Tuesday, October 12, 2010

High Expectations following a Sinking Sun (aka, Guillaume, with Regret)...

For those of you that care to know, and I can't imagine that there would be too many, Sydney Law School, is a ridiculous place. No, really. Pompous, pristine and possibly riding aloft the highest moral horse that ever swooped into the ivory skies of exclusive academia...well, at least that's the view on campus. You see, it's like Top Gun, but with more geeks and less aviators. As luck would have it, a little mid-degree-crisis coffee with one of my favourite teachers, who i'll keep entirely anonymous (lest he sue me for defamatory imputations), revealed a very peculiar and telling insight: he described his role as not so much the teaching of law, but as Expectation Management, 101. 
You see, law students don't exactly have a penchant for humble pie - and if they do eat it, then they're probably throwing it up and telling everyone else how much farther their vomit travelled. They're an intellectually pretentious lot, if you can imagine, and nearly every person in law school expects to top their class. Sadly, results come back, tears are shed, and, as my friend pointed out, this is not to be the case. Although, Mick did get an HD in contracts, and we'll all be hearing about it until the bloody day we die. Yes, the years have made my friend skilled in teaching people to manage their ambitions, as high expectations have been the downfall of so many: Caesar, God, Keating, the producers of Inception, Everyone on News Year Day, Short Men Since The Beginning of Time, and anyone who ever expected to look good in Hammer Pants. 
Perhaps this was a lesson I should have kept in mind on my final arrival at Guillaume. We had both been dying to get here for years. Our ears were full of so many delicious rumors about the experience, that our mouths were more than ready to step in and take over. I made the reservation for Curly-Wurly-Girlie Joelle, of the famed hair and the infamous beauty, and I, in honour of her birthday, but it wasn't just the two of us who showed up. At a table laid in thick, silencing linen-white with heavy forks and knifes, me, her and all of our bloody expectations about what Guillaume would be like sat back, sipped a little mineral water and watched a dying sky over a fading Sydney. 

An ivory menu in delicate black lettering told a tale of Blue Eye Trevalla. Of Roasted Barossa Valley Chicken. And Duo of Duck. And Scallops with cauliflower puree. As well as Baby Snapper in crisped skin with Jerusalem artichoke three ways and a Madeira and veal jus! Three ways! You mean this whole time i've ben having my Jerusalem artichoke one way like a bloody schmuck! A glance at this line up and we were feeling giddy, who needs champagne when the menu is this bubbly? 

Not us, especially as we probably couldn't afford it, anyway.
Festivities kick off with a little gift from the chef. It wasn't even my birthday, i've never met the guy, but still, he knew exactly what I wanted! Danny could use a tip or two from this guy. Petite, precious, jeweled little pearled lentil filled pots of creamy, herbed and heartrending rare fish. One artfully careful bite had feet arching and Jo and I all a sensuous sigh. This dish was immaculate, simple and sharp and added to in flavour by its sudden unexpected, but very welcome, arrival. Here, fishy fishy fishy.
The gentle little wafer that caressed the beautiful fish was the perfect, warming roughness to contrast the creamy, cool flesh. I wanted seconds but I played it cool. This was neither the time nor the place to be Lebanese.
Entrees are capable of being memorable events in the biography of our lives. Truly, they are. They can be up there with weddings, birthdays and graduations. A Veloute of Globe Artichoke with Fresh Chestnut and Parmesan Emulsion. JYFJHVJHbjSJKgdsGDj! If Javier Bardem had a twin brother, and God disembodied the both them along with Daniel Craig, a John Frusciante Solo, a Johnny Cash vocal cord and an Orhan Pamuk plot - pureed the lot, and turned into an entree, it would this.
Saint Forsooth! My God. Smoothness drowning in stunning, and with an ache of chestnut spiraling through. This tasted like having a little Michelangelo hanging from the roof of your mouth painting each and everyone of your stunned taste buds with all the colours of an alimentary heaven. I didn't know what to do. I just sat there, bewildered. The levels of flavour just kept descending. You'd taste the artichoke first, then the chestnut and then a slight pause and the parmesan would pop up to say hello. It wasn't quite like having a party in your mouth so much as like having a round of beloved friends over to a fine cup of tea, one popping in just as the other was saying goodbye. Good God.
Jo's treasure of seared scallop with cauliflower puree, shiitake mushroom, spinach and chicken jus was no less dazzling to eye, mouth or spoon. Usually scallops are a bit dull of me, hard and unremarkable. These were soft, gentle, yielding scallops, they sat like gems on top of the most sublime puree of cauliflower, buttery and smooth and creamy-dreamy like a gentle whisper. Rich and achy. Loveable. So deep and gorgeous and perfectly balanced, in colour and palate, with the sharpness of the spinach and the depth of the mushroom completing it all so effortlessly.
Gorgeous and expensive and so solid and structured. The entrees had us weeping with desire. Not really. They had us actually sitting smug and giddy as passers by looked in on the glory that was our dinner.
...Dot. Dot. Dot. I hate to write a bad word, really I do. But the mains were just a little bit, shall we say... lacking. I ordered the John Dory on carrot and ginger puree with coriander and pommee allumette. The fish was overcooked for me, I like it with a soft, moist flakey type of texture, this was fried a little too much and just a bit bland, the flavour with fish disappears with overheating. It just tasted rough and oiled. The rest of the dish, if a little gingery, was amazing in its own right, but it just didn't balance the fish well. It was sweetness with a heaviness that was too much, it needed freshness and sharpness. Dull and disappointing. I'm sorry to say.
Jo's snapper with jerusalem artichoke suffered the same fate. The fish was just too done, like collagen lips on a bikinied lollipop. The artichoke was delicious again, and the textures especially in this dish complemented themselves commendably. The crispiness of the skin against the softness of the artichoke was beautiful.
The problem with mediocre fish at an expensive place that you have high expectations about, is like the identity of someone with multiple personality disorder, a tad complicated and multifaceted. 
The fish courses were $50 each, for that money the meals should not only be perfectly flavoured and stunningly displayed, they should also be able to offer an entertaining dissertation on the history of Western theology - and in 5 languages. $50, I didn't tell my Mum but I can feel her twinge with disapproval somewhere in Burwood right now, and not be knowing why. Such a shame. I have heard wonderful things about Guillaume generally, so don't let this put you off. Restaurants, especially at the higher end, can waver from time to time. 

We all do, but just not quite so expensively!
If main stomach is a little sad by this, perhaps dessert stomach can find something to get excited about. Heck, the mere thought of cake makes me forget where I am, who I am and what just happened, anyway.
A calculated decision is made, like a military strategy in world war II - and with no less thought and concern. We have selected two off the menu, with the petit fours and coffee to round it all off. At this point, we're giving them as many opportunities to salvage the night as we can.
A creamy berried something is a perfect palate cleanser and pancreas bracer. Delicious and light, fruity and flirty and fun. Pink and white and silver and glass. Gone like food in the path of pregnant woman.
The apple tart with cinnamon ice cream is a classy act to behold. UFO as tart that abducts your saccharine senses. Sweet, I thought too sweet and Jo thought not enough, but gorgeously buttery and appled - more wicked than innocent. The ice cream was beautiful, the cinnamon magical, but again, it wouldn't have missed some mint or something to lighten and freshen the taste.
The nougat with roasted peanuts, caramel ice cream and banana unfortunately took us back into lackluster territory. The ice cream was too subtle, you couldn't quite discern any flavour. The nougat was gorgeous to look at, but didn't dazzle otherwise.
A little bit sad. The dessert menu, Jo observed, was just too classic. There was nothing incredibly different or whimsical about it, which is usually one of the nicer things to look forward to in fine dining. If you are going to stick with classics then they must be impeccable, these were nice but just not Wow.
Petite fours.
Chewy, chocolately, tarted and carameled.
And downright the best short black I have ever had (even though we ordered macchiatos). This was thick and syrupy almost with such a strong body and no bitterness at all. Nutty and frothy and perfect and rich. But this is a hell of a place to come for a short black!
Guillaume did miss the mark for me. The ambience was too stiff, too formal. Even at fine dining restaurants it is possible to have fluid service, the waiters were lovely but I just felt awful asking for anything, the mood was so heavy, we spoke in hushed tones all night.  Tetsuya's is example of a place that gets the right balance between formal and easy service. The ambience was definitely older and moneyed in a way that was a too stuffy. It didn't add to the occasion for me, only detracted from it. 
A funky bathroom ceiling shot, and...
I couldn't resist...The Money Shot. 
Please don't let me deter you from Guillaume. I've heard so many good things from people whose opinion I respect. I do only write pieces about places I am dazzled about, so this was a bit of a difficult piece to share, I don't think i'll be able to do this sort of review again. I wanted to put it out there because its not an experience many people have for themselves but are curious for a peek into, so there you have it. 

If you do go, don't do as we did and get off on the wrong foot with your waiter by actually asking how you pronounce the name of the place. If he can pronounce it better than you then you clearly don't belong there! It's gee-um (said very quickly), sort of, for those of you who didn't know.

Happy Birthday Miss JoJo, i'm sorry it wasn't more amazing for someone who continually amazes everyone like you. Next time we should keep it to Auburn Maccas and after party at Bar Fernando. What do you say?


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Joyti said...

Haha! I'm starting law school next year. I always thought that PhD students were a more pretentious lot?

amanda said...

heh poor indie! no, good on you, its a really good degree to do. where are you going? if you need any notes let me know in the next few weeks, i finish soon and ill be doing a massive desktop purge. i reckon im going to leave you to answer who is worse between phd'ers and law people - and then get back to me.

Unknown said...

I like that one of these photos comes up in Google Image Search results for "Sydney Law School". Matches the whole 'expectations' theme. It's obviously what they serve at morning tea, every day.