Elegant and cosy: Alfie and Hetty. Photo: Fiona Morris
It's been said the test of a good bartender is the martini: deceptively straightforward, but with no way to disguise mistakes or hide sub-par ingredients. In that spirit, the test of a good cook is a roast chicken. Confidence is required to put one of the Western world's most familiar dishes on a menu; to be a success, the kitchen must surpass diners' passionately held concepts of the perfect roast chicken (i.e. the one made by their mother, grandmother or husband).
The menu at Alfie & Hetty's exudes confidence - not that of a brash chef enamoured of his, or her, own inventiveness but instead the assurance to attempt the perfection of classic dishes.
Housed in two grand terraces on Glebe Point Road, the restaurant is named for two early 20th-century residents of the neighbourhood. Alfie, a rumoured gangster, gives his name to the upstairs bar, while the dining rooms take their name from Hetty, a renowned local cook who used to prepare roasts for local underprivileged children. The idea, co-owner Justin Windle says, was to make it feel like a home away from home.
Roast for two: eight-hour roasted lamb shoulder served with mash, heirloom carrots and red wine jus. Photo: Fiona Morris
It is a lucky Sydneysider whose home offers this blend of elegance and cosiness. The dining room and cocktail bar are all warmth and class, with fireplaces and dark wooden tables aglow with candlelight.
Chef Benjamin Loiseau hails from Paris, and his menu offers bistro classics: steak and frites, salads, steak tartare, as well as beef, chicken, lamb or fish roasts for two. In true French style, it's meat-heavy, with little to offer vegetarians apart from the salads.
We begin with cocktails from a beautifully designed list: a sharp negroni and a French 75. The wine list offers mostly local labels, with a few international drops and less common styles, and a reasonable choice by the glass.
Service is warm and relaxed, and the only slip is in the 20-minute wait for our cocktails - tucked into a back corner by a fireplace, we are beginning to worry we've been forgotten.
The cocktails arrive shortly before our entree of yellowfin tuna carpaccio dressed with mirin, tiny herbs and black sesame seeds. It's followed by another shared starter, a generous, tender beef tartare served with a crunchy red cabbage and parmesan coleslaw and thrice-cooked chips with a deeply garlicky aioli that are very good - soft and crisp as opposed to crunchy, and still attached to their skins. (I'm told later the kitchen went through 10 recipes before settling on this one.) We've also ordered a chopped salad of cos lettuce with a soft poached egg, toasted croutons and hard, savoury goat's cheese.
Our roast chicken, meanwhile, has been prepared with a crust of piment d'Esplette (a mild chilli named for the French town where it's grown), and is served at the table whole before it's whipped away for carving. With its bronzed, slightly spicy skin and tender flesh, accompanied by a golden jus and a small cocotte of cauliflower gratin, it's understated and nourishing.
To finish, we share a tart rhubarb and apple crumble with vanilla-flecked marscapone, and consider a game of Cluedo from the selection of old board games on a nearby shelf.
The last venue in this spot, Guerrilla Bar & Restaurant (partly known for being co-owned by a British former boy-band member), was short-lived. With its formula of charm and comfort, Alfie & Hetty looks set to make itself a more permanent part of the neighbourhood.
Classic bistro and comfort food with a perfectionist edge.
Steak tartare, whole roast chicken, thrice-cooked chips, apple and rhubarb crumble.
4 (out of 5 stars)
- 02 8957 0652
- Cuisine - French
- Prices - Entrees $10-$18, mains $19-$27, dessert $10, cocktails $17, wine by the glass $8.50-$13.
- Features - Licensed
- Chef(s) - Benjamin Loiseau
- Owners - Justin Windle
- Opening Hours - Tue-Sat, 6pm-midnight; Sun, 6-10pm
- Author - Georgia Waters