It's Bat Cave dark inside Yellow. Photo: Fiona Morris
The real, enduring appeal of the French bistro is not that the tablecloth is checked, the steak comes with frites, and the mousse is chocolate, but that we all know what to expect. With recognition, comes comfort and security.
The ''Bentley Boys'' behind this alleged new bistro in Potts Point have clearly missed that memo. Nick Hildebrandt and Brent Savage don't do tablecloths; there are no frites, and nothing recognisable as chocolate mousse. Instead, their preferred business model seems to be to avoid the obvious. There is nothing at Yellow, for example, that is yellow.
Having rethought the idea of a wine bar at nearby Monopole, they've now become bistronomists, joining that contemporary Parisian movement of serving gastronomic dishes in a casual bistro setting. And by moving into Potts Point's historic Yellow House building, one-time home to the famed '70s artists' collective, they've cleverly given themselves room to grow.
Lamb tongues with endive, pickled green raisins and puffed black rice. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Oldies not convinced about sharing all that small-plate stuff at Monopole will prefer Yellow's more structured menu. It may not be long, but it's diverse and interesting, with starters ranging from slow-cooked ocean trout with fennel and green almonds ($18) to a little bowl of crunchy, salty, imploded beef tendon crisps ($4). Braised, pressed, finely sliced, dehydrated, and finally deep-fried, they're definitely the new salt and vinegar chips for the well-heeled.
Savage has applied his usual ingredient-driven restlessness to come up with everything from organic chicken with black garlic and celtuce (celery lettuce), to a coconut sorbet with lime, mint and cucumber soup. Lamb tongues ($17) tickle my fancy; the sliced, brined-then-braised tongues resting on a little ravigote sauce, strewn with pickled raisins and sweet onion and tossed with a gravel pit of crisp, puffed black rice.
Zingy pickled mussels and clams come in a conga line, pimped with a shellfish liquor sauce and cubes of pickled zucchini, sliced zucchini and creamy zucchini puree ($16).
The wine list has a decidedly French accent, brokered by Hildebrandt into sections running from Hipster Whites to Soft, Juicy, Smashable Reds. Again, it's in the Bentley/Monopole mould, highlighting natural wines and focusing on newly fashionable grape varieties such as gamay, including a fleshy, intense 2011 Corcelette Morgon from Daniel Bouland ($58). "Old wines, young winemakers, low yields," says Hildebrandt, pouring. "Heaven."
It's a majorly good choice with the crisp-skinned lamb belly ($24), full of sweet fat lambiness, bolstered with a gutsy lamb jus, shaved celery, broad beans and a delicate potato and yoghurt cream. As light and clear as the lamb is dark and moody, softly steamed mulloway ($28) comes bathed in a gentle emulsion of fish stock and olive oil, topped with fine tendrils of pea sprouts. The absence of frites is a brave move, and one that turns the halved jacket potatoes topped with sour cream and chives ($10) into a popular side order.
Designer Pascale Gomes-McNabb has worked with what was left after the demise of the short-lived Brass restaurant, adding smoked mirrors, distressed wall textures, exposed brick and Arne Jacobsen chairs to create a fashionably worn space of bomb-shelter gloom. Former Bentley staff are still bedding down the service; food comes fast one night, slow the next.
And don't expect anything as bleeding obvious as tarte tatin. Instead, an ice-cream sandwich ($15) is a refined finger of lovely goatmilk yoghurt ice-cream in wafers of dehydrated pistachio cake, and tangy little riffs on orange and strawberries.
With its rich, unpredictable, almost whimsical food, Yellow is not the bistro as we know it. Which is absolutely fine, because whatever it is, it works a treat.
Best bit: Classy food, casual vibe
Worst bit: It's Bat Cave dark
Go-to dish: Lamb tongues with endive, pickled green raisins and puffed black rice $17
- 02 9332 2344
- Cuisine - Contemporary, Modern Australian
- Prices - About $100 for two, plus drinks
- Features - Licensed, Accepts bookings
- Owners - Nick Hildebrandt and Brent Savage
- Opening Hours - Dinner daily
- Author - Terry Durack