Thursday, March 10, 2011

Butterhead (aka Ad Lib Bistro, Double Bay)...

What do commitment, Lady Gaga smiling, income tax, the thought of your parents 'making love', the mental image of John Howard in a tutu and heels, David Hasselhoff's chest making a comeback, making small talk with strangers in lifts and butter all have in common? A: they seem to make most people very, very afraid. Julia-just-add-cream-Child understood that most otherwise rational people seem to lose their heads when it comes to butter. Can you imagine? Beautiful, bountiful innocent smooth-salt-speckled spreadable-breadable-incredible butter. Dutch or French. Organic and rich. Searing, smoking-burning brown-liquid-churning-bubbling-troubling caramel-bound butter. Butter, butter Flutter. Butter is a wonder. A churning for any culinary yearning. Butter is sinking and falling, it's a sudden loss of gravity for the mouth and for the mind. If ordinary ingredients speak the language of flavour, then adding butter is the precise moment when voice becomes song.  
If it's wrong to think that butter adds something to food that gives it a life beyond its parts and takes eating from the realm of robotic anatomy and into something much, much more divine - then I don't want to be right. And the good people at Ad Lib Bistro, Double Bay can certainly keep me company. Former 41 Chef-above-above-the-clouds Dietmar Sawyer might have come back down to earth, but his food still floats way up in the stars of my culinary heavens. Taking its cues from the bistros of Paris, the Ad Lib venture is bringing back relaxed, remarkable dining - voluptuously and unapologetically classic  - to a Sydney gone mad with monotonously fashionable foodie-whim. Classic, produce-centric and butter fueled Modern French is a tune Dietmar knows well, which might be why each every plate refuses to ever miss a maddening beat...
The Portobello mushroom stuffed with snails in garlic + parsley crumbs is a very happy thing to happen on a big white plate. Gorgeously buttery-garlic infused snail, slightly salty, blends so well with the deep portobello. The woody mushroom and parsley with a shock of rocket green makes for deep, rich mouthful after mouthful. This entree seems to squeeze in so much flavour for its size. Toes will crunch and foodies will swoon. 
The barramundi meuinere w almond, green beans + beurre noisette is a sparkling brown-buttered, parsley spangled and lemon spiked way to take your fish. A breathless barramundi drowning in sublimely rich buttery sauce and textured by perfect slivers of almond and green bean crunch is the stuff of pure magic. The salty-silver-browned barramundi skin gives way to a moist, flaky flesh - plump and perfectly cooked, and absolutely radiant. This Ad Lib signature is brilliant, fish this incredible is extremely difficult to do well. As most places know not to overcook fish, the genius of fish really shines through in the way it's garnished. You want a balance between colour and texture, and especially with a dish as light as barramundi, you need a grounding heaviness that anchors the lightness without upstaging the delicacy: wanky, but true. My tongue became its own exclamation point after falling on a forkful of this - between buttery tomato dappled almond flickered not-too-crunchy thin and slippery green bean chaos, was a barramundi I will simply never forget.
300 grams might not be much worldly weight, but this grilled sirloin steak w beurre cafe de paris is a whole entire heaven and earth of flavour. I had a bite. Oh My God. It is romeo + juliet as butter and meat, so absolutely perfect in every possible way.
A drama on a white plate atop a bed of wilted spinach. Wouldn't you wilt if this sat on top of you? Order this rare, you must do the calibre of meat the justice it deserves. The pale, pink tender flesh beneath the faintly mustard-dill-marjoram-chive-thyme-tarragon twirled butter on top is the perfect voluntary union of two flavours, for life - to the exclusion of all others. Danny - fresh from a miserable beach house detox - was actually beside himself with sirloined joy. And then the baby carrots came out...
Ad Lib's baby carrots w butter are vegetal Shakespeare. Hamlet would've been able to answer his question resolutely if ever he tried this, and Ophelia still would have drowned. Sublime lengths of honeyed-orange carrot, glowingly lazy and slippery and docile, so tender and gentle and warm, are a singular side-struck astonishment. I know it's slightly ridiculous to lose your shit over carrots, but you've got to try these to know what I am talking about!
This whole time, Bugs Bunny might have been onto something. The sweetness of these baby carrots killed me, they were so simple and startling and true. The butter coaxed out their flavour wonderfully and we almost forgot our mains as we tussled in a carrot-grabbing joust to the death.
Eating carrots is supposed to strengthen the eyes, but I tell you, just looking at these again without even tasting one is having the same effect. Try these carrots, really, really do. The cauliflower gratin which was bestowed onto the lucky buggers at the table next to us while we were in throes of some serious dessert also looked worthy of devouring. Don't shun anyone of the Ad Lib sidekicks - they're exuberant footnotes to a phenomenal meal.
A beautiful penelope sach leomgrass + ginger infusion, a chocolate truffle and then...
vanilla ice cream laced thin apple tart. Ad Lib is latin for At Pleasure, and at perfect pleasure I was when once a spoonful of this sinful, sticky, saucy vanilla spun Venus spiraled sheer dessert agony down my happy throat. Luscious, thick-drizzled caramel - incandescent and buttered...
Chilled, poised, liquefying vanilla tears spilling onto a golden warm tangle of beguilingly baked apple. Subtle. Spiced. Deliciously defiant to fork and knife sticky. Shards of slashed caramel tattooed onto ceramic. This was classic heartache, full and sultry and deep - the Jessica Lange of the dessert world. The toffeed chaos it makes of your mouth is not something to be gotten over lightly or quickly. This is the perfect kind of dessert, its taste and its touch linger far after the plate has been taken away - at least until the next plate arrives...
Devil-may-cry try it if you dare dark chocolate mousse goes a little something this...a single, solitary scoop on a set surface of dusted chocolate...
Two crispy wafers, to anchor - a dollop of DeepRichDreamy cream to soften - and then: Chocolate.
Dark, angry, vivid and crashing against your stunned tongue: frothy furious mousse, cocoa drenched and kicking. Smooth and so rich even the chocoisseurs will slow down and take pause. If you don't pace it it will be too overpowering. This is an unbridled black beauty - darker than sin and none too sweet.
Watch it cling to a spoon, to the roof of your mouth and to the pristine white of the plate, it absolutely stains your senses with rich, reckless chocolate. It's a wee bit of a calorie challenge on a plate, and the brave will take it all the way up. 

Between the butter, the fish, the steak, the apple baked caramel and the chocolate, you have a world wide tour of Ad-Lib flavour that docks in at all the major culinary capitals. This place is a new favourite, and incredibly well priced for the quality and attention to detail. Ad Lib manages to be warm and welcome in an suburb that most in Sydney still consider extremely exclusive - in the negative sense. And without any pretension at all. It's 41 without the lift - and the stars you'll be seeing when you try the carrots are view enough as far as I am concerned. 
Ad Lib Bistro happens at 21 Bay Street, Double Bay. With breakfast, lunch + dinner (AND afternoon tea) on offer, they'll be lucky if I don't start sleeping right outside the front door.  Ph 9988 0210 to book, website will full menus here

Ad Lib, and joyfully, don't be one of those miserable people who lives this life without butter. 

5 comments:

Simon Food Favourites said...

you're certainly the queen of close up macro shots :-)

amanda said...

hello mr simon, how are you? everyone has been teasing me about my macro-ness, look out for next piece, its an attempt to not rely on macro, partially because i still havent bought a macro lens for my new canon! food isnt food if youre not too close up

kershaw knives said...

The grilled sirloin steak looks fantastic! You wouldn't need a very sharp knife to cut through it.

gerber knives said...

This just looks so delicious and decadent. Stakes and chocolates here are just to die for.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this pictures. Hey, you got a wonderful knife skills, just by looking at the pictures, they're cut perfectly.
cold steel knives