Sunday, 16 December 2012

Sel et Poivre, Darlinghurst

'Sel et poivre', when translated to English, means 'salt and pepper'. It's a humble name for a humble French bistro. However, where that French bistro is situated outside of its country of origin, its status is elevated and high expectations are drawn - that one will come across actual Parisian fare eaten by real French people. Considering that thus far I've had better experiences eating French food in restaurants situated outside of France (my last expedition in the Parisian food scene did not yield much satisfaction), my biggest motivation in visiting Sel et Poivre was to reminisce over escargots.

Having spent part of my childhood in Malaysia, I grew up appreciating Western food cooked well, as when done poorly in an Asian country, it can taste very very wrong! Some of my fondest memories include visiting Lafite in Shangri La KL on special occasions and gorging on breadsticks, slices of baguette, escargots and fresh sorbet in between courses. While the style of Lafite tends towards fine dining, the largest impression that it left on my young palate was this equation: Snails = Yummy.

So what does this have to do with Sel et Poivre? Well, escargots are a bit of a rarity here in Sydney. It's hard to find them in groceries, and almost as hard to find them in restaurants. This meant I was all excitement at the prospect of seeing a dozen snail shells sitting on a silver platter immersed in garlic butter sauce.

Sel et Poivre is situated on that strip of Darlinghurst that everyone visits to eat at Gelato Messina, the Victoria Room, Wow Cow, etc. We were greeted by a friendly waitress who gave us the option of selecting where to sit. We decided on outdoor seating, facing the street.

Watching the world go by...
Using my peripheral vision, I eyed the basket of baguette and was just about to open my mouth to order it, when the waitress preempted me and asked if we wanted bread to go with the escargots.

And so our orders were taken and the escargots arrived, bathed in parsley and garlic butter sauce. I was pretty disappointed that they came without the shells - though serving only a decorative function, part of the fun in eating snails is extracting them with tongs and miniature prongs! The texture was slightly chewy, as it should be, and the sauce didn't overpower the seafood flavour of the snail meat. Nevertheless, there was something missing - maybe there was too little garlic? I can't really place my finger on it.

Escargots - 1/2 Dozen ($9.90)
 Our basket of baguette was served with standard packets of melted butter. The bread was lightly toasted, crunchy on the outside and soft, dense and warm on the inside. It was a pretty nice filler and went well with both the escargot sauce and our mains.

Basket of 1/2 baguette ($3.50)
I'd ordered the beef cheeks, which were immersed in Burgundy sauce, soft carrots, a bit of diced tomato, and mushrooms. The Burgundy sauce was incredibly rich, so I couldn't really eat too much of it. The highlight of the dish was definitely the marinated beef itself, as it was tender and fell apart with a slight motion of my knife.

Beef cheeks ($23.90)
 As my friend had also ordered something that attracted a side of fries, they combined both of our servings of fries into one basket. They weren't limp, but they weren't very crunchy either - though they became pretty addictive after dipping it in the Burgundy sauce!

I sampled the steak tartare that my friend ordered, which had the option of being uncooked or seared. She chose the seared option. It was served at room temperature, which was surprising at first, as we'd figured that the searing would have created more heat. The accompanying sauce was Bearnaise, a rich combination of butter, vinegar and egg - tasting a lot like mayonnaise.

Steak tartare ($19.90)
Afterwards we took a look at the dessert menu and were amused to see that Sel et Poivre had self-proclaimed their creme brulee to be authentic. Nevertheless, we decided to pass on partaking of the sweets there, as we were planning a dessert crawl through Boon Chocolates and Gelato Messina.

All in all, Sel et Poivre is worth a try. The decor is charming, the service is friendly, the food is alright and the portions are generous (and I think I actually heard some French being spoken on the premises). However, from what I've tasted, it's not so memorable that I would actually revisit it (particularly with all the other tempting restaurants nearby).

Cafe Sel Et Poivre on Urbanspoon

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