Lunch with a group of girls will always be a different sort of experience than a lunch with guys. Allow me to translate for those unfamiliar with the peculiar female creature. There will be a lot of dithering and discussion about what the eat and little pretty sounding tasty morsels will be ordered, all with a view to dessert which always features. There will be some oohing and aahing over things such as lighting fixtures and decor. But there will always be dessert. And it will always be shared.
Today, I'm lunching with Christie, Darcie, Helen, Jen, and Suze at Etch. When asked to pick a venue, I suggested Etch because of my adoration for chef Justin North's Plan B, and Becasse and also because it was in the middle of the city so it made for easy access by all. The space itself is decorated with a decidedly feminine touch (although it doesn't seem to stop the male of the species from eating here) with plenty of feathered angel wings, wing topped globes, silver framed portraits and bird print wallpaper.
Most of us order an appetiser and an entree each as we're saving room for the desserts which we have already pre picked: the Etch lolly tray and the caramel date tart with burnt butter ice cream and Earl Grey tea syrup.
The Fried goat's cheese with vanilla and lavender scented honey consists of two crispy coated goat's cheese balls deep fried and doused in a headily fragrant lavender honey. It's ambrosial and the crispy outer, creamy inner and sweet taste and floral aroma combines beautifully.
We are surprised to see that the Shaved Serrano gran reserva ham with peppered melon, chilli and mint has watermelon, not the rockmelon that Christie and I had assumed it would be paired with. It is delicious with the chili and mint adding an extra dimension of flavour.
An adorable paper cone houses the crispy spiced local squid with sweet paprika mayonnaise. The squid is wondrously tender with the the paprika giving the mayonnaise a slightly spicy and bitter flavour.
I'm not a huge Sardine eater but the sardines are a gorgeous, glistening silver and dazzle me with their flashy exterior matched with celery gazpacho and green apple tartare. They're well paired with the sauce and thinly sliced bread.
The cauliflower, cepe and macaroni cheese with a breadcrumb crust is a pasta with a creamy cheesey oozey sauce. The small florets of cauliflower give it texture and the cepes give it flavour.
The Salad of heirloom tomatoes, with fried zucchini flower and herb emulsion is a good reason to go vegetarian, if even only for a meal, or even a course. It's stunning visually, and ticks all the boxes for flavour and texture. If all vegetarian dishes tasted like this, I'd be one-and so would most of the world I suspect.
The Caramelised Pork belly, roasted Queensland scallops, sherry gel and sweetcorn puree is another gorgeously presented dish. The pork belly is soft and gelatinously unctuous and I adore the harmony of flavours to this dish.
The Basque style cassoulet with herb crumbs is housed in a terracotta pot and is rich and deep in flavour. I can see the fine cubes of pork belly, sausage and beans all in a delicious mouth watering and intensely flavoured stew. It does need something to accompany it with so I used some of the fried provencal potatoes with aged proscuitto drizzled with smoked garlic mayonnaise which suits it perfectly.
Sides: left Provencal potatoes with aged proscuitto drizzled with smoked garlic mayonnaise $9 Right Vichy carrots $6
The Vichy carrots are sweet and steamed and tossed with a butter and herbs.
The only main dish we ordered was the Roast rump of pork with crackling which is a huge serve of slices of tender pork, with some creamed polenta, greens and a cracklier than crackly crackling. Justin North seems to like the super crunchy crackling but for me the less crackly version is more palatable. However the pork is delicious and the serve very generous and filling, albeit very rich.
We already knew our aim of the day was to try the Etch lolly tray and the date tart but the question is, do we want a cheese or another dessert to share? After contemplating the cheeses, we decide on another dessert.
The Caramel date tart with burnt butter ice cream and Earl Grey tea syrup is delicious-like what would happen if a pumpkin pie and a creme caramel mated and produced a beauteous offspring. The tart isn't particularly date-y but the overall effect produces murmurs of contentment.
The baked chocolate delice with mandarin is interesting. Said to be lighter than a mousse in its cold form, it is slightly warm here and very airy but still not quite reaching the ethereal airiness of a mousse. There is a curled nougatine crisp on top and three mandarin flavoured mounds: a mousse, a gelee and a mandarin infused creme with tiny shards of nut inside and dusted with cocoa on top as well as some candied mandarin zest. I like the parts separately as I don't really like chocolate and orange.
_Etch Lolly Tray $15 From top: lemon & vanilla marshmallows, salted butter caramels, peanut brittle and violette Fizzy Rock
Etch's Lolly Tray is what won my heart though. With four little containers housing four different types of sweets of different textures, it's what childhood through adulthood dreams are made of. The lemon and vanilla marshmallow is light as a cloud although more lemoney than vanilla tasting-it is also missing the snowy blanket of icing sugar and cornflour; the salted butter caramels are perfection with just the right amount of salt and a fudge-like texture; the peanut brittle is a delightfully light and airy crisp without that teeth wrenching texture and the violet fizzy rock is one of those things that you sit on your tongue to fizzle away in a sophisticated homage to the childhood favourite Whizz Fizz.
Today was also Day 2 of the Lean Cuisine challenge where I was obviously unable to fit in one of their lunches along with this lunch so I had a dinner instead. One thing that i was grateful for was at 5pm when I got home from lunch (yes ok, disgraceful to come home so late after lunch I know but I count traveling time) was that my dinner was sorted and I didn't have to think about it at all. Convenience is not something to be sneezed at at all. I tried the Pumpkin, Spinach and Ricotta lasagne and paired it with baby spinach leaves, roasted beetroot, sweetcorn and cheese. It wasn't bad and I could really taste the ricotta and sweet, nutty pumpkin.
62 Bridge Street, Sydney CBD, NSW
Tel: +61 (02) 9247 4777