie Pinot Noir 2014 (Gippsland) – it’s intensely perfumed nose of red fruits, particularly overripe cherries, carries well but doesn’t threaten to overwhelm dish flavours. That said, still a very tasty, fragrant red – we savoured this all the way till dessert.
The next dish was a vibrantly-red plate of Octopus & carrot. Over the last few months I’ve been getting octopus that is often of great quality and taste, so I was keen to report the same for Guillaume.
It’s close! The octopus is very chewy and textural, but not at all tough. There’s not as much inherent sweetness in the meat which was a bit of a shame, but the highly potent & sweet olives in the bavarois imbued the necessary flavours. The olives themselves were, in addition to being sweet, quite crunchy.
Overall, there was a spiciness to the dish that was quite surprising. While I felt it was a bit out of place, it didn’t really matter all that much in the end. Overall, certainly enjoyable.
The Glacier 51 toothfish is, by quite a margin, my favourite dish. There’s everything here to tickle my fancy – an incredible specimen of fish cooked to perfection, butter sauce, and some ballsy condiments to boot.
It’s all in the fish, really. Glacier 51 toothfish has, in every single instance where I’ve tried it, been exceptional. Its buttery texture, resulting in a softness that’s cleavable by the blunt side of a butter knife, is one of a kind and irresistible. That there’s a crispy skin still adorning its milky-white flesh is a toothsome bonus.
There’s a natural umami to the whole thing (whoops, that word got dropped again), which is accentuated by the rich white butter sauce that is overbearing – but only if you have too much of it. No such problems here.
The artichokes are meaty and juicy, made quite sour by the diced clam puree which – if I didn’t just say it – is very sour. That element wasn’t really to my palate.
One last thing – I still don’t get the big deal with foam. Sorry.
The first red meat course we had was the Hunter Valley duck w/pear & endive. A cloyingly sweet date & honey emulsion is quenelled and put to the side to complete the dish.
It’s a good duck. The flesh is well-cooked, and really soaks up the sweetness of the date & honey emulsion. The portion size is just right as well; any more and it would once again become unctuous. The best part was the skin – really crispy, and with a bit of an interesting graininess that I haven’t really found in other duck dishes.
The roasted endive on the side is essentially a fancy roasted cabbage and did a good job of soaking up any residual sauces left on the plate. The pear is the “refreshment” element on the plate – I ate it at the end and suggest you do the same. Toasty, a bit spiced, and definitely sweet.
For the record, this dish paired specially well with the aforementioned pinot. Just saying.
The final savoury course is a Tajima wagyu beef w/cabbage & turnip. Having had a great specimen of this beef at Brae awhile back, I was looking forward to what Guillaume could do.
It was…decent, not great? I can’t help but compare this to Brae’s rendition – the latter having aged its beef for 45 days, evoking strong, heady and complex flavours. I didn’t get that here – I just got beef. The crust was done very well, but the rest of it was decidedly “just enjoyable”. I was also slightly put off by various rindy bits at the tail end of each piece on my plate. If you’re looking for outstanding beef, this isn’t the place for it. But that carbonised crust is worth commending.
As for the rest of the plate, the leek sported a big wallop of charred sweetness, the turnip fairly sour which made it somewhat refreshing, both of which being flavours right up my alley. The cabbage puree tasted like…sawdust? I know, weird adjective, but I swear that’s what I got out of it. Notes don’t lie!
Funnily enough, perhaps the best part of the wagyu dish was the side of potato mash that it comes with. Which, for an extra $15 during winter, has an option for truffle to be shaved on top.
I didn’t even take notes for this because I remember it all – it’s just that good. Creamy AF, truffle AF, heart attack-inducing AF. This is decadent mash, and I could have had it with just about anything. French cooking really has the business of liquified potatoes down pat. Worth every dollar.
The first of two desserts is a palate-revitalising granny smith apple & butter. While foams may not work on savoury dishes for me, it seems like they have their place in desserts – the buttermilk & vanilla foam is something to write home about. Not too sweet, not so dainty that I feel gypped for eating air, and provides a good entry point into the latter half of the cup’s contents – the granny smith crumble.
Seriously, this dessert is basically an apple pie without the crust. A really, really good apple pie. There’s bits of Granny Smith & biscuit crumble below the foam that’s crunchy and cool. While this is listed as a full dessert, it really ought to be a palate cleanser – a very good one at that.
The final dessert is canonically French – passionfruit soufflé. You’d definitely expect Guillaume to get this one right.
And oh yeah, they do. The texture is perfect – light and airy consistently throughout, an acute passionfruit flavour that’s about as tart as it gets, which is then enhanced even more by the rich and creamy passionfruit ice cream. This ice cream in comparison, is actually a bit less acidic.
The creme anglaise that’s poured into the soufflé then reins all of this causticity back, cancelling everything out and leaving a table of very satisfied, albeit very full diners.
But it isn’t quite over – a selection of petit fours comes on a tray for us to choose, and naturally between the three of us we manage to have one or more of everything.
Salted caramel: very tough but melts with time. Intense caramel flavour – it’s been taken right to the edge. Almost more bitter than sweet.
Strawberry tartlet: very light and fruity! Great crumbly pastry.
Chocolate coconut: a bit of dessicated coconut taste, nothing too noteworthy here.
Passionfruit macaron: not enough passionfruit from the soufflé earlier? Get some more here!
Mandarin gel: literally a mandarin-flavoured gummy
Canele: crusty and crunchy, my favourite of the lot.
Suffice it to say, we were rolling out the door after this…
Guillaume’s bastion of French has found its new home in Paddington. The food is quintessentially French, and for the most part, a feast for the palate. Would I return? Yes – notwithstanding the fact that some dishes could have been better, and the service a lot more effusive.
Nevertheless, it’s one of the best French restaurants in Sydney – a mantle that Guillaume has worked hard to earn.
This post is based on an independently-paid visit to Guillaume.
- It’s hard to find a better soufflé in Sydney
- The venue is charming to a tee
- There are troughs between the peaks of the degustation
- The service is too stiff! Loosen up guys 🙂
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.
F7 | S3 | A3