46-52 Meagher St
Chippendale, NSW 2008
Up to now, dinner at Poly was probably my favourite upscale dining experience in Sydney, the poor service notwithstanding. Given that I’m currently trying to make one income stretch between two people however, I don’t really have a whole lot of time to be exploring the fine dining scene in Sydney, which is notoriously expensive as it is. But one really nice meal out at the end of the year for Chris’ birthday, our anniversary, and Christmas has always been a constant, and this year I chose Ester, the elder sister to Poly.
Ester looks like every other popular Modern Australian restaurant that has ever been, but that’s not a bad thing. The interior is sleek yet warm, the bare walls and simple leather chairs contrasting with the lush navy banquettes and touches of marble. The service mirrors the decor; warm and unpretentious, yet doubtlessly professional.
I’m usually not one to pay for bread at a restaurant, as it takes up valuable stomach real estate. However I had heard too much about the Potato Bread ($32) to walk past it. And despite the exorbitant price tag, I would order this again in a heartbeat. Even the bread alone was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, the centre fluffy like cotton candy, yet retaining the doughy heft of a hearty loaf. The exterior is golden, even blistered black in places, and rubbed generously with garlic oil and sea salt flakes. The real magic comes in when you dollop some of the trout roe and kefir cream on top, and all of a sudden, it becomes a creamy, briny mouthful, the coolness of the condiments as refreshing as an ocean breeze against the warm bread.
The potato bread was a near impossible act to follow, but the other signature dish, the Blood Sausage Sanga ($9ea), did a good job of it. A high-end spinoff of the Bunnings snag/democracy sausage/school BBQ, the sausage was delicately earthy, augmented with sweet caramelised onion, and laid carefully on a thick slice of crumbly buttered brioche – crust off, of course.
Our final nibble was the Fried Corn ($10, 2pcs), which came at the recommendation of our waitron. Like the blood sausage sanga, this was another fun one. The tempura-fried corn was absurdly sweet, the kernels ready to escape with the first bite, and topped with a healthy amount of parmesan cream, as well as a hidden smear of fermented chilli for a surprise burst of heat. It’s a great example of how familiar flavours can be manipulated into something new and interesting, whilst appearing as if not much had been done at all.
We were assured that we must order some of the seafood, as they do it so well here. I chose the King Prawns ($48) over the special of scarlet prawns, and I had absolutely zero reason to regret that choice. Butterflied, grilled over a wood fire, and absolutely swimming in briny fermented shrimp butter, each bite was a mouthful of seafood heaven. The prawns were unbelievably sweet and delicate despite their size, practically melting in the mouth with the occasional salty pop from the fried capers. I highly recommend picking it up with your hands and getting all the goodness inside the head – the flavour is absolutely incredible.
The prawns were padded out with a couple of sides, the first of which was the Cauliflower ($15, small), which has not left the menu since day one. And despite looking rather plain, this belied all my expectations. Intensely smoky, this was good enough to eat on its own, but you’ll want to lather it up with plenty of the sweet, crunchy almond cream, and a sprig or two of cooling mint.
Slightly more unusual were the Oven Roasted Carrots ($18). The roasted heirloom baby carrots and buttermilk were par for the course; what really made these stand out were the dark dollops of XO sauce, which had an almost caramelised sweetness accompanying the savoury umami of the dried shrimp. A drizzle of verdant herb oil completed the picture, adding a brightness to the earthy dish.
Moving onto dessert, the Left Over Sourdough Ice Cream ($9) is another stalwart of the Ester menu. This was the only dish of the night that didn’t live up to expectations. Whilst the ice cream was perfectly silky and creamy, it lacked pizzazz. The crushed black sesame and well of honey helped things along, but it was still somewhat underwhelming. It was no less and no more than a good ice cream dish, and after a meal that’s been so unerringly fantastic, I had expected a bit more of a dish that had been so raved about.
The Burnt Pav ($18) on the other hand was an undisputed success. The layers of textures, flavours, and temperatures were incredible. Right at the top is a quenelle of bright pineapple sorbet, its icy freshness interplaying with the rich layer of white chocolate and passionfruit cream. The base of meringue was so light and crisp it gave way with just the slightest pressure from the spoon, revealing a surprise centre of tangy bitters. And just when you thought you have the measure of this dessert, there’s a nest of roasted macadamias hidden under the cream, adding some much needed weight to the effervescent dessert.
It goes without saying that Ester fulfilled all my expectations, and then some. It’s easily the best meal I’ve had in Sydney, and is tied for first with Cheek as my favourite meal of the year. I was also equally as impressed with the service, as well as the ambience of the restaurant. If I really, really had to nit-pick, I’d say that the tables were crammed a little too close together for absolute comfort, and the sourdough ice cream was less remarkable than I had hoped. As I said, nit-picking. If it weren’t for the many other restaurants I’ve yet to try, I would happily go to Ester for all my special occasion needs from now on.
Rating: 16.5/20 – ester-rific
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.