Photo: Marco Del Grande
How would you be? You're a restaurant industry professional, a gun for hire who has worked with some of the best in town. You have a soft spot for a little place in Annandale that you've seen through its time as Three Clicks West and Da Gianni and you helped the current owners set up as a ma-and-pa bistro a few months ago. Then, tonight, you get a call.
The manager has suddenly left, citing personal reasons. There's a busy dinner service coming up and they need your help. And just as you're trying to work out how to use the cash register, who walks in but the bloody Sydney Morning Herald restaurant critic.
All credit to Shane McKendry, then, that instead of a meltdown, I get a quick smile of welcome, an ushering to a booth, a menu, wine list, sea salt, pepper grinder, votive candle, and a drinks order taken; all within minutes. As does everyone else who walks in.
That's why I love this industry. People like McKendry never win awards. They don't go on TV shows They're people who go home with sore feet and aching backs, knowing they've put in a good night's work. We wouldn't have a hospitality industry if it wasn't for them.
There are chefs like that, too; thousands of them. They do their best to feed people, to train staff, to build a small business and to have a life as well. Wayne and Teresa Borgese-Coom, of Booth St Bistro, are two of them. Both have been chefs for 20 years, with Wayne working in New Zealand before years at Bayswater Brasserie and Dietmar Sawyere's Forty One. Now they're hunkering down together in the inner-west and I've wandered in, simply grateful to be somewhere warm and hospitable on a particularly vicious Sydney night.
With its charming double-barrelled shop-front windows, split-level floors, panelled wooden booths and backlit bar, it's easy to want to settle in for the season, not just the evening. Then the bread and butter lands; hand-churned butter from St Peters' Pepe Saya and bread from Camperdown's Fuel Bakery; both fresh, both local.
There's no particular direction to a menu that starts with seared scallops with capsicum caramel and black pudding and goes on to confit duck on braised red cabbage but the bistro umbrella has always covered both plain and fancy. So do the entrees, with Macleay Valley rabbit and foie gras terrine ($16) that's well made and surprisingly creamy, cheekily paired with a swish of good carrot puree, figs and dense ginger cake that's like a sweet pain d'epices.
Mackerel escabeche ($16) is a more confronting slab of lightly soused mackerel, gussied up with little splotches of confit red pepper and baby salad leaves. It's fine but it doesn't quite know if it's meant to be hearty or delicate.
There's a short, easy-reading wine list including a 2009 Seresin Sauvignon Blanc from Central Otago ($12/$56) that's long on citrus charm.
Main courses are more familiar territory, with a piled-high platter of slow-braised Riverina lamb shoulder ($28) in its own wine-enriched stewy juices, ladled over a mountain of silky, buttery mash. It's heart-warming stuff, with a home-cooked quality about it.
And yes, there will be steak, a tender, grill-marked, 120-day-old grain-fed Diamantina Scotch fillet ($28) that all but covers the plate, with a glossy, mossy ball of wilted spinach and bowl of chips included. There's a ladleful of dark jus as well as a slab of Cafe de Paris butter on top; something I find generous to a fault.
I've never been sure why the French are so enamoured of their batter-based pudding, clafoutis ($14). Even with little-miss-personality rhubarb in it, it's still just a thick crepe cooked in a bowl.
Places such as Booth St Bistro are the bread and butter of the restaurant industry; small, neighbourhood, try-hard dining rooms run by hard-working couples. Nice places and good value because they can keep a lid on their costs and because nobody's driving a Maserati home any time soon. At a local level, they add to our sense of community; at a higher level, they're the canaries of the industry, the first to cark it when the ecosystem is endangered.
So get out there and find your own local bistro, or you'll only have yourself to blame when it turns into another mobile phone store.
Address: 127 Booth Street, Annandale, 9660 6652, boothstbistro.com
Open: Breakfast and lunch,
Sat-Sun; dinner, Tues-Sun
Licensed (BYO Tues-Wed, corkage $10 a bottle)
Cost: About $100 for two, plus wine
- 02 9660 6652
- Prices - about $100 for two, plus wine, about $100 for two, plus wine
- Opening Hours - breakfast and lunch, Sat-Sun; dinner, Tues-Sun
- Author - Terry Durack Restaurant Review