20th June 2018
15 Bligh St
Sydney, NSW 2000
I’m not much of a birthday person. I know plenty of people who use birthdays as an excuse to have a month-long celebration but frankly? I just don’t have that much energy. For me, what birthdays really amount to is a chance to have a good meal, where you splurge a bit on something you normally wouldn’t have. This year however, things are a little different. Not only am I in a brand-new city, instead of one full of restaurants I’ve been lusting over for years, I’m also on a significantly tighter budget on account of living away from home. But after much research and changing of minds, I eventually settled on Restaurant Hubert to celebrate turning 25 (ugh).
We rocked up just before 5:30 on a Saturday afternoon, confident in our chances of getting a seat. We were partially correct; although we got a seat at the bar, it didn’t happen until 7:30. Still, better late than never was the thought as we wend our way through the dining room, past red velvet curtains, leather booths for two, and rickety wooden tables, romantically lit with slowly dripping wax candles.
If you couldn’t tell by the pictures, Hubert is proudly, ostentatiously, and overwhelmingly European. Located two levels below ground, the transformation is instantaneous the moment you push open the heavy wooden doors. The staircase spirals downwards in a whirl of red velvet and jazz, the walls lined with antique liquor bottles. When you finally emerge into the dining room, you’ll find the broad, dimly-lit space endearingly cluttered, every single surface bedecked with a combination of liquor bottles and framed artwork. Service is similarly French – friendly enough but somewhat disinterested and perfunctory – make of that what you will.
It seemed wrong to be surrounded by so many bottles and to not have a drink, so under the waiter’s recommendation, I ordered a nip of Punt e Mes Vermouth ($9). As promised, this amber-coloured liquid was rich and complex, its sweetness held up by a bitter backbone of botanicals.
Having heard unanimously great things about the Escargot XO ($26), I couldn’t help but order a plate to see for myself. And indeed, each mollusc came perfectly roasted and drenched in butter, the Asian twist of XO sauce adding a briny, savoury umami. As good as it was however, I will admit that $26 for 6 snails is pretty exorbitant.
To go with the escargot was a basket of Hubert baguette. I’ve also heard unanimously positive things about this, but unlike the snails, this was far less impressive. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s a run-of-the-mill offering that doesn’t do much more than soak up the excess butter from the escargot. Frankly, given the calibre of the restaurant, I would expect this bread to be served alongside my meal regardless of what I order.
The Gnocchi Parisienne ($22) is another crowd favourite, and like everyone else, I was not immune to its charms. Pan-fried almost in the fashion of gyoza, the lacy base hid pillows of feathery, buttery gnocchi, drenched in a rich creamy sauce of parmesan, chervil, and chive. This is one of those dishes that is so rich and indulgent that it seems mandatory to close your eyes every time you take a bite.
Boudin Noir ($24), or blood cake, may not sound like the most appetising thing on the planet. But trust me – it is worth getting. Served like a warm terrine with a side of buttery potato puree, the boudin noir is soft and comforting, its smokiness reminiscent of bacon, and flecked through with tender shreds of pig’s head. Look, if you’re squeamish, just pretend you’re eating a dish made of roast pork and bacon – you’ll be just fine, and your tastebuds will thank you, I promise.
And of course, what more European way is there to finish a meal than with an old-fashioned, medium-rare Bavette Steak ($48)? This is among the best steak I’ve had, my knife gliding effortlessly through the perfectly cooked flank, its rich, beefy flavours complemented by a dollop of herb-heavy Café de Paris butter.
So after a more or less faultless meal – the service wasn’t amazing, but it was good enough for me not to be too fussed – am I as smitten with Restaurant Hubert as the rest of Sydney seems to be? To be honest… no. Maybe it’s just personal preference for the lighter, more complex dishes, but I found the rich, hefty plates at Hubert to be rather heavy-handed and uninspired. Don’t get me wrong – the entire meal was tasty, and I liked everything we ordered. But I just wasn’t blown away, especially for the price, which is about as ridiculous as the rent in Sydney. I mean, who ever heard of paying $4.3 for a single snail?
Rating: 15/20 – good but not great.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.