10 Oxford Street Woollahra, New South Wales 2025
|Opening hours||Fri-Sat from noon; Tue-Sat from 6pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Licensed, Romance-first date|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9331 3222|
Respect. Respect to all those who have gone before at this dinky little two-storey restaurant at the top of Oxford Street – the Claude Cornes, the Damien and Josephine Pignolets, the Tim Pak Poys and the Chui Lee Luks.
But enough. I'm tired of the endless venerating of Claude's. It stops now. You don't inherit a mantle of excellence, or somebody else's reputation, you inherit tomorrow by getting through today as best as you can.
So there were snorts all round at my place when the new owners renamed it St Claude's. Sanctified, no less. Not even Mother Theresa has made it that far. Then more news filtered through. It's a return of sorts for chef Cameron Johnston, who learned to cook in the Claude's kitchen from 1999 to 2001, apprenticed under Tim Pak Poy. Most recently chef de cuisine for Serge Dansereau at Balmoral Beach's Bathers Pavilion, Johnston says he knows this kitchen, these ovens, and those pernickety narrow servants' stairs, like the back of his hand. Probably better. (Who among us really know the back of their hands?)
Together with Stewart Parsons of Bronte Road Bistro, he has restored the two dining rooms to fine-dining luxe, with double-linened tables and that lovely Armani trademark olive green on the walls. The detail is high without being flashy, from the smartly panelled bar to the terraced herb garden at the rear of the courtyard.
Johnston also claims he's not trying to replicate the revered institution of the past, yet it's there in the finesse, in the detail, and in the prices. It insinuates itself onto the menu in the form of the classic Claude's "chocolate indulgence" dessert, and tonight, as a special of a spectacular double-baked gruyere souffle based on Claude's famous souffle a la Suissesse.
Everything feels considered, measured, thought-through. An entree of three handsomely seared scallops sandwiched between two layers of crisp pastry and underfelted with a layer of house-made boudin noir ($20) is a clear statement of intent with its look-at-me structure, compatible flavours and progression of textures.
Some dishes fall on the dainty side of hunger-smashing. A nicely marbled tranche of confit rabbit and cos lettuce terrine is small for $20. Then again, a very fetching cabernet-poached egg – a lighter version of the classic oeufs en meurette, teamed with crisp pancetta, chicken bacon (cured and smoked tenderloins) and elk leaf – is yours for a disproportionate $9.
Mains are confident, if a little over-styled. Crisp-skinned barramundi fillet is teamed with zucchini-wrapped chorizo and squid ink toast crumble ($35), and braised lamb neck is paired with a velvety seaweed puree. Accompanying heirloom cherry tomatoes are coated in a muddy grey mussel and herb emulsion that takes the shine off their fresh acidity. A salad of chunky, crisp cucumber tossed with feta ($10) is a departure from the normal elegance.
Stewart and Jessica Parsons' wine list, a thoughtful mix of local and French labels, with a cracker of a reserve list, offers up a crisp, citrussy 2014 Daniel Dampt petit chablis ($15/$65), a natural with the scallops.
Dainty little rhubarb and ginger souffles ($15) come to the table in the original Claude's copper pots, found tucked away in the kitchen cupboards. Very cute, if a bit like eating hot, airy mousse.
With a chef who knows what he's about, floor staff who are polished yet relaxed, and classy, considered, modern French cooking, St Claude's now casts its own shadow. The ghosts have been laid to rest.
Best bit: The small, grown-up fine diner is back.
Worst bit: Smallish servings.
Go-to dish: Seared scallops with boudin noir pastry, jerusalem artichoke ($20).
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.