Upstairs Downstairs

Monday, 22 October 2012

Claude's has undergone an extreme makeover of sorts. A complete overhaul in interior design has ushered in a new era for this little Woollahra shopfront. Gone are the days of pushing the doorbell to be admitted and of the stuffiness of Sydney fine dining. Claude's has been visited by swathes of food critics raving about the new do. And according to Terry Durack, apparently it's not half bad (17/20). Chef Chui Lee Luk has stayed true to applying French technique to Asian inspired dishes to deliver a menu that is clean but somewhat unconventional. Hello to the new you!

The downstairs bar: like visiting your uber trendy friend ja...with bar and bartender handy. The distinct lack of table cloths here speaks to the gen-Yer, more casual scene downstairs. The dangling pendant lights over each table made pretty eye candy. Pascale Gomes-McNabb has waved her magic design wand once again (see here). Photo credit: Daily Addict
If there were not a massive hill preventing me, I could easily see this as my neighbourhood bar that I could stroll over to. It would be perfect for a pre-dinner drinkie or two before having a proper dinner. P.S. it's a good idea to book beforehand to guarantee yourself a table if you're planning to stay and dine :) Situated a couple of doors down from Wine Library on Oxford St, there have been so many times I have walked passed Claude's and not taken any notice. But today, I'd be sampling the menu available at the bar downstairs.

Attack of Ziggy Stardust: the upstairs (degustation only) dining room has been hit with the technicolour stick. It's a nice talking point before you get stuck in to your hours-long-feasting. Photo: Caroline McCredie
We were shown to our table (one of two proper tables basically) and I could catch glimpses of the kitchen backwards through one of the bolt shaped mirrors. It was a very professional outfit with Chef Luk at the helm, head down and busy busy. And it was so quiet! Brilliant. The complimentary sparkling water was a nice touch. On perusing the menu it was a rather eclectic mix with offerings of charcuterie next to a Swiss cheese souffle to individual rock oysters. I suppose it all fits together in the end. Trying to fashion a dinner for ourselves, we ended up adding more dishes onto our order. Standard.

It soon became glaringly obvious who had come for the degustation dining experience and the plebs who had not (us included). We entertained ourselves trying to guess who was going upstairs and who was staying down. One clue was definitely age, clearly the baby boomers of the Eastern 'burbs were there for 'the real deal' whilst the gen-Yers stayed downstairs for bar snacks and wine (occasional alcoholics that we are). It was all a bit too easy - we discreetly judged diners wearing fur (get upstairs IMMEDIATELY), strappy stilettos and smoking intriguing that the class divide has reached the restaurant scene! We even sighted a certain SBS news reporter heading up amongst them. Nice. Here's how we rolled:

Pig's face, black fungus relish sandwich. This slider trend is just unstoppable. Pork belly and chinese black fungus made for an interesting rendition. My only gripe here would be that the pork was cold. I would have preferred it warm thanks :) Nevertheless, Asian pride!

Spanner crab, burnt butter crumbs on French toast. We lapped this one up! A couple of pieces of french-toasty brioche and bites of crab mixed with prawn meat. This one was completely delicious, and not an easy task to share amongst four!

Ocean trout, apple dashi, palm heart. Flaky and beautifully smooth ocean trout with Asian greens. Clean, fresh, simple - bingo! It felt like having a wee detox before the next dish...

Yowsers: Rangers Valley short rib, red wine & cafe de Paris. My heart stops just looking at the thing (uh, literally). Maybe that's why it's so small (and so expensive $38). So luxurious and naughty - the beef just melted in the mouth and the Paris butter helped it go down a little bit faster. And a beautiful glossy red wine sauce to round it all out.

We also ordered the Boston Bay mussels with chilli and tamarind - a lovely sauce and fresh mussels, tiny as anything but so sweet!

The review of Claude's featured in Australian Gourmet Traveller is quite complimentary and I would echo those sentiments. The reservations they had about the downstairs operation (service) I can safely lay to rest. The food on offer is certainly 'no slouch' in the taste department. I'd imagine we only had a small peek into what delights are available to the lucky few degustation-ing. Each dish came as a small delicate portion (i.e. we want more!), each considered and finished with a delicate touch (tweezers ahoy!). Chui's food talks in moving whispers, not so much shouts across the room. The flavours are not slap in the face like we are so familiar with these days (read: Spice I Am, Porteno) more a brush across the cheek. Can you see the poetry here people? Baha.

Lemon curd, milk ice, muscovado. That bloody brilliant dessert that everybody's raving about (not quite but you get the picture) - my, GOD. Rated as one of the top ten desserts in Sydney. This is my #1 (at the mo anyway). The lemon curd was custardy with the right tang, accompanied with muscovado jelly (with a slight alcoholic note), coffee meringue and shavings of jersey milk ice ---- that's me DYING right now. So so perfect. Everything a dessert should be... balanced, restrained, all encompassing. Trust me, the kitchen had probably never seen a plate so clean! Photo: Caroline McCredie

Dessert continues: Burnt honey souffle. I always delight in being able to order a souffle. The ones I've had at home have been rushed out from the oven only to deflate in front of your very eyes - magic! Not. A gorgeous souffle done well can't be sniffed at. Definitely not this one. Light, airy and yum! And aren't those copper pots adorable?!

Chocolate Indulgence cake. Incredibly, this precise cake has been on the menu for over 30 years at Claude's and is a recipe by Josephine Pignolet. Her son Damien has a similar recipe featured here. Apologies for the terrible photograph - choquante!

Apart from that dastardly green eyed monster (the whole night I so desperately wanted to go upstairs for the meal x8 i.e. degustation) I had a nice time! I am now busting to try the revamped and much touted upstairs dining room. Er, could we get an upgrade? The only conscientious objector to degustation amongst our party was described as being 'so weak'. Maybe next time... certainly something to look forward to! :)

Thanks for reading xo


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