Saturday, 16 March 2013

Universal, Darlinghurst

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Universal restaurant, which has graced Sydney with flavours from all over the globe (and, of course, its fancy twist on the Golden Gaytime), will no longer exist as at the end of April. It is thus why I responded enthusiastically in the affirmative when a friend invited me along on a last minute weeknight venture there.

 Located in a little open square that I didn't know existed, Universal visually stands out from the other restaurants with that distinct orange glow. The random brass statue right next to it is also a great conversation filler. Gravitating towards the light, we claimed our table and perused the menu. Our waiter explained that unlike other restaurants, Universal does not do degustations, but that people order a number of dishes a la carte. The list of savouries are arranged such that the lightest dishes are at the top and the heaviest are at the bottom - with a separate one for the vegetarians.

The recommended number of dishes per person is 3 savouries and 1 dessert, but being a small eater, I stuck to 2 savouries and a dessert. Wise choice in the end, as I was feeling pretty stuffed after the second savoury.

Universal has a pretty extensive drinks menu, but I settled on a detox virgin (mocktail) they called "Ruby Baby". Containing raspberry sorbet, grapefruit, cranberry and lemonade, it was sweet, tart and useful for clearing my palate throughout the night.

Ruby Baby ($9.00)
Next came the complimentary bread, which looked and tasted like brown rye. The accompanying olive oil had a light, bitter aftertaste.

My first savoury dish was the lamb rump, served with roasted pumpkin, saffron rice and spiced chickpeas, smoked almonds and bits of juicy pomegranate. I loved the flavours of the spices, but the lamb was quite rubbery. It's hard to tell in the photo, but the portions were also really small for the price charged - I know saffron is expensive, but it's not that expensive.

Lamb rump ($31.00)
My second course was roasted snapper immersed in a curry gravy and accompanied by cubed tomatoes, spanner crab (sprinkled on top), mint salsa and spiced coconut. The curry was spicy, slightly creamy, and slightly sour. The spanner had a nice flaky texture, made flavoursome on top of its bed of sliced young coconut.

Snapper ($32.00)

 With my whole table ordering the Gaytime Goes Nuts, I decided to deviate from the norm and ordered the Mocha Bomb. Which led to extreme sugar overload. The mocha bomb was a cube of cakey chocolate mousse, espresso ice cream (sandwiched by more dark chocolate), and 2 or 3 balls of chocolate hidden inside. It was probably better to share this one with someone (with a light dessert to balance out all that cocoa).

Mocha Bomb ($20.00)

Interior of chocolate bomb

I sampled bits and pieces of what the others had (including the Gaytime Goes Nuts, of course). Here's what they consumed:

Rabbit ($29.00)
This dish was slow braised rabbit with chorizo, swiss chard and a gruyere cloud. It was encased inside potato and leek pastry. I refused to eat this one because my brother's "children" are rabbits. If you're like me but want to have the cloud, they do have a vegetarian equivalent.

Risotto balls ($28.00)
 This was one of the vegetarian dishes - 3 sizable risotto balls covered in an avalanche of roasted cashew salad.

Duck ($32.00)
I had someone strongly recommend this duck dish to me, so I couldn't resist and stole some. It was sichuan spiced duck with a giant seared sea scallop, asparagus, lychee and smoked eggplant sambal. My forkful didn't contain any eggplant sambal or scallop  but the duck was crunchy and moistened by the fresh lychee.
Venison ($31.00)
This was rare roasted venison with beetroot and horseradish spelt risotto and a goats cheese cigar. I really liked this dish because of the tender but substantial texture of the venison. The risotto was also really tasty. Had a bit of food envy.

Gaytime goes nuts ($25.00)
 The famed tower of gaytime. They really boosted up the price on this one, but considering it won't be around for much longer they could charge $30 for it and heaps of people would still order it. I think what makes it so distinctive is the hazelnut caramel inside and the crunchy tuille skirt. I only had a spoonful and really want to go back and have a whole dish of it, but I was told that after a while it's too sweet and rich. Probably another dessert for sharing.

Little miss sunshine ($20.00)
 The little miss sunshine was a really light dessert, consisting of passionfruit banana and yoghurt sorbet, coconut cloud, papaya, pineapple and passionfruit. It was overall nice and summery, but as much as I love papaya, it was the sore thumb of the dish - too dense and distinctive to match everything else.

Overall, Universal has good flavours and friendly service, but the food is kind of really overpriced.

Universal on Urbanspoon

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