For a cook, it changes everything when you have a garden. Suddenly every herb, vegetable or tomato is precious, and you want to keep that specialness alive in the cooking and not waste, overcook or otherwise diminish them.
For a chef, it changes everything, too. It's as if your vegetable supplier suddenly dumps four boxes of radishes on your doorstep instead of the asparagus, beans and wild mushrooms you ordered. So you design your menu around radishes. You put them into salads, you use them to garnish fish, you pickle them. People try them, they appreciate the reality behind your fresh, seasonal cooking, and they come back. No more radish surplus.
Therein lies the most beguiling feature of Chiswick, the newie from Aria's Matt Moran and Peter Sullivan. No, not the contemporary glasshouse-inspired space from Humphrey + Edwards, not the white bentwood chairs, not the open kitchen nor the long communal-tabled bar area, but the 150-square-metre vegetable garden to the side of the former Pruniers restaurant in the immaculately groomed Chiswick Gardens. Right now, it's jumping out of its skin with cherry tomatoes, rosa radishes, purple basil, lemon balm, mint, lavender, rosemary and French tarragon.
So ordering is easy. There are pickled garden vegetables as a nibble ($10) and a small but dazzling salad of rosa radish, marinated cucumber, mint and goat's curd ($22) that's all brightness and lightness. The garden gets raided again for a gentle gathering of plump, well-made veal ravioli ($22) that in the past would probably be heavily sauced and doused with cheese. Instead, it is strewn with broad beans, baby nasturtium leaves, shiso leaves, diced boiled egg and a lovely dressing.
That's what having a garden does for you. It lightens things. Instead of dreaming up wacky flavour combos in front of a computer, you simply work with what already exists and is already compatible.
A sense of self-sufficiency flows through to the big share main courses of lamb and grass-fed beef, from the Moran family farm at Rockley, near Bathurst.
The shoulder of lamb ($65) has been brined first, then roasted in the wood-fired oven for about four hours until it shreds off the bone. No carving is necessary and there's no taint of mutton fat; just the long, almost herbal, flavour of lamb.
As one of Moran's greatest early mentors, the late Joan Campbell, would have said, it's ''bloody delicious''. The only problem is it's too big to share between two.
I suggest you share between three or even four; the restaurant's profit margins be damned.
The rest of the menu is a bit all over the place but it's only the things that depart from Chiswick's core values that tend to be unconvincing. Using the American term ''sliders'' doesn't sit easily with the herbal, botanical and local philosophy. And deep-fried chicken, really?
Aria's chief sommelier, Matthew Dunne, has put together a stunner of a drinks list, with pitchers of pink, fruity things, Bloody Mary cocktails and home-made sodas (a bit wishy-washy). There's no big-dick tome of museum wines; just a good, balanced list of desirable labels helpfully assembled under headings such as ''textural, bold whites'' and ''elegant, perfumed reds'', including a savoury, supple 2010 Lark Hill pinot noir from Canberra.
Desserts might be missing a trick by not making more of the produce from garden and orchard.
A puffy, oversized ''eclair'' made with Valrhona Caramelia (chocolate caramel) and topped with almond sable ($17) is overly sweet for me, but the neighbouring plums are a treat.
Chiswick is an instant hit with the mix of A-listers and the older, lunchier, eastern suburbs crowd, and you'll be hard-put to get a table for a while yet.
While Moran can't stay away, he's more focused on Aria and his media commitments; leaving the kitchen here with Simon Sandall and Tim Bryant. Floor staff are generally cluey, and reservations are not only taken (thank the Lord) but well-governed by Marta Presciutti. Thanks are due for returning this iconic dining room to Sydney. It's a gift; a genuinely pleasant, lovely, graceful place to be.
It's also much more together than I anticipated, with a real sense of integrity coming through the produce and a kitchen clever enough to keep it simple and interesting. But why stop there? There should be some Moran family lambs grazing on the rolling lawns, a couple of wagyu calves, and a pond full of trout as well as radishes and purple basil. Woollahra Council, we live in hope.
We use the same ratings in our reviews as The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide.
Best bit The vegetable garden.
Worst bit Sharing huge plates between just two.
Go-to dish Salad of rosa radish, marinated cucumber, mint, and goat's curd, $22.
Address 65 Ocean Street, Woollahra, 8388 8688, chiswickrestaurant.com.au.
Open Lunch and dinner Tues-Sun.
Cost About $135 for two, plus wine.
- (02) 8388 8688
- Cuisine - Contemporary
- Prices - About $135 for two, plus drinks, About $135 for two, plus drinks
- Opening Hours - Lunch and dinner daily
- Author - Terry Durack