Esquire Drink + Dine is the newest restaurant and bar to open in Sydney's Queen Victoria Building. Located on the 2nd floor of the Northern end of the QVB it is a moody, seductively lit space with bar and booth seating. The menu is a mix of oysters, bar snacks and dishes like seared steak tartare (sounds counter intuitive but spoiler: it's great), pork jowl schnitzel or a whole roast chicken for two that spans two courses.
It's a wedding anniversary date for Mr NQN and I and I was looking for somewhere just like this. Esquire is by the Trippas White group as well as executive chef Damien Worthington formerly of QT Hotels and The Winery.
Esquire is open all day until late closing at 2am from Thursday to Saturday and midnight the rest of the week. It's a gorgeous space, and even at this early hour on a Wednesday night it is surprisingly busy. The decor is moody and sexy with oak, leather, dim lighting, curved booths and a parquetry floor.
First a cocktail. I choose a Lip Biter because I do have this habit of biting my lips depending on circumstances. It's made with Espolon Blanco, Esprit de Figues, fig confiture, white grapefruit, charred cinnamon and star anise. And according to the menu people bite their lips when, "The tell-tale sign of when an individual is desiring something more from their focus of attraction than what was anticipated." Who knew?
Mr NQN's choice is the Mind Games that comes with a long blurb that reads, "The Freudian psychoanalysis theory is broken down to 3 components. Instincts – Reality – Morality. This translates in to the sub-conscious games played in everyday life to further ulterior motives of which we are never fully aware or understand. This analysis is considered to form a central element of your social life and plays a part in defining who you are. Now just order the damn drink…". It is made with Havana Club Anejo 7 Anos, Adelaide Hills Orange Bitter, Okar Amaro, pineapple and chamomile and I actually prefer this sour and bitter number.
I am always unable to resist taramasalata when I see it on a menu. And I was intrigued by these oversized carrot crackers. These are made with carrot juice and tapioca and are deep fried and have a satisfyingly thick and crunchy texture (not unlike cassava crackers). There's a bit of roe on top of these as well as a wonderfully creamy and smooth white taramasalata.
Although we did a bit of a double take when we heard the concept of the seared steak tartare it ends up being one of my favourite dishes of the night. They lightly sear the beef tenderloin and pair it with beetroot, cornichons, baby capers, red onion, mustard, sriracha sauce, egg yolk, horseradish and micro watercress. Beetroot is not usually an addition to a steak tartare but everything in it works really well together with a mildly spicy finish. The searing isn't that apparent (in the dark) but it does have a slightly more robust flavour. It comes with potato gaufrettes to scoop the mix on.
The raw white fish dish was John Dory and it is served with ruby grapefruit segments, burnished avocado, radishes, slices of green chilli and there's a slight trick to this dish. Some of the green dabs are avocado while others have Thai green curry in them so you never quite know what you will get in your mouthful.
OK yes it may be crazy to order three starters but hey you only have an anniversary once a year right? I had to try a jaffle because I'm rather obsessive about them and Comté is one of my favourite cheeses.
This is a gooey number made with two cheeses: Gruyere and Comté which makes for a cheesy, oozy filling. To the side is a quartered long pickle, mustard and a big pile of fries which was another reason to order the jaffle.
The mains come out next and Mr NQN's choice is the celeriac custard, all gentle flavours and wobbly texture based on a Chinese steamed egg custard. It comes with shimeji mushrooms, thin carrot crisps, carrot curd, carrot soil, celeriac chips as well as a ginger oil dressing and celery powder. I would have loved some more shimeji mushrooms to boost the flavour of this dish.
As for me, I have the opposite taste to Mr NQN. While he can eat no fat, I love it. And the pork jowl schnitzel is my sort of dish. It's not for the fat phobic, a pork jowl being a lusciously fatty cut. Here they braise the pork jowl at 80°C/ 176°F for 8 hours, trim off most of the fat and then crumb it in breadcrumbs, Parmesan, sage and lemon zest. It is extremely rich by itself, especially when crumbed and fried but that's where the burnt lemon comes in as it gives it a much needed piquancy (just be careful squeezing it, I squeezed way too much out in one go). To the side is a salad with Brussel sprouts, red onion, radish, fennel, mint, basil and edamame beans for additional freshness.
Our fantastic American waiter really pushed us towards the miso glazed carrots. So much so that it became a bit of a running joke that the pressure was on for us to like these. I spear a tender carrot and take a bite. It's intensely sweet and delicious and then I find myself spearing another after another they're that good.
With this much food, we could only fit in one dessert. There are a couple of chocolate offerings, a beetroot cake and cheese but we go for the caramelised brioche with chunks of toffeed brioche, shaved, roasted pineapple, coconut foam and a scoop of divine miso caramel ice cream. The brioche could perhaps be in smaller pieces as it can be hard to cut with a spoon but the combination of everything together is a bit tropical and yet warming and comforting too.
So tell me Dear Reader, is there a dish or ingredient that you always order if you see it on a menu? And do you always order dessert or do you usually skip it?
This meal was independently paid for.
Esquire Drink + Dine
Shop 1 Level 2 QVB, 455 George St, Sydney NSW 2000
Open 7 days 12pm–2am
Phone: (02) 8023 7609