A restaurant opened up in Sydney just two months ago. You may have heard of it – it’s called Hubert, and when its doors unlocked, so did the proverbial floodgates of hype. To date, I have heard nobody say they dislike Hubert. Even SMH chief food critic Terry Durack, in an incredible departure from form, noted – in caps lock – that “I LOVE THIS PLACE”.
Goddamn, a restaurant of such alleged calibre could only mean one thing for me – the assemblement of the food squad, to launch an all out assault of highly conspicuous consumption on Hubert. All for uh, “research purpose”. The results are…well…you’ll have to read on to find out!
Date Last Visited: 1/6/2016
Address: 15 Bligh Street, CBD, Sydney, NSW
Recommended Dish(es): everything we ordered except the beef tartare or desserts
Hubert is helmed by Jason Scott, Anton & Stefan Forte, of Swillhouse Group (Frankie’s Pizza, Baxter’s Inn & Shady Pines), as well as Dan Pepperell (of 10 William Street). Between them exists decades of knowledge on how to build a damn fine restaurant that also knows how to serve a drink or two.
Apart from just food, Hubert differentiates itself from the rest of Sydney’s shindigs with outstanding attention to detail. While the entrance is about as nondescript as you could imagine, you are transported to another world, nay – another time – the moment you waltz inside.
The moment I walked in, I saw it – in fact, I couldn’t not have seen it. Adorning the walls of Hubert’s entrance are nearly 4000 miniature (and some not so small) liqueur bottles, going down two full flights of stairs. Most appear quite old – and used – intimating the possible history these may have had from back during the French post-war period.
And really, that’s the entire point in Hubert’s fitout. The owners deliberately chose the decor to reflect post-war venues, with a low-key, refined look that’s full of buzz, excitement, and an incredible ambience as a result.
This is just awesome. And I actually use the dictionary definition of awesome – in that I am truly awed. For the first time since introducing my new scoring system, I considered the possibility of awarding a bonus point to Hubert for ambience – it’s really that marvellous.
I could write more (I always can) on this, but the picture really is another thousand words here. It’s one thing to look at it, it’s another to be there. Bring your cocktail dresses and dinner jackets ladies & gentlemen, it’s that kind of a place.
As for the menu? A thankfully restricted one-pager that’s mostly comprised of shareable snacks & starters, to a short list of meaty mains. It’s very concise, and very French. Bon appetit!
Charcuterie at Hubert comes in three options – bresaola, prosciutto & saucisson. We decided to go with the latter – a French cured sausage that’s roughly 1/3 fat. No surprises when I say that the first descriptive adjective here is fatty. Also sweet and porky, the flavours are intense, and so it was a good thing that we only got one piece each, though I easily could have gone for more. If you’ve a hankering for cured meats, Hubert ought to have you covered – someone let me know how the other options fare?
Sometimes, you’ll just have to accept the fact that you’ll have a reduced lifespan from your life choices. The malakoff is definitely one of those “mistakes” I’d happily make again and again, until Hubert is literally my last night on this earth. I wouldn’t mind going out like this – a glorious ball of deep fried gruyere, flavoured with a base of dijon mustard, with the sweetly fragrant dill pickle is there to cleanse your palate afterwards. The malakoff is “so damn good”, as I’m wont to say: a crunchy exterior yields to a creamy, cheesy, mustard-rich, cheese that reveals itself in all its viscous glory when cut open. The only thing I regret is not taking a photo of the inside for y’all.
This just means you’ll have to eat it – and then order it again. I’m pretty sure this was everyone’s favourite entree which proves one thing – cheese unites us all.
The oeufs en geleté is a French jelly dish that surprisingly resembles something that could have come out of a modern restaurant in Japan. It’s easy enough to describe – a briny, umami-rich jelly of bonito stock with trout roe & black avruga caviar. I mean of course – mere trout roe wasn’t going to cut it here, gotta have some caviar, right?
For me, the biggest impact was from the introduction of an additional texture – the bursty, luscious baubles of trout roe mixed in with the sharp, concentrated bursts of avruga. It’s all pretty busy, but I liked it – especially as everything is suspended in that umami bonito jelly. Speaking of its texture, it’s a fair bit more solid than the Aeroplane jelly you used to make while a kid. Again, a good thing.
That runny egg yolk in the dish description presents itself when you cut into the bottom of the jelly. As the creamy, fatty element, it ties all other refreshing components together, and heck, even allows the spreading of the stuff on bread. I know, coz I did exactly that.
Speaking of bread and butter…
…Hubert will gladly provide. And in fact, from what we saw, they were quite generous with it – replacing finished baskets with new ones, until we could take no more. A great sign!
The best part of the bread is that it’s served warm, and lightly toasted. In terms of taste, it’s somewhat average. No mindblowing crustiness or aroma, but quite serviceable as is.
One downside – while the butter is smooth and easily spreadable, it comes pre-salted. That’s a faux pas in my books, as it presupposes the diner’s sodium tolerance. Fortunately, it was just on the edge of comfortable for me (I could do with less), but for someone even more sensitive, they would have to go unsalted.
I presume that’s an option?
A piece of anchovy toast at Hubert will set you back $14, but it’s $14 well-spent. One orders anchovy for its concentration of flavour, briny and umami characteristics. Hubert’s rendition delivers on all of that, with a bit of a spicy kick that was a most pleasant surprise. The watercress helps to moderate the fish’s intensity, while the toasted, crusty bread soaks up the rest of the salty residue.
I had only the smallest of pieces, but I imagine a normal server would get me reaching for a glass of water pretty quickly. That’s the contract one enters into when it comes to anchovies!
Next up, some duck parfait – a dish that’s almost as French as croissant. Oh myyy, this is some creamy, creamy heaven. While I usually take my mousses as a dessert, Hubert’s duck parfait will make a fine substitute, especially when spread over bread (thank goodness we had those extra baskets, eh?)
This parfait ain’t shy – velvety in creaminess, intensely rich flavours of duck liver, it’s the quintessential savoury parfait. The maple syrup jelly lining the tip of the parfait is almost alcoholic in taste, such is the intensity of that syrup. Yeah, it’s strong, but also quite refreshing as it contrasts well with the fatty nature of the parfait.
Definitely share. Or not, your call!
Another oh-so-very French dish is terrine, a “meatloaf” of mincemeat, mixed in with chopped ingredients that come together with pate-like consistency. At Hubert, the choice animal is pork, with nutty notes brought about by pistachios. The pork is quite fatty (check out the white spots!), but it doesn’t get overwhelming when portions are sized right. To me, the texture was very sausage-like, with a chewiness and resistance emblematic of the banger.
The marinated prunes are almost candy-like in sweetness, but also have a bit of a fermented character to them. These were excellent by themselves, or as a foil to the flavoursome, unctuous terrine.
Man, French sure is a rich cuisine!
Up next is perhaps the most French dish of all – beef tartare. I’m sure almost every diner who visits Hubert will order this – especially when they see pictures of that mountain of mini French fries loaded on top.
But see, this was actually the biggest disappointment of the night. Sure, expectations were high – nobody can deny that, as a French restaurant ought to do a good tartare. Here, Hubert is decidedly outshone by other restaurants. The problem, as it usually is when it comes to tartare, is texture. It’s very chewy in a gristly, stringy kind of way. There also isn’t enough “beefiness”, and the seasoning tasted a bit off and lacking, which meant we were eating something that wasn’t too far off from minced raw beef. I can’t describe it well, but the resulting mouthfeel was just not pleasant, not a exemplary specimen of tartare.
As for the French fries, they might be cute being that small, but the size didn’t do them many favours. There were inconsistencies throughout – some were actually nice and crispy, but most sported a leathery texture. Many were also lukewarm/cold.
You might be really tempted to get this dish to try it for yourself, and that’s fine. However, if your stomach capacity is limited, I would seriously recommend you consider any other savoury dish in this post.
As for these rather limp and unimpressive-looking mushrooms au poivre – they were delicious. Two very, very meaty pieces of confit portobello are positively drenched in pepper sauce that’s easily good enough for the best steak out there. Almost a shame that the rich, piquant and creamy condiment wasn’t paired with a steak.
Oh wait yes, the mushrooms. Yes they’re worth ordering. Of course, when it comes to these little dishes, you can only have so many before you get onto the big kahunas at Hubert.
Yep, we’re onto the mains game now!
Awwww yeah, say hello to Hubert’s masterpiece – its take on a 1kg Rangers Valley rib-eye that steals the show from the moment it lands on the table. Gasps were most audible, and frequent, with all too many an exclamation to deities blurted out at the table. I’ll believe in a God if I can eat beef like this every day in heaven and never get fat.
This is seriously good meat, and has instantly become one of my favourite steaks in Sydney – honest top five material. It is one of the best dishes at Hubert, tender, meaty, full of flavour (a mixture of sweetness and earthy graviness), and fattiness that’s well worth the lifespan reduction (there seem to be a lot of those at this restaurant!) Dan Pepperell has really shown his skill here – my utmost respect to him. It is easily worth the $135 asking price. Easily.
The only downside is the sauce choron accompaniment on the side. A bearnaise sauce without some of the spices, it is a bit too flat and flavourless to be paired with the beef. Fortunately, the mitigation is simple – don’t use it. Just enjoy the beef as it is, there’s plenty to go around.
A dish lauded by many early Hubert reviewers, the chicken fricassee continues to demonstrate Hubert’s dominion over cooking big meats oh-so-fine. It starts with the presentation – a whole chook beautifully plated: feet, head and all. Scary? Nah, it’s great!
This chicken has been given the full treatment – brining, drying, steaming and then frying. I think I might one day have to put up a “best chicken in Sydney post” at this rate, with Hubert’s chicken easily claiming a spot in the top 3. This is incredible chicken, which is saying something for what is probably the most ubiquitous and plain white meat we eat. In fact, I don’t usually order chicken as a main due to a large potential for mediocrity.
No such chance at Hubert. This chicken is tender, and full of innate flavour from all that pre-treatment. The overall flavour profile is extremely earthy mushroom and aniseed, no doubt due to the mushroom & tarragon-based sauce, not to mention generous deposits of actual mushrooms under the pieces of chicken.
It’s like, a really damn good roast chicken? Yeah, let’s leave it at that – I need to clean some bones.
Okay look, you might be thinking “yeah, the rib-eye is definitely for me”, or “that chicken fricassee is where it’s at”, and those would be fine decisions. However, there is an off-menu dish that is only available in limited quantities, and can’t be pre-ordered. Thus, it’s only first-come-first-serve. That dish is the canard farci, and for me, is definitively Hubert’s best dish. *drops mic*.
I could do this in several ways, but how about I tell it like this: I have an Asian palate, obviously no surprises there. Thus, for me, duck in its ultimate form has always been (and likely always will be) Peking duck. Again, can’t blame me right? Peking duck is awesome in every way imaginable. Now, The Fat Duck definitely did a competitive job with its rendition of duck, and now – Hubert has come along…
…and dethroned the Fat Duck. Now, Hubert’s duck is the closest thing that comes to rivalling Peking duck for ultimate duck superiority.
The fat is rendered perfectly, the skin addictively crispy, the flesh tender, with absolutely no signs of overcooking. Juicy, utterly sweet meat. The overall flavour profile also contains noticeable hints of earthy orange, as this was cooked in the style of duck l’orange – in fact, I noticed actual marinated kumquats on the plate. It was beautiful, and adds a bit of fruitiness to what would otherwise be an excellently-cooked duck – now it’s even better than excellent.
Le pièce de résistance!
At this point, I was beginning to get full. Go figure. However, one side dish that can’t be skipped is the pommes anna – a bizarrely captivating set of layered potato pillars, deep fried and served in a gorgeously hedonistic beurre blanc sauce.
Honestly, this is a dish that by our biology, can’t go wrong when cooked well – crispy, starchy carbs, creamy, buttery sauce? Far out – it’s almost criminal that this dish exists. The potatoes are not only crispy on the outside, but still maintain some chewiness and hearty fluffiness within. The sauce isn’t just buttery – it’s also quite cheesy (not sure if they actually blended something in there…). I was dipping in leftover bread into the sauce at this point. Seriously.
And now, the savouries end (nooo!) and the desserts finally begin.
First up, creme caramel. A thick and rich layer of egg custard is topped with a soft caramel that’s about as potent as the entire custard layer. I particularly liked how bitter the caramel was, which meant it really knocked back on how (overly) sweet this particular dessert can be. What I didn’t like was how thick the egg custard actually was. It’s too thick and thus, rich. I would have preferred a much lighter custard. I’m glad I shared this between 7 people, because I honestly would only want to eat 1/7 of it.
The second of Hubert’s 3 desserts involves – to no one’s surprise – choux pastry. At Hubert, is it served as religieuse au chocolate – two unevenly-sized choux pastries stacked atop one another, with a cream filling and coated in chocolate.
More of a personal preference, but for me, heavy chocolate choux does not a good dessert make. I left this one mostly to my dining companions, as there’s just too much sweetness going on. A loooot of chocolate and creaminess, too much, really. The choux is quite nice though – I liked how it maintained a crispy texture on the outside and remained chewy on the inside, despite the double assault from within and without from cream & chocolate.
The third and most distinguished dessert at Hubert is the melon en surprise. A surprise indeed, for when you first receive it, it looks just like a standard Christmas melon with a layer of young coconut sorbet on top. Dig within however, and you’ll find oodles of finger lime, sorrel jelly and pieces of actual melon that have been spherified (physically, not gastronomically).
It’s a really invigorating dessert – iciness and light sweetness from the sorbet, constant delivery of zestiness from the finger lime, and refreshing fruitiness from the melon itself, and ticks most of my boxes.
However, there were a few downsides – the sorrel jelly did not play well in my books. It gave a very herby aroma to the dessert, almost vegetal/grassy. While supposedly intended for its revitalising capabilities, it just ends up interfering. The coconut sorbet was also a bit too icy for my palate.
The desserts at Hubert are definitely its low point, but that’s about as bad as it gets. For those who are into the rich stuff, it’s right up your alley.
So, Hubert, huh?
This is a restaurant that redefines the word “hype” with a new designation – in the future, hype scales will be from “1 to Hubert”. It had, and continues to possess, that kind of rumour-engenderment. You know how I know this? It’s difficult to make a reservation (only groups of 6+ can), and they don’t even have a phone number you can call.
Despite that, the restaurant was packed when service came about.
Pro-tip by the way: walk-ins can take a seat at either of the two bars at Hubert to nibble on bar snacks before the actual meal itself.
Does Hubert live up to the hype? Well, the food speaks for itself – it’s probably destined to be one of the best, if not the best French restaurant in Sydney. The savouries are really on another level, and although there were some surprising drops of the ball, its game was well-played. The only downside from an overall perspective is that as is the case with French food, it all got a bit rich after a while.
This is what dessert is intended to mitigate, but with 66% of them being too heavy in and of themselves, with the third not quite meeting expectations, the meal could have ended on a better note.
Terry Durack is right though – I [still] love this place. I just won’t say it in all caps.
This post is based on an independently-paid visit to Restaurant Hubert.
Have you managed to snag a table at this much-hyped restaurant yet? If so, what do you reckon?
- The food lives up to 90% of the hype – that’s amazing
- Some of the best meats I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating
- That decor!!!!!!
- That tartare…
- Those desserts…
- Watch yourself, because you could easily over-eat and turn the sum of many good things into a very bad thing
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 | S4 | A3