Chez Inukai

Michelle Rowe checks out the new ven­ture of a tal­ented Syd­ney ho­tel chef

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

HARU Inukai bus­tles about the floor of Blan­charu, his new restau­rant in Syd­ney’s El­iz­a­beth Bay, of­fer­ing madeleines, still warm from the oven, to din­ers who linger over their cof­fee. It’s not our first sight­ing of the Ja­panese-born chef in the din­ing room: he’s been press­ing the flesh more than John McCain in the fi­nal throes of the US pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. He rushes to usher an old friend to a ta­ble, checks that a large group from a Ja­panese air­line are en­joy­ing them­selves and an­swers the phone to take an­other din­ner reser­va­tion.

The for­mer Joel Robu­chon pro­tege, who re­cently left his po­si­tion as ex­ec­u­tive chef at Galileo restau­rant in Syd­ney’s five-star Ob­ser­va­tory Ho­tel to open his own restau­rant, has taken to his new role as host like a duck to wa­ter.

Tonight we could be in a bustling restau­rant in down­town Tokyo. Blan­charu is packed with Ja­panese din­ers, who pre­sum­ably have fol­lowed the chef to his new in­ner-city digs, and the place is buzzing.

Opened in Au­gust, Blan­charu’s at­mos­phere is much less for­mal than the ex­quis­ite Parisian sa­lon-style din­ing room Inukai used to com­mand at the Ob­ser­va­tory. But it is nev­er­the­less stylish and sleek, with a suede ban­quette run­ning the length of the ex­pan­sive front win­dow, light-wood floors con­trast­ing with dark chairs, and white-clothed ta­bles ac­cented with or­ange fab­ric run­ners. A bar at­tached to Blan­charu’s front counter of­fers a more ca­sual din­ing space for two or three cus­tomers, with the bonus of views into the kitchen.

While his new sur­rounds may be dif­fer­ent, Osaka­trained Inukai — who also worked at Tony Bil­son’s Am­per­sand and Bil­son’s ear­lier in his ca­reer — has re­tained the sig­na­ture Ja­panese-French flair he de­vel­oped while work­ing as com­mis chef un­der Mau­rice Guil­louet at Syd­ney’s then Ho­tel Nikko.

We start light with a gravlax of sal­mon with yuzu cream sauce ($14) and a yel­lowfin tuna tataki with sauce gribiche ($16). Both dishes are light and fresh, al­though there is no big hit of flavour. But the next course of hand­made pasta with blue swim­mer crab ($18) brings some of the most del­i­cate and beau­ti­fully tex­tured pasta I have eaten in a long time, mixed through with a gen­er­ous amount of crab meat. My only com­plaint is that there could have been a lighter touch with the dill, a herb that over­pow­ers other flavours if not used spar­ingly. Hand­made fet­tucine with truf­fle but­ter ($20), on the other hand, is per­fectly bal­anced and tex­tured.

Main cour­ses are dif­fi­cult to choose from. Grass-fed beef ten­der­loin with green pea ragout and red wine jus ($32) and 300g Ta­jima wagyu beef with po­tato fon­dant and wasabi but­ter ($80) are fron­trun­ners un­til they are pipped at the post by a blan­quette de veau in pas­try served with win­ter veg­eta­bles ($24) and a roasted duck breast with baby spinach and car­damom sauce ($26).

My hus­band’s duck breast is not a patch on the blan­quette de veau, which is pre­sented as a pie in a large, white pie bowl. I break through the crisp puff pas­try shell and find gen­er­ous chunks of veal and veg­eta­bles in a del­i­cately flavoured white sauce. It’s the dish of the night.

A small but per­fectly formed dessert list is al­most re­dun­dant as I have seen, ear­lier in the evening, a rasp­berry souf­fle ($14) be­ing de­liv­ered to a neigh­bour­ing ta­ble. It has my name on it. My hus­band chooses a co­conut and cham­pagne soup with panna cotta ($12).

The menu says to al­low 20 min­utes for the souf­fle to ar­rive, but ei­ther we’ve had too much pinot or the kitchen’s work­ing well ahead of sched­ule. The proudly stand­ing pink con­fec­tion ar­rives in less than 10 min­utes, ac­com­pa­nied by a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It’s per­fectly light, airy, beau­ti­fully flavoured and com­ple­mented well by the ice cream. The co­conut and cham­pagne soup with panna cotta is good, if un­usual, but the souf­fle is def­i­nitely the dessert to go back for.

The ser­vice on the night we visit is a lit­tle patchy. Our wait­ress, while pleas­ant and help­ful, seems shaky at times, but this can prob­a­bly be put down to nerves and is surely some­thing that can be ironed out as this restau­rant hits its stride.

Ser­vice glitches aside, one of Blan­charu’s big­gest strengths is its owner. Inukai, now the mas­ter of his own home, bus­tles hap­pily about the floor, madeleine tray in hand, chat­ting to din­ers and play­ing the per­fect host. He talks ex­cit­edly of early-morn­ing vis­its to the fish

Check­list

Blan­charu Shop 1, 21 El­iz­a­beth Bay Rd, El­iz­a­beth Bay. (02) 9360 3555; www.blan­charu.com.au. Open: Din­ner, Tues­day-Sun­day, 6.30pm-10pm; brunch Satur­day-Sun­day, 10am-3pm. Cost: About $175 for two for three cour­ses and wine, or four-course din­ner de­gus­ta­tion, $65 a per­son. Drink: An eclec­tic list com­pris­ing pre­dom­i­nantly Aus­tralian, New Zealand and French bot­tles, and the oc­ca­sional odd­ity such as a Le­banese caber­net sau­vi­gnon. Sev­eral wines avail­able by the glass and BYO charged at $10 cork­age a bot­tle. Rea­son to re­turn: To watch a chef-owner in his el­e­ment.

Pic­ture: Bob Fin­layson

A change of scene: Din­ers en­joy week­end brunch at new French-Ja­panese bistro Blan­charu in Syd­ney’s El­iz­a­beth Bay

Pic­ture: Vanessa Hunter

Home, sweet home: Blan­charu’s head chef, owner and ge­nial host Haru Inukai

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