Susan Kuro­sawa sam­ples a bright and sum­mery eatery by the har­bour at Syd­ney’s Wool­loomooloo

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - INDULGENCE -

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.

Pic­ture: Amos Aik­man

Pier group: The har­bour­side lo­ca­tion of Salon Blanc is ap­peal­ing and din­ers en­joy views west to the CBD sky­line

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