Represents everything that makes Sydney one of the best places to dine in the world
Winner: Ester Restaurant and Bar
What makes this modest Chippendale establishment Restaurant of the Year? That very thing. Eating in Sydney in 2014 is as much about the good times as it is about what’s on the plate and in the glass. We don’t just open our wallets and say ‘aaaaah’ anymore. More importantly, there isn’t a single place we want to eat at more. They’re doing something completely their own. Chef Mat Lindsay’s turned up the strange on an untamed menu of wood--fired smoke and funk. And man, that guy’s got a way with a green. He’s doing Brussels sprouts three ways at the moment – shaved, roasted and boiled – tossed with mint and garnished with a coddled egg. Gently braised cabbage tossed with seaweed has a sort of forest--meets--the--sea thing going for it.
While they’re not afraid to get a little experimental, there’s always a solid grounding to their dishes. The kitchen is mostly made up of a giant wood--fired oven, which has its toasty perks. Roasted oysters might be an almost sordid prospect in the wrong hands but at Ester, mixed through with minced raw beef and grated horseradish sauced with fried--then--blitzed eggs, it really works. Especially scooped up with a side of house-made potato crisps. Though the menu is an ever--evolving roll call of rustic originality, there are a few mainstays like the blood sausage sanga: pinkie--sized morcilla on a piece of steamed white bread with a squiggle of aioli – a soft, sweet and giving sandwich with great snap. And if you’ve ever dreamed of walking into a restaurant and ordering a whole head of cauliflower, here’s your chance. Lindsay’s serving his with chopped--up bits of toasted almond, almond cream and a scattering of mint.
Oh, and that’s the other thing: you can eat at the bar if you don’t feel like sitting down for a full meal. They’re extremely glass--and--a--plate friendly here, with subdued, almost dreamy, off--focus lighting and poured concrete. The wine list – as eccentric, smart and funk--driven as the menu – features the likes of the Si Vintners pinot rosé. Only a few bottles of this exceptional Margaret River vino actually make it to Sydney tables – such is the popularity and cult -appeal of the little vineyard. Never one to stand still and rot, Lindsay recently added Friday and Sunday lunch to his repertoire. There’s plenty of the popular evening gear available, as well as a few specials, and a hell of a cheeseburger. A soft, steamed bun holds a patty of chuck, brisket and pork jowl covered in melted cheese and boosted with a little speck jam. As good as Mary’s? We’d say different, but no less tasty. Ester is not a Quay, a Rockpool, a Marque, a Seiobo. Sure, you might not enjoy the same level of arse cushioning, and there aren’t large wads of cash backing it. But the skill in the kitchen is on par, punch for punch. There’s nothing to hate at Ester and everything to love.
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Everything you expect from a restaurant of this calibre: waitstaff who are there when you need them and invisible when you don’t, a menu that straddles classic and modern technique, all in ultra--luxe surrounds. Sydney.