Woollahra Hotel, 116 Queen Street Woollahra, New South Wales 2025
|Features||Accepts bookings, Business lunch, Long lunch, Outdoor seating, Wheelchair access|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9327 9713|
Long before he was ousted from parliament in a leadership spill, legend has it you could find Malcolm Turnbull at Bistro Moncur every service. At first glance, a 15-metre, black and white mural painted by Michael Fitzjames for the restaurant's launch in 1993 appears to be a stylised frieze of imaginary diners. According to reports at the time of its unveiling, however, locals claimed they could identify notable media lunchees such as hotshot banker Turnbull and one-time Packer lieutenant Trevor Kennedy.
Now, between you and me, I'll be damned if I can pick out either of them, but that mural still brings a buoyancy to Moncur's dining room more than 25 years after it was commissioned. Attached to the Woollahra Hotel, this is the kind of place that facilitates good times, conversation and another bottle of bordeaux because: why not?
Moncur began life as a partnership between property developer Ron White and Damien Pignolet, already well known to Sydney diners as the owner-chef of Claude's a few blocks away on Oxford Street. It was the place to be seen in the early '90s when Harbour City fashionistas would long lunch over duck confit and slow-cooked calf's liver. Noise levels were so high in those days that local wags reportedly referred to the restaurant as "Disco Moncur".
Publican John Ryan bought the building after White's death in 2011 and Pignolet left Moncur six months later. The investor-backed Public House Management Group took control of the hotel in 2015 and enticed Pignolet to return earlier this year. The industry legend is now employed as an "ambassador" for the restaurant, working closely with executive chef Mark Williamson to develop new dishes and nail the classics.
Dishes still hit the "good, honest and easily identifiable" brief Pignolet set himself in 1993 and pure pork sausages with potato puree and lyonnaise onions have featured on the menu since that first year. The potato is fluffy enough to scoop into a pillowcase and snooze on (I'm not saying you should, I'm just saying you could) and the spiced snags burst with delicious teeth-coating fat that demands hosing down with pinot.
All crudo and gravlax should come with a warm slice of sourdough, as does "Damien's salmon" marinated in sauvignon blanc ($26). The thick-cut bread is a brilliant platform for the silky slink of the fish, also cured in allspice and tarragon for further adventures in aromatics. There is Barossa chicken liver pâté ($24) and sirloin with cafe de Paris ($48) because this is a bistro and these things are important.
The wine list balances Old World heavy-hitters with local crackers and a Tyrrell's 2012 Stevens Semillon represents great value at $18 a glass. The semi-aged wine's buttered toast flavours make for a very nice time with pan-fried barramundi fillet on mashed peas textured with sunflower seeds and capers ($44). Later, a too-much-for-one sized bombe alaska ($18) is equal parts rich and refreshing with an intense chocolate ice-cream core countered by a blood orange mantle.
Public House Management announced last week it would be shuttering Bistro Moncur's Mosman outpost, which opened at the Buena Vista Hotel in 2016, to focus on the Woollahra mothership. The story checks out – an icon like Moncur relies on the patronage of its seasoned regulars and you can't copy and paste that loyalty into another suburb, no matter how good your frites are.
With Pignolet lending his expertise to the kitchen again, there hasn't been a better time to visit Moncur in years. And now that our former prime minister has more time on his hands, there's every chance you might find a real-life Malcolm Turnbull tucking into a tomato salad under that mural, too.
Signature dishes Vine-ripened tomato salad ($19); Damien's salmon marinated in sauvignon blanc ($26); pure pork sausages, potato puree and lyonnaise onions ($34); grilled sirloin, cafe de paris butter ($48).
Famous diners Maggie Tabberer, Nick Greiner, Karl Stefanovic, Braith Anasta.