There’s a bit of a story behind how I discovered Restaurant Plage.
The date was 1 April, 2017, and the restaurant was Sage Bistronomy. Aptly named, it was the first restaurant in Sydney that opened my eyes to Japanese-French fine dining that doesn’t cost a week’s rent, nor necessitating an overseas trip. At the time, it was one of the best restaurants I had visited in yonks – a high 8, no less. I thought Chef-owner Tomoyuki Usui deserves to be a household name – in North Sydney, at the very least.
And then the restaurant closed – on the day we dined. How’s that for a poor April Fool’s joke? Except it wasn’t. It was all too real.
Imagine my relief then when realising Usui was in no way giving up the pots just because one venture didn’t pan out. With the opening of Restaurant Plage, he made it clear that he wasn’t done: and neither was I.
I mentioned earlier that I think Usui should be a household name; I still do. In some foodie circles, his pedigree already ensured that – he was on the pans at Koi (the Japanese restaurant, not the dessert bar) as well as Waqu, two legendary Japanese restaurants that propelled Japanese into Sydneysiders’ collective psyche. Both eventually had their time, closed up, and Usui headed up to Paris’ 3 Michelin-starred L’Astrance. I don’t think that restaurant needs any introduction. With this sort of resume, it was no wonder that the plates coming out of Sage Bistronomy were so impressive. And, with a prix fixe menu at $75, it was an absolute steal.
In the end, Sage didn’t work out, but such is the reality of business. No matter: underrated restaurants and underrated chefs add outsized value to the F&B scene. Of course, repeat local customers know that best, and at Restaurant Plage, what they know is that it serves up some of the best Japanese-French cooking in Sydney.
The size of Sage Bistronomy was a likely contributor to its closure. Usui has learned from this: Plage is small, seating perhaps 15 comfortably in the main room, with a private back area accommodating another 10 or so. The vibe is ‘friend’s offbeat living room’, though of course if you know a friend who can cook as well as Usui, hook me up: we could all use a gun like that.
Plage was established only a few months after Sage’s closure; however, I – being the ever tardy one – only made my first visit in September 2018. Needless to say, a revist was going to happen far quicker than a blog post.
The menu can be a bit bewildering, or should I say menus: there’s prix fixe, a la carte, and a rotating list of blackboard specials. As such, a meal at Plage could be as cheap as $18 for their utterly delicious scampi ramen lunch special (oh yes, they do that), or it can be as ‘expensive’ as $65 for a seasonal chef’s selection menu. Yeah, just $65 – dinner. How they make money to stay in the black, I do not know. Add in BYO for only $6 a bottle and the experience basically screams budget fine dining: but it is absolutely worth bringing in your best drops. It is very possible to BYO a bottle that’s more expensive than your entire meal.
Restaurant Plage – Second Visit
On this particular visit, the four of us (including the birthday gal!) ordered Plage’s 3-course menu which came in at $49 each (a special weekend discount from the usual $55 price). With 4 people, this equalled 12 courses to be mixed and matched as we please: it was almost the entire menu (with double-ups of the two entrees), a DIY degustation, and an all-stops train to umami-town.
First stop, an appetite-opening snack of rice crackers & whipped cod w/spinach & kale powder. This was followed by a forest stopover – a mushroom lover’s delight of eryngii mushroom (basically oyster mushroom) w/cauliflower, tamarind & fermented mushroom sauce, topped with dehydrated enoki and dusted with wild mushroom powder. To cap it all off, the dish is completely vegetarian – this is how you do it if you want to even begin converting meat eaters.
Of course, you don’t have to stick to leaves, roots and fungi: try the wagyu beef carpaccio w/cured egg yolk. The meat and golden yolk – cured for 24 hours – were fantastic, but if you don’t finish the nutty kombu & genmai dashi, give me a call and I might just drive up all the way from the south to finish your bowl. Don’t make me do that – it’s not environmentally friendly.
The only critical comment I could make of the Kestrel potato gnocchi was that the truffle butter’s aroma didn’t come out strong. Everything else was – sorry – on point: the gnocchi was firm but fluffy, browned nicely and man, there’s just so much flavour!
Ctrl+c & ctrl+v the same commentary for the black angus beef, a relatively plain cut (rump) that’s otherwise expressed as well as it can be by being perfectly-cooked, with a clever pairing of light-touch spinach sauce and Japanese mountain pepper. A ‘steak’ person might not find much to write home about here, but as someone that appreciates technique and novel ways to serve up ‘just beef’, I was all over this plate.
Jewfish was the market fish of the day. Served w/fish head jus, yuzu, black olive & anchovy, this dish skillfully navigated many contrasting flavours, yet delivered a balanced result that couldn’t have gone without any individual element. The fish itself, however, was slightly ‘muddy’ in texture, and it was only later on I realised that ‘jewfish’ can refer to multiple species: from grouper (nice!) to catfish (hmm, not as nice). In this case, I suspect it was the latter. No matter – it could just as well be kingfish (as it was on my previous visit). Just ask!
Chicken breast is usually one of the cheapest, driest, most boring cuts of meat a restaurant can serve. So when you do, it had better be poached to perfection. And of course, it was. Right up there along the best chicken dishes I’ve had in the Michelin-encrusted halls of Paris’ finest, it showed Usui’s time at L’Astrance was not for show. I particularly liked the garnishes and multiple sauces used to dress things up.
The desserts at Plage should not be skipped. Four plates of technique, refreshing palate cleansers, sugary sweetness and joy – they could be served as a dessert-only set menu in and of itself and it would – should – attract customers. My favourite was the apple tart w/wattleseed ice cream, where the friable sable was more moreish than a pack of Arnott’s Kingstons. They’re small enough that I think you could order all four even with a party of two. Do it.
Resturant Plage – First Visit
The pictures provided here are provided for reference only.
You may have noticed I didn’t go into excruciating detail for this blog post. I firmly believe that the better a dish is – without necessitating backstories or unique techniques – the less there needs to be said. Tomoyuki Usui’s mastery of East-meets-West at Restaurant Plage produces technically ‘perfect’ (loose definition) food, where criticisms, when they arise, do so purely out of preferential differences. There was very little of that for either of my visits. If I lived in the lower north shore, I would visit at least once every two months – and I wouldn’t even go broke. The food would be considered delicious in a vacuum, easily worthy of recognition on a city-wide scale. But for the price and Usui’s relatively underrated status in Sydney’s food scene? Plage is positively amazing – sure, I’ll be the one to hype it up, for once.
Best train ride ever.
Date Last Visited: 2/Dec/2018 (two visits)
Address: 8/255 Military Rd, Cremorne NSW 2090
Price Guide (approx): $60pp
This post is based on two independently-paid visits to Restaurant Plage
- Exceptional value for money: it’s so cheap, they might go broke.
- The best Japanese-French fusion in Sydney.
- Foodies looking for a more ‘exciting’ experience may be left wanting
Would I return:
F8 | S4.5 | A2