One girl, 30 dishes and 24 hours in Sydney – Part 4/4
We gathered our bags from reception where Matt insisted we catch a cab to dinner. “It’s only a kilometer away,” I lied. I was met with groans as we descended the stairs back out into the bustle of Sydney CBD. The groans continued for the slightly uphill, 20ish minute walk and I was suddenly privy to what it felt like to have a toddler. At one stage, a piggyback was offered. “It’s the next street on the right,” I said three times. And just as I promised that if it wasn’t in fact the next street on the right we would hail a cab, the Meagher Street sign came into view. A little further down was Ester, brought to Chippendale by the same crew behind Berta and 121BC, and we couldn’t have finished our Sydney stopover on a higher note.
It felt good the moment we stepped inside: marble, metal, concrete, an impressive dark timber bar and open arches highlighting the kitchen – mimicking Ester’s prized, wood-fire oven. The staff were on the ball. They’re the kind of people who appreciate you have a plane to catch and don’t charge you for a barely noticeable, undersized glass of wine. The menu is divided into snacks, small plates, woodfired, sides and dessert. I got my meat fix from the blood sausage sanga, the ultimate bar snack of a mini morcilla, dense and earthy, on a steamed cloud of white bread with a splodge of aioli and caramalised onion. I couldn’t help thinking how fantastic the pillowy bread would be slathered in butter and liberally sprinkled with hundreds and thousands.
Simple menu descriptions such as “squid / ink / corn” brought so much more to the table – lemony ribbons of supple squid with buttered corn kernels – with sauces and reductions balancing and enhancing all at once. A rather dull-sounding cauliflower, almond and mint dish was anything but; leaves intact, smoky-charred edges, supersized mint leaves and a creamy almond sauce dotted with olive oil. Broccolini with crisp, fried garlic slices and fermented chilli continued to make me question why I never experienced vegetables like this growing up, while a moat of salt and pepper sauce surrounding a whole blue swimmer crab (pictured at top) instantly became my drug of choice.
Dessert kept up: a plain but pleasant tropical take on the eton mess described merely as mango, passionfruit and meringue had fresh slices, tangy seeds and sweet, soft chunks of all of the above. But it was the only dish that didn’t spell out the ingredients – “Three Milks” – that won us over. It was a trio of delightful dairy from each animal: sheep’s milk yoghurt foam, cow’s milk panna cotta too silky to hold its shape, and tooth-stickingly sweet dulce de leche made from goat’s milk. I made a completely inappropriate scraping action with my spoon, desperate to ingest the last streaks of dulce de leche. I put down the spoon, looked left and right, and with a quick swoop of my index finger conquered the dregs of dessert. Olive oil biscuit crumbs and rosemary took it from ‘here’ to ‘there’, the latter being that place that separates superb restaurants from great restaurants. You won’t find edible soil and seductive smears at Ester, but you will uncover a kitchen that makes playing with fire awfully desirable.
We’d come a long way from potentially maggot-infested airport Sushi Sushi. Our food frenzy was nothing less than welcomed gluttony. But looking down at my iPhone, I pointed out to my other half that I had barely scratched the surface of my Sydney to-eat list. “You’ve foie gras’d yourself over the last 24 hours,” he said as we got up to leave. I raised a ‘please explain’ eyebrow in his direction. “You’ve eaten the same way they force-feed those ducks,” he said. “Except no one forced me, and I’m not a duck,” I quipped. I suppose that’s what you get for dating a pescatarian.