You know Justin and Georgia North must be onto a good thing when you see the mini-empire they’ve built for themselves on the top level of Westfield in the CBD. There’s the bakery, the burger bar Charlie and Co, their fine diner Bécasse and Quarter Twenty One, which even has its own shop and cooking school attached to the front of the restaurant. For restaurateurs in Sydney, it’s pretty much like taking over a whole street in Monopoly.
Quarter Twenty One’s restaurant is a bit of a head-scratcher, though. When the Norths said they were planning to take Bécasse to rarefied new heights when it moved from Clarence Street to Westfield they also announced that they’d be opening a more casual restaurant. But Quarter Twenty One isn’t entry-level in price or style.
The problem is it doesn’t feel quite special enough to justify the price tag, and it’s not relaxed enough to make for the great smart-casual lunch option that’s still missing from the Westfield mix. It isn’t quite as fancy as Bécasse and not so reasonably priced that you might consider dropping in for lunch a couple of times a week. Yes, they have a prix fixe menu (2 courses for $50) but for the most part, it’s fairly exxy.
And that’s without even touching the outstanding wine list, which is shared between both restaurants. You can also purchase quite a few of the wines off the list in the adjoining store. Neat!
But why go to Quarter Twenty One when for a little more money you can hit up Bécasse? For one thing, this is the more comfortable restaurant. Unlike Bécasse’s weird love lounges, the big padded seats mean business, not canoodling. It’s a large, open-plan space with great, heavy tables, cushy armchairs and banquettes that’s pretty much crying out for corporate lunches, as is the $120 roast beef for two.
Unfortunately, Q21 isn’t equipped with its own toilets. That means a trip to the public amenities near Priceline. They're very nice public toilets, though. And just look at the bargain hairspray we picked up on the way back!
Back to that prix fixe – you might start with a tartare of ocean trout and then move onto wide ribbons of pappardelle with a very chunky pork ragout. It’s a good way to go if you’re in a hurry/can’t decide. But if you’re settling in for a longer sesh, start with the scarlet ballotine of quail, arranged in one quadrant of the plate. It’s joined by a trail mix of golden, toasted oats, lightly poached and spiced quince segments, fresh pistachios shining like little green jewels and a slick of pan juice.
A hunk of glazed-and-braised pork neck is joined by a disc of choucroute – that’s sauerkraut for Frenchies – and a pair of tempura prawns. It’s finished with a single piece of crunchy battered-and-fried pig’s ear and pressed, roasted parsnip. If you’re really settling in, you might go for the seven-course degustation. They do a vegetarian version, too.
We’re very happy to see the banana crème brulee, with its pebbles of peanut brittle, sliced banana, tiny meringues and hi-hat of coffee ice cream, has made it from the original Bécasse digs on Clarence Street.
We can’t help but wonder if Quarter Twenty One hewed a bit more to the classical bistro style, or just presented simpler food with cleaner lines, that it might be a bit buzzier, and maybe even do Bécasse a favour by being better differentiated in the process. Bécasse is fancy enough for three restaurants and the last thing Sydney needs are more fine-dining options. Lose the cannelloni of oxtail with pickled tongue and smoked scallops, we say, and bring on the steak frites.