Susan Kurosawa samples a bright and summery eatery by the harbour at Sydney’s Woolloomooloo
ALL is light and white at Salon Blanc, just as the name implies. On the westfacing promenade of Cowper Wharf and the Taj Blue hotel in Sydney’s harbourside Woolloomooloo, this chic little restaurant is in a competitive neighbourhood. Along the wharf are such big guns as Aki’s for superlative southern Indian fare, the funky China Doll, seafood specialist Manta and newly retired radio star John Laws’s fave, the buzzing Otto.
In such company, Salon Blanc sits rather modestly with indoor and covered outdoor seating and a creamy colour scheme. All tables have views of the wharf’s marina and, beyond, Sydney’s spiky skyline. Double-clothed tables, candles and expert service position the restaurant well above cafe status, but nonetheless there’s the casual feel of a waterside eatery, complete with rather hard white plastic chairs.
Executive chef Alex Sensor has cooked at Sydney institutions Guillaume and Forty One, and his is an assured hand. French is the underlying theme, with subtle Asian and sunny Mediterranean influences, and the menu is nothing if not diverse, from pasta and risotto to a thumping sirloin with merlot sauce.
Freshly shucked oysters are available as single serves, accompanied by a red wine and shallot vinaigrette ($3.50), which seems a very Sydney thing this summer. Clever varieties of artisan bread with olive oil or tapenade apparently is a displaced fad; it’s oysters on the side now, slurped straight from the shell but, please, never more than three each.
I open proceedings with yellowfin tuna sashimi, brunoise of green apple, Sterling caviar and vanilla vinaigrette ($30). It’s a nice idea — a disc of tuna with the girth of a teacup, the apple dice and julienne drizzled on the side, the sweet fragrance of the vanilla — but the raw tuna needs a splash of soy and a hint of wasabi to bring out its flavour. It’s fresh but bland: the Sterling caviar is too abstemiously applied here to add any saltiness.
My friend Julia opts for jamon iberico gran reserva bellota with shiso leaf, shaved fennel salad and balsamic dressing ($35). Alas, she says, the premium jamon tastes surprisingly dry and the balsamic dressing is no more than three mean little plops. And these are highly priced entrees: more than the cost of main courses in many Sydney restaurants.
For my main, pan-fried john dory with a duo of asparagus, sweet peas, broadbeans and lemon eschallot emulsione ($42). Let’s not debate how so many ingredients could make a duo: the dish is terrific, the fish beautifully flaky and the texture of the broadbeans and al dente peas in the lemony reduction is just right.
Julia’s chargrilled New Zealand king salmon with eggplant caviar, capers, olives and tomato petals ($38) is similarly successful. The fall-fromthe-fork salmon is cooked rare to medium, as ordered, although she has a tiny mutter that the strong flavour of the olives has overtaken the dish. A side of mash ($12) is adequately creamy; perhaps a knob of unsalted butter or a dash of truffle oil would have perked up the flavour.
Several silken glasses of 2005 Williams Crossing Pinot Noir from Victoria’s Macedon Ranges ($12) keep us cosy; it’s one of those apocalyptic Sydney evenings when a southerly storm has roared in and there’s thunder, lightning, white-foamed waves and slippery stiletto action as female diners negotiate the wooden wharf, legs extended in the manner of brolgas.
For puddings, I order what turns out to be a near-unmanageable creation of glazed strawberries with champagne ice cream and cinnamon meringue ($16). It appears in a tall stemmed glass with the hard meringue disc perched jauntily on top, like a beret. A parfait spoon is not provided and the dessert spoon is too large to dive into the contents of the glass. I disassemble the lot, starting with the meringue, followed by the slippery strawberries transferred to a side plate. Julia’s cashew nut semifreddo with butterscotch and peanut brittle ($16) is her hit of the night: the wiped-clean plate speaks for itself.
Service has been efficient and very friendly: many waiters seem to attend our table but there’s no jarring lack of continuity and the overall experience is pleasant indeed. Salon Blanc was awarded one hat in the 2008Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide and a further rating for its ‘‘ unusually good wine list’’ (which includes plenty of varieties by the glass). The score by the guide’s reviewers was 14.5/20, the minimum required for a hat, so it will be fascinating to see if Salon Blanc passes further scrutiny and slides into the next edition.
The heavens open as we dash for a taxi. Being well used to the scarcity of cabs on a wet Sydney night, I have worn flat shoes and can outrun the stiletto-hampered chicks like the clappers. All Tables visits are unannounced and meals paid for.
Pier group: The harbourside location of Salon Blanc is appealing and diners enjoy views west to the CBD skyline