Punching above its weight
It’s possibly the skinniest restaurant in Sydney in the unlikeliest of surroundings. Yet this tiny restaurant packs so far above its weight you’d think you were in the top end of town.
Skinny because the space is a mere two metres wide; unlikely surroundings because it sits in the corner of the Westleigh Shopping Village and occupies the space where the trolley bay for the supermarket next door used to be.
But the hum-drum stops there. Ryan’s Gourmet Cafe opened at the end of May and has developed a following so fast that the two nights a week it’s open for dinner always see it packed out. Failure to book will mean walking away hungry.
By day it’s a cafe serving fashionable breakfasts and lunches in modern surroundings with grey walls, wooden benches and funky lights.
But it’s the dinner we’ve come to try, not least because two courses for $40 and 3 courses for $50 seems like great value for money and sensible pricing for the area.
Eponymously-named chef Ryan Crawford works in the equally narrow galley kitchen not big enough to swing a cat in but remains cheerful producing sublime modern Australian cuisine alongside his family who tonight are all lending a hand - mum Linda and sister Lauren waitressing while dad Leslie washes up.
With a pedigree spanning an apprenticeship at Nobu in London and 12 years in Hong Kong where he was executive chef at the Shanghai Hotel’s Aberdeen Marina Club (membership a snip at $3.5m HK), the food is expertly crafted by this boy who grew up in Westleigh.
His cuisine, says chef, is based on “what I feel like cooking on the day and what’s fresh in season - it’s modern Australian with French techniques.”
Comfort food - without the stodge
The menu is a great nod to comfort food given how cold Sydney mid-winter nights can be, but without the heaviness of traditional British fare. We start with baby octopus fire roasted and tender with a tomato and chilli sauce shared between two - a good hit of chilli which didn’t overpower the perfectly cooked tender little octopi.
The other shared starter was roasted beetroot risotto, normally a main but requested as a first course. t appealed because of the unusual marriage of rice and beetroot - out came a pretty pink masterpiece with creamy Persian fetta on top, sublime and morish. Probably the best risotto this reviewer’s ever had, south of Capri.
Onto the mains: my friend Jocelyn, who eats salmon at least once a week, said her seared salmon ‘leaf’ on a bed of creamed leeks with leeks floss on top was “the yummiest salmon I’ve ever eaten.”
Her husband Martin and I both chose the roasted pork chop with buttered balsamic cabbage - he’s half Hungarian so knows a thing or two about Eastern European cuisine. The pork, he remarked, was cooked to perfection - moist and tender, and the cabbage with balsamic was a wonderful vinegary foil to the rich meat.
The fourth main was the roasted duck breast with puy lentils and confit leg casserole, again a wonderful marriage of flavours. The accompanying brussel sprouts were crispy crunchy and made our English diner “feel all Christmassy”.
It would’ve been remiss not try the two desserts on the menu, sharing the Affogato and the sensational Crepes Suzette, rounding off a sensational meal with a flourish.
The dessert plate clean, Jocelyn remarked:”I can’t believe I’m sitting in a suburban shopping centre!” Surprise yourself with a remarkable meal at this small but perfectly formed restaurant.
The lowdown: Ryan’s Gourmet Cafe Shop 27, Westleigh Shopping Village, Eucalyptus Drive, Westleigh. Unlicensed. Opens for breakfast and lunch Tuesday to Saturday, dinner Friday and Saturday. 2 courses $40 3 courses $50 Tel: 9481 9072
Chef Ryan with the Crepes Suzette with oranges
Roasted duck breast with puy lentils
Seared salmon leaf with leek floss