Est., Sydney, review

Myffy Rigby
Snacks might include a soft-boiled egg with cream corn and caviar.
Snacks might include a soft-boiled egg with cream corn and caviar. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Level 1, Establishment, 252 George Street Sydney, New South Wales 2000

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Opening hours Mon-Fri 12:00 – 2:30 PM 6:00 – 10:00 PM, Sat 6:00 – 10:00 PM, Sun Closed
Features Accepts bookings, Bar, Degustation, Business lunch, Licensed, Long lunch, Romance-first date, Private dining, Wheelchair access, Gluten-free options, Vegetarian friendly, Events
Prices Expensive (mains over $40)
Chef Peter Doyle, Jacob Davey
Seats 120
Payments Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 9240 3000

Here's what I've learned, having dined at the grand matriarch of the Merivale empire twice in the past month. The magic here comes from letting things happen.

I had gone in asking myself the fairly blunt question: does Est. without Peter Doyle, the chef many would argue is the bricks and mortar of this operation, remain a destination restaurant? The answer is yes, but with caveats.

Chef Jacob Davey has stepped into the clogs of Doyle, who exited in June 2018 to run Merivale's in-house apprenticeship program. You can, if you really want to, choose up to four courses from Davey's regular menu. But the return on investment might be a fairly staid experience. His a la carte dishes don't quite translate with the same verve and consistency as his tasting menu. You can play choose-your-own-adventure with the 64-page wine list, too. That's an evening of reading right there, if you want to spend your evening hiding behind the pages of a list.

Big night out: Est. is a grand dining adventure.
Big night out: Est. is a grand dining adventure. Photo: Edwina Pickles

I'd suggest, instead, that a conversation with your sommelier will be very rewarding. Especially since the greatest drawcard at Est. is the deliciously Euro-centric service. I've now discovered one of the saddest looks you can receive from a Frenchman is not to fully embrace this fantastic wine list.

Letting It Happen looks like this:

You'll start with a modest flurry of snacks such as a crisp sliver of chicken skin embellished with a single anchovy and a speck of preserved lemon. That little salt bomb might be followed by a bite of raw mackerel and trout roe, a soft-boiled-and-cream-corned egg served in its own shell with a dollop of caviar, or thin layers of potato, pressed and fried in beef fat until crisp, finished with a spoonful of wagyu tartare and a deft sprinkle of parmesan.

Two plump little fillets of baby snapper.
Two plump little fillets of baby snapper. Photo: Edwina Pickles

If there's a bread emergency amid your 12 or so courses, look to the heavy-set Danish-style glazed rye loaf and generously salted butter that lands on the table after snacks. I'd suggest it's more of a value-add than a genuine highlight. It does, however, provide respite from the super viscous and potent combination of sweet, juicy, thumbnail-sized heirloom tomatoes, bound by a slick of fresh, lean stracciatella, dressed with prawn oil. Further relief is delivered via a finger of lardo-draped pastry.

It's the baby snapper that wins it for me. Two plump little fillets bathe in yuzu kosho butter, scattered with crunchy toasted barley. It's elegant in its simplicity, with just a hint of spicy heat around the edges. And check that rosy squab, its tender young pigeon breast evenly scarlet, and crisp leg (claw on, naturally) a deep blush. To the side, fresh peas, each perfectly halved (I pity the chef who has the job of making sure each is uniformly split). The whole is brightened and soured with slices of quandong.

David Blackmore wagyu, draped in a silken sheet of highly marbled bresaola with its own little warming cup of beef broth, is the dining equivalent of a full stop. It's probably a hit with the black AMEX-toting bro-gade, but I could have finished happily on that squab.

The go-to dish of roast squab.
The go-to dish of roast squab. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Rhubarb compote hiding under a puff of coconut foam is faintly reminiscent of a fruit bliss ball, and while a firm, dusty chocolate mousse sandwiched between rough dark-chocolate sheets with toffeed pumpkin sauce is a little unconventional, its bittersweet attitude is a clever through-line that runs across the menu.

In an age of bare tables and share plates, the grand old days of the waiter swoop (that lavish, almost choreographed action of every dish being placed at the table at the same time) seem to have gone the way of 457 visas.

But the deep comfort of the ivory room, with its faded olive velvet banquettes, arched windows and champagne trolley that glides by loaded with Dom and Veuve, still speaks to the kind of Big Night luxury Sydney fine diners are known for. There's certainly plenty of puff in the place, with 19 years under its belt, if you're happy enough to give in to excess. Lean in.

Chocolate mousse sandwiched between dark-chocolate sheets.
Chocolate mousse sandwiched between dark-chocolate sheets. Photo: Edwina Pickles

The low-down

Drinks An epic 64-page wine list, a dedicated champagne trolley, a lounge for post-dinner drinks and, upstairs, the late-trading cocktail bar Hemmesphere to guarantee a truly liquid evening.

Vegetarian Vegetarians are catered for with a dedicated menu, but do them the favour of calling ahead to let them know.

Go-to dish That roast squab, served claw-on, with quandong (part of the $195-a-head tasting menu).

Pro tip Take a digestive and petit fours in the adjoining lounge, and sink into the cushy furniture.

Terry Durack is on leave.