Monday, July 28, 2008
After spending many back-to-back days as a work-imprisoned hermit, Will said, "Let's get dressed up and go somewhere nice for dinner." My response to that was always going to be flag-wavingly obvious. There's nothing I like more than an emergency fancy dinner!
So we went to Glass brasserie at the Hilton Hotel.
Glass lives up to its name: it's full of shiny, reflective surfaces. Even the ceiling is mirrored (probably not a plus if you're paranoid about your bald spot getting beamed all over the room).
There's a huge see-through wine 'cellar' surrounding the kitchen and lots of luxe-looking shimmery finishes and fixtures, with billowy lace curtains to soften the edges. Sure, the interior is schmancy but the visual pay-off is behind the entrance bench, where you can see the chefs blowtorching creme brulees and speedily asssembling cheese plates. Behind them stands a rack of fresh-baked bread - which, of course, brings me to the important part - because these house-made creations are the first thing that land on your plate.
Oven-warm serves of plain sourdough and a herbed fruit loaf shared equal billing on our table - until we played them against each other. Plain is fine ole reliable, but the other slices - the ones flecked through with oregano and red-wine-soaked sultanas - would definitely rank in my Top 5 of Awesome Bread. Biting into it was a four-part harmony of saltiness, near-caramelised sweetness, crust and warmth. All the flavour notes kept repeating in a way you didn't want to end - like a simple, infectious chorus. And the house olive oil added a good low hum to this heady melody.
Will still thinks the foccacia with chilli oil at A Tavola is better (it IS pretty good). Either way, it bolsters my theory that there should be an eatery where the menu is packed only with the amazing bread served in really good restaurants. If the meal ended just at the bread line, I would have been pretty happy.
For entrees, Will had Kurobuta Berkshire Prosciutto, Shaved Pear, Mustard Cress and Grissini ($19.50) while I had the Tart of Mushrooms, Polenta with Truffled Pecorino and Spinach, Poached Hen’s Egg ($26).
Will won that round down flat. His not only tasted much better than mine (which had too many rich touches and instantly made you feel "full" and stomach-clogged from two bites), but his also took out the table eye candy honours. It came out on a wooden block and looked like a Japanese artwork. The pear slices were artfully fanned out like some 2-D mathematical bouquet, with the prosciutto similarly styled into place and two grissini sticks arcing elegantly across the top. The long grissini also doubled as entertainment: Will could re-enact the opening sequence to Flight of the Conchords while eating it (mainly the part where they're tapping to the theme song with head nods and makeshift drumsticks).
And while the Pan fried Gnocchi, Asparagus, Courgette, Mushroom, Corn, Soya Beans, Lemon, Thyme and Parmesan ($21.50 for entree, $35.50 for main) had a cast list of vegetables as long as the roll call of a TV show, it didn't prove nearly as interesting as anything you could watch on the small screen. It was so overpowered by truffle oil that eating it felt like eating a truffle oiled pan.
Will's dinner tally was outscoring mine by a mile: he enjoyed both his entree and his main - a Herb-and-Mustard-crusted 150 day grain fed John Dee steer sirloin with Baby Beans ($42).
Luckily, dessert was excellent and rescued me from any meal-moping I could have been victim to. I'd spent a week mooning over the idea of having the Blood Orange Souffle, Blood Orange Sauce and Cardamom Ice Cream ($19.50), and all that drumroll anticipation probably did probably amp up my response to it. And yes, it definitely was worth all that thought-monopolising energy, especially with the lively burst of cardamom. Will's Pavlova with Rhubarb Cream, Passionfruit Jelly, Passionfruit Ice Cream ($17.50) was unfortified against the cutlery invasions I staged against it and my plundering efforts were much rewarded. I can still taste the fizzy jolt of the passionfruit jelly...
I think we were both smitten with that beautifully-presented dish, but luckily didn't feel too aggressively territorial about it - it was so good it was worth a peace-sharing deal.
So our meal was bookended really nicely, despite the flatter moments in between. I remember talking to someone about it afterwards and they thought I was giving Glass a thumbs down. Which isn't the case - I was left floating by the bread and dessert, and Will was mostly happy with his choices. It's just that the vego dishes veered a little too far into "too much" territory. In the same way that you'd douse a not-so-fabulous dish with tomato sauce as a kid because you couldn't cope with eating it straight, sometimes I think chefs freak out with vegetarian dishes and think tipping lots of truffle oil (or cream or cheese or other overloading touches) is the best way to draw out taste. It'd be nicer if other flavours had cameos too. Like a multi-instrumental pop gem instead of a 20-minute guitar solo.
I would return to Glass because what I liked, I really liked, but I'd probably go in summer, when more lighter and playful dishes are likely to dominate. I'm guessing the current menu has a heavyset feel because winter attracts more gravity-thudding dishes and rich flavours. And sure, we were actually looking forward to some of these indulgences - like the Truffled Mash ($13) - but it was so full-blast buttery, that we literally could only have a spoon each. That side dish was so untouched that I had to mess up the bowl to look like we'd consumed way more than we had, in case the waitress eyed its undereaten state with suspicion. (Something that couldn't be said about our wiped-clean dessert plates.)
And that said, the wait staff were really lovely - attentive and formal enough to make you feel like you were taken care of, but relaxed enough that you could actually trade jokes with them.
Overall, we definitely had fun fancying up for a luxurious dinner and revelling in the extravagance (and pretending this was normal for our non-high-roller incomes). If only the sweet end notes could permanently take the edge off Will's work pain...
Glass Brasserie, Level 2, 488 George St Sydney NSW (02) 9265 6068 www.glassbrasserie.com.au