District Brasserie review

Salted caramel custard with chocolate mousse and peanut butter ice-cream.
Salted caramel custard with chocolate mousse and peanut butter ice-cream. Photo: Christopher Pearce

2 Chifley Square Sydney, NSW 2000

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Opening hours Mon-Fri 7am–12am ; Sat-Sun Closed
Features Business lunch, Accepts bookings, Wheelchair access, Gluten-free options, Vegetarian friendly, Licensed
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 9230 0900

Time is money, folks. So let's see if the newly arrived District Brasserie at the foot of the Chifley tower can pull off the One Hour Business Lunch. After all, 5000 people work in this building, and they're not the sort of people who like hanging around waiting for their steak.

00:00 Ladies and gentlemen, your time starts now. I'm greeted and taken to a generously broad table by a window that looks out to gleaming escalators. Co-owners Sam Loutfi and John, Peter and Leon Vissaritis have clearly spent a mozza on the place, hiring gun designer Paul Kelly to reboot the cafe and patisserie in the lobby and create an imposing free-standing restaurant around a central island bar of green marble and brass, fringed by a contemporary open kitchen complete with Spanish Josper charcoal oven.

00:02 Water glasses land, menus are brought. So far, so good. Chef Mark Knox (BLACK, Public Dining) has put together has put together classic business lunch options that run from Sydney rock oysters to crisp pork belly, lobster spaghetti, roasted half chicken and 800-gram cotes de boeuf to share.

Crumbed flathead, pommes Anna and crushed peas with warm tartare sauce.
Crumbed flathead, pommes Anna and crushed peas with warm tartare sauce. Photo: Christopher Pearce

00:05 Orders taken. It looks as if we'll make it within the hour comfortably.

00:07 Sommelier (the knowledgable Ben Moechtar) turns up with a globe-trotting 120-strong wine list that's built for meat/fish/chicken. It's the 2015 Faiveley chardonnay ($18 glass) for me, always a joy.

00:09 Wine lands.

Steak frites with triple-cooked chips, watercress, and bearnaise.
Steak frites with triple-cooked chips, watercress, and bearnaise. Photo: Christopher Pearce

00:25 The food arrives in 20 minutes flat. Precise without being fussy, it looks good on the plate. Steak tartare ($25) is dramatically topped with a jet-black crumble of smoked onion and squid ink and an electric orange egg yolk. It's well-seasoned with the punchy acidity of pickles and horseradish, and the crisp shards of tapioca crackers are fun.

District Brasserie's take on fish and chips sees a golden, thickly crumbed surfboard of dusky flathead ($29) served with crushed peas. The tartare sauce is thin, but the crisp oblong of pommes Anna is like a buttery millefeuille de spud. As a side, brussels sprouts with bacon lardons and walnut vinaigrette ($9.50) reinforce the humble sprout's born-again status.

Steak frites ($37) sees a sliced, scorchy slab of Jack's Creek sirloin cooked to the requested rare-to-medium-rare and a pile of excellent triple-cooked chips in a tongue-tingly mix of kombu, dashi, parmesan and rosemary dust, with well-made bearnaise sensibly served to the side.

Go-to dish: Steak tartare, smoked onion crumble, horseradish, egg yolk and tapioca cracker.
Go-to dish: Steak tartare, smoked onion crumble, horseradish, egg yolk and tapioca cracker. Photo: Christopher Pearce

00:50 Dishes removed.

00:55 Dessert and coffee orders taken. They're not going to make the magic 60 minutes, but most corporates I know say they'll do 1 hour 15 minutes if they have to.

01:00 The buzzer sounds and the hour is up. But the dessert kitchen fights back, assembling a heady mix of salted caramel custard, Valrhona chocolate mousse and peanut butter ice-cream, studded with feather-light shards of malty meringue, in just five minutes.

Best bit: That you can eat well in the lobby of a huge office block.
Best bit: That you can eat well in the lobby of a huge office block. Photo: Christopher Pearce

01:08 Start looking around to ask for the bill.

01:13 Ask for the bill.

01:15 Paid up and out the door. Longer lunches are, of course, available, as are super-fast breakfasts from the in-house bakery, and leisurely dinners. The multi-tasking all-day operation, casual brasserie elegance and corporate-friendly menus all feel like a good fit for the building, the people, and, of course, the times we live in.

The low-down

Best bit: That you can eat well in the lobby of a huge office block.

Worst bit: You're still in the lobby of a huge office block.

Go-to dish: Steak tartare, smoked onion crumble, horseradish, egg yolk, tapioca cracker ($25).