There are some advantages to having a mid-week birthday. Usually I feel lucky if my birthday falls on a Saturday, thus making it easier to plan my birthday. However this only happens once every 7 years. One advantage to having a mid-week birthday is spreading out your birthday dinners to cover two weekends, thus prolonging your "Mememe It's MY birthday" moment.
I'm not one of those people who hates celebrating my birthday like my mother in law, or one that doesn't care about my birthday like my husband, an attitude borne out of being given rocks from the back garden for his 10th birthday present from well meaning alternative parents. It's an unashamed "ME" fest and I am trying to coax the inner kid out of my husband and make him love celebrating his birthday too by giving him a full birthday weekend of activities and surprises and loads of gifts. I think I'm getting him to like Christmas too, he was also traumatised by a Christmas gift box of toilet cleaning supplies from his mum received about 8 years ago so he was similarly unenthusiastic about Christmas. My aim is to have him as enthused about birthdays and Christmas as I am.
So with my friends Teena, Philippe, Gina and Hot Dog, we decide on Balzac. Housed in a lovely sandstone building that has previously housed a Pizza Hut for over 10 years and changed hands many times over, it's finally settled on Balzac. The 2 hatted restaurant featured in the SBS show Heat in the Kitchen was one that we've always been meaning to go to but for some reason never have. The couple Matthew Kemp (ex Banc chef) and Lela Radojkovic were living in their parent's garage while the restaurant was starting up, giving us a glimpse into the hard life of a restaurateur and we shared their relief when they got their first hat and now they have their second.
The main thing when dining with this particular group of friends is the service. Hot Dog is one of those patrons that loves to make friends with the waiter or waitress but on his terms. He loves to cajole and tease them and try and get them to give him something for free or refer to an item as "Item 24 dollars", and this is especially true when we visit expensive restaurants . Some waiting staff have been unsure how to deal with him slinking away uncomfortably with a scared expression on their face but some just laugh along with him and tease him right back which he loves. So it's fortunate tonight that our waitress Yasmin is extremely lovely and seems to be a deft hand at dealing with Hot Dog. She has him eating out of the palm of her hand.
There are 6 mains to choose from and between the 6 of us we manage to sample 4 of them. Hot Dog is the only one to order an entree and I have a quick peek at the dessert menu which looks promising.
Our Amuse Bouche is the first to arrive and it's a fennel veloute with harissa foam atop served with a salmon croquette. The tiny cup of soup is lovely and creamy and foamy but the harissa, usually a spicy and hot ingredient is very mild with virtually no chili taste to it at all. The salmon croquette is freshly fried and packed with salmon and an instant hit with the table and certainly does it's job of exciting our tastebuds.
The accompanying bread is soft and warm, almost like a damper with a slight panini crust to it. It's delicious and even a confirmed low carber like me takes a roll with the perfect temperature butter.
Hot Dog's entree arrives, Smoked Salmon en Papillotes with Vichyssoise Mousse and House Smoked Oyster Vinaigrette. The mousse and potatoes are lighter touches and I expected to taste a more sharp flavour via capers or the usual smoked salmon accompaniments. Nevertheless Hot Dog is a satisfied customer and any grumbles he may have about the size are quickly quietened after his first bite.
Our mains appear at the same time, starting with Philippe and Gina's Beef Short Rib with Smoked Ox Tongue, White Onion Puree and Mustard Dressing and it looks impressive. I try some of Gina's rib and it's deliciously soft, and prying it from the bone is easy. I wish I had ordered this instantly and the softly textured beef is fragrant and unctuous. The Ox Tongue is very thinly sliced and despite preconceptions of it being chewy, is delicately delicious to eat.
I try Hot Dog's Confit Pork Belly with Shaved Cuttlefish, Chorizo, Chickpeas and Capsicums and whilst he isn't that impressed, Gina and I adore the taste and find it full flavoured and beautifully textured with the slightly crisp on the edge fatty pork belly perfect against the soft capsicums and other flavours. Another dish I wish I had ordered.
I try some of my husband's Ballontine of Chicken Leg with Pancetta, Potato Fondant, Baby Leeks and Parsley Jus Gras. It was nice but not as wowing as the other two mains. Granted he only gave me a bit of the actual Ballontine of chicken leg so I didn't get to try it with the accompaniments which may have been cause for the less favourable comparison.
My Barramundi with Duck Confit Rillette, Lentils and Thyme Butter is covered with a foamy thyme butter sauce which is mildly fragrant. The barramundi is beautifully cooked, being slightly undercooked in the centre but not raw so that it is beautifully moist. The piece of fish needs a little more seasoning. The Duck Confit rilette is delicious perfection, soft and stringy in that glorious Duck Confit way and the pebbly lentils provide a textural contrast to the softness of the fish and duck.
I try our sides, the Mixed Leaf Salad with Walnut Dressing is full of herbs and mixed leaves but a little light on the dressing.
The Roast Sebago Potatoes with Beef Dripping, Thyme and Garlic sound the most promising and look glisteningly so but the potatoes themselves are awfully starchy and dry inside, they're like eating roast potatoes that have been sitting under a buffet heat lamp for hours: dry and unappetising.
We take a short break before we're lured by the dessert menu. Teena and I choose the Chocolate Bombe Alaska with Hazelnuts and Hazelnut Liquer, Gina chooses the Pumpkin pie with pumpkin seed ice cream and Philippe chooses the Rhubarb and Apple Crumble with ginger ice cream and custard, $2 of which will go to the HeartKids NSW for the month of May.
Before our desserts arrive, we are given our pre-dessert which Hot Dog mishears for a Free Dessert which makes him rather happy but he was hoping more for ice cream with chocolate sauce. It's a pannacotta with sweetened stewed plums and a praline top. It's gorgeously soft with the crunchy praline on top providing the necessary crunch and ending.
It's not long before our desserts arrive and I dig into my Chocolate Bombe Alaska, the outside is nicely singed and spiky like Lisa Simpson's hair. The inside ice cream is rich with bittersweet chocolate ice cream and it's surrounded by hazelnut liqeur foam and crushed, roasted hazelnuts.
Our waitress is not happy that my Bombe has arrived sans a birthday candle so she has a word to the kitchen and she brings me out a lit candle with 3 petit fours: a cranberry fudge square, a chocolate fennel fudge square and a Chai truffle. It's a lovely little touch to make me feel special. The Chai Truffle is very interesting, certainly very heady in scent. The fennel fudge isn't very strong in fennel and tastes mainly like a rich dark chocolate fudge whereas the cranberry fudge square is lightly flavoured with cranberry resembling a slight cranberry flavoured jersey caramel.
I try Gina's Pumpkin pie with pumpkin seed ice cream. Being Canadian she is very well versed in Pumpkin pie and makes a mean pumpkin pie, draining her pumpkin mix for days to ensure that it's the right consistency. She finds it too spiced for her liking and indeed it is very heady with nutmeg and cinnamon. The pumpkin seed ice cream is delicious, resembling a pistachio ice cream studded with lots of nubbly nuts.
I don't get to try Philippe's dessert, he is a little averse to sharing having grown up in a family of boys where mealtimes are a fend for yourself event but I am assured that it was indeed delicious. I adore the little copper pot serving style and mini jug of custard.
As we're leaving our waitress wishes us a nice night and a Happy Birthday to me again. Hot Dog proclaims the service to be the best he's ever received and we can see why it won the Silver Service food award from the SMH. High praise indeed for the service fussy Hot Dog!
141 Belmore Road Randwick NSW 2031
Tel: + 61 2 9399 9660
Fax: + 61 2 9399 6929
Open Tuesday through Saturday
Dinner from 6 pm onwards
Fridays for Lunch 12- 3
Last Sunday of Each Month for the Seasonal Degustation Dinner - 6.30pm onwards