The French Film Festival in Sydney has just a few days left to catch some of the best French movies of the year. Pair your film with a meal at Atelier, located at the Sofitel Darling Harbour hotel, the official accommodation partner of the festival. Atelier has plush leather banquettes and an open kitchen, as well as a menu full of classics and a dessert menu worth exploring.
It was a Friday afternoon when I gave myself an early mark and pulled up to the Palace cinema in Chippendale to spend a couple of hours watching the movie Sugar & Stars. The film is based on the real life story of French pastry chef Yazid Ichemrahem and his tumultuous journey to success. It starts with a young Yazid who escaped into baking - this passion for baking led him to dream of becoming a world-class pastry chef following in the steps of his heroes despite him facing numerous challenges and setbacks along the way. It's a really lovely, heart warming film and even better that it is based on Yazid's autobiography.
After this we head across the city to the Sofitel Darling Harbour's Champagne Bar for a glass of champagne. There's a view of the city skyline (obscured slightly with some construction below). Each quarter the Champagne Bar pours a signature champagne by the glass to give guests a chance to try a champagne that they may not have an opportunity to otherwise try. Currently it is the Billecart Salmon Brut Rosé and the next signature pour will be ‘2009 Champagne Devaux D Millésime’ which starts on the 1st of April.
Then we head to Atelier which is located on the same floor adjacent to the Champagne Bar. There are plush leather banquettes, comfortable chairs and an open kitchen in this enormous space.
For my entree I start with some caviar, a Polanco Baerii Caviar from Yarra Valley caviar. This caviar is matured in 2kg mother tins for 2 to 4 months before being sold and here it is served with half a dozen blini, shaved egg yolk, shaved egg white, red onion, chives and creme fraiche.
For my main I go with one of their recommendations and it's the dry aged duck breast with a butter poached pear, radicchio and pear reduction jus. My favourite part of the dish is the skin as it is so crispy that it has a toffeed glass texture. Sometimes duck breast can be rubbery especially with the skin but the contrast of the crackly, crisp skin and meat is fantastic. Chef Sam Moore explains, "The duck breast is aged for 10 days in an aging cabinet, which allows the enzymes to break down the meat and tenderize it while also giving it a unique and rich taste."
I also got to try the dining mate's short rib (which I also really wanted to order for myself) and it's a classic dish done beautifully. It's rich yes but there's nothing more satisfying than a meltingly soft beef short rib when the weather starts turning chilly. I also appreciate how they have used beef short rib instead of shoulder for extra lusciousness. The beef short ribs are braised in red wine and beef broth along with herbs, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, and tomatoes. It is served with Epicurean Farm turnips, carrots and pickled shallots.
Now comes the really exciting bit - the desserts especially given that the movie was all about desserts! I was secretly hoping that there would be a chocolate dome on the dessert menu because a chocolate dome Paris Brest featured in the film but of course that is just wishful thinking. We try a range of the desserts by Executive Pastry Chef Ian Burch and Pastry Sous Chef Bella Bei Le. The mango parfait is a layer of fresh mango with a coconut cream and passion fruit sauce with a round sheet of mango paper. On top of this is a square of coconut ringed frozen mango parfait with coconut cream foam ball on top with a crumpled sheet of mango paper. The mango parfait is perfect for those that love refreshing and tangy desserts.
The Jasmine Bergamot was inspired by the jasmine flowers around the hotel that the chefs could smell as they walked through the staff entrance. It starts with Valrhona Opalys a white chocolate with a creamy and vanilla-like flavour. On top of the chocolate layer there is a layer of bergamot cream made with bergamot zest, sugar, and cream and then a layer of jasmine mousse, which is a light and airy mousse made with jasmine tea and cream. It is very light in both bergamot and jasmine and whilst it is a well turned out dessert I would have liked a stronger bergamot and jasmine aroma.
Whilst I loved all four desserts the one that I kept going back to again and again is the mille feuille with the crispy caramelised puff pastry layers, ice nougat, candied orange and a swirl of salted caramel sauce. Ice nougat is a type of nougat that has a meringue-like texture and is made with honey and nuts. This is sweet, crisp and textured and very moreish.
So tell me Dear Reader, have you been to the French film festival this year? Which dessert do you think you would like the most?
Atelier by Sofitel
Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour, Level 3/12 Darling Dr, Sydney NSW 2000
Hours: Open 7 days 5:30–9 pm
Phone: (02) 8388 8888