57-59 Macleay Street Potts Point, New South Wales 2011
|Opening hours||Dinner daily; Brunch Sat-Sun 8am-3pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Breakfast-brunch, Family friendly, Green-eco focus, Licensed, Outdoor seating, Romance-first date, Wheelchair access|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Chef||Brent Savage, Adam Wolfers|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9332 2344|
|Free wine for Citibank cardholders here|
"It's too much," says my favourite vegetarian. "I'm overwhelmed."
I should have warned her. Vegetarians are so accustomed to searching through the menu for that one token meat-free dish, it must be quite a shock to be able to choose anything. Let's just say my pal Esther has eaten a lot of mushroom risotto in her time.
But now she's dithering between salted carrot, buckwheat and kale, and charred leek with pressed curd and black garlic, while sipping a glass of organic, vegetarian, German riesling.
As of February 17, Brent Savage and Nick Hildebrandt of the Bentley Restaurant Group radically altered the direction of their popular Potts Point bistro, Yellow, switching to an all-vegetarian dinner menu seven days a week. It shouldn't be as big a news story as it is – the gastronomic world has quietly been putting a higher value on vegetables for some time now. Yet each time a top chef goes cold turkey (in 2001 at Alain Passard's l'Arpege in Paris, and in 2014 at Alain Ducasse's Plaza Athenee restaurant), the world seems shocked anew.
And I'm here to tell you, something very beautiful happens when vegetables are treated with the same high level of creativity as fish, red meat or poultry.
Golden, glowing, spiced pumpkin crisps ($7) arrive with a creamy, sweet pumpkin puree – just lovely.
Small rolls of pickled daikon lurk amid a green pea mousse, fresh peas and nasturtium leaves with a toasted buttermilk crumb ($24); a fresh, clever dish with balanced acidity.
If there's a textural thread going through Savage and head chef Adam Wolfers' menu, it's ribbons. Purple-tinged, lightly crunchy ribbons of roasted kohlrabi sit on a bed of noodle-like enoki mushrooms with a spoonful of vegetable broth ($25); and streamers of golden beetroot are super-boosted with malt, radicchio powder and house-made plum vinegar ($17).
Furls of parsnip "pappardelle" are presented with a rising sun of egg yolk, a dreamy parsnip puree, parsnip crisps and a reduced parsnip stock ($30), then dusted with dried mushrooms and almonds for a rich umami hit. Wow. I mean wow.
It's hard to comprehend just how appealing these bright, lively, savoury dishes are; the vegetables raw, salted, marinated, dehydrated, pickled, smoked or compressed, rather than overly processed into something that they are not.
Yellow's smart-casual style and deliberately raw, organic, romantic dining rooms are a good fit for the new regime, and the service team is quietly, confidently, efficient.
Meat-eaters are often wary of vegetarian food and its lack of complexity and acidity; no danger here with a meaty dish of miso-marinated eggplant with parmesan custard and whey ($28), or a dramatic mound of black rice inoculated with koji (a fungus used in the production of soy sauce) and covered in a skin of finely sliced snake beans ($26).
Desserts are from the same balanced hand. A crime scene of blood-red plums compressed in plum syrup and served with fennel pollen ice-cream ($15) is late summer in the mouth.
Hildebrandt's wine list leans to ever more natural and biodynamic wines in order to meet the vegetal flavour notes, such as a bright, complex, elegant 2014 Serrat Pinot Noir ($82) from the Yarra Valley made by Yabby Lake's talented Tom Carson.
To have such an intuitive chef cook meat-free at such a high level is new, exciting, and a real signpost for the industry. And Esther? "I now have somewhere to go," she says.
As do we all.
Best bit: It doesn't look, feel or taste vegetarian.
Worst bit: No pork belly.
Go-to dish: Parsnip pappardelle + egg yolk + pine mushrooms, $30.
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.