92 Hargrave Street Paddington, New South Wales 202102 9302 5222
|Opening hours||Lunch Fri & Sat from noon; Dinner Tues-Sat from 5.45pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Licensed, Business lunch|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
One entire page of the vast leather-clad wine list here is devoted to "The Jimmys", winners of the famous Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy from the past 40 years. It's a compelling symbol of the depth and breadth of the new Guillaume in Paddington.
The equally symbolic menu could well be called The Guillaumes, with its collection of Guillaume Brahimi's greatest hits and latest releases. Crowd-pleasers, such as a rich turban of scampi, appear from his 10 years at the Sydney Opera House, and a basil-infused tuna from his first restaurant, Pond, in 1994.
There's no sense of loss over the move to Paddington. Instead, Brahimi has rigorously and charmingly made this quixotic, two-storey corner site the Australian home of how-it-should-be-done, modern classic French cuisine. He has stayed true, like a long-lost lover, to the paradigm of French dining that dictates a small fortune be spent on the infrastructure. So the lighting is flattering, temperatures are controlled, floors are luxurious, ambience is feminine, and accoutrements are first-class. Tables are clothed not once, not twice, but three times.
New to the menu is roasted Jurassic quail, an excuse for the chef to go mad with Manjimup truffles over a rich tarte fine of leek and spring onion, topped with a fried quail egg. The nicely rested - and yes, giant - quail leg and breast sort of hang about on either side.
If you have just one dish, make it the butter-poached Western Australian marron served with braised pork cheek, the world's smoothest cauliflower puree, and a clever sauce of Ortiz anchovies, rosemary, lemon juice and olive oil. The crustacean is the star - blushingly pink, lightly cooked, and resilient, with a sweetly subtle clarity of flavour.
If you do have one dish, by the way, that will be $48, thanks, going down to $34 each if you have four courses. That pretty much pre-determines the audience will be power-lunchers by day, and cashmere-clad and coiffed eastern suburbs heartland by night. It's expensive, yes - but less so, when the sparkling or still water, Iggy's sourdough rolls, cultured butter, a beautifully dressed leaf salad, and Guillaume's trademark Paris mash (the heaven potatoes go to when they die) are ALL included at no extra charge.
Larger dishes are meticulously assembled trysts of ingredients in love with each other. A high-shouldered, pan-tanned fillet of Glacier 51 toothfish sits on a wafer-thin slice of jamon Iberico with charred endive, lightly pickled artichoke heart and crunchy little batons of salsify, the savouriness offset by a sticky-sweet PX sherry pour-over. A firm, meaty brick of David Blackmore wagyu brisket benefits from its creamy parsnip puree, disc of bone marrow, and deeply delicious ossobuco jus. And if they could leave those bowls of Paris mash and green salad instead of whipping them away half-finished, that would be good, too.
The harbour views may have gone, but there's a real sense of comfort and much that is familiar, with sommelier Chris Morrison, manager Laurence Rogers and nine of the 10 former kitchen brigade on board. From that vast wine list, Bass Phillip's 2010 Gamay ($87) is earthy enough for the beef, and aromatic enough for the toothfish.
Desserts are immaculate and ceremoniously served; a chocolate souffle with cherry ripple ice-cream appearing textbook-perfect, although the chocolate hit is a little mild.
The new Guillaume is charming, sophisticated, pricy, refined and a little bit formal. It won't suit everyone; and nor is it designed to.
This, after all, is not just eating and drinking. This is dining.
Best bit: The return of comfort and luxe
Worst bit: Knives that slip and slide into the sauce
Go-to dish: Western Australian marron, pork cheek, broad beans, cauliflower, sea spray
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.
Correction: The original version of this story listed the price for three courses as $135. That price is for four courses. This has been amended below.