ester, Chippendale

Sunday, October 15, 2017

ester is a restaurant that I have been dying to try for quite some time now. This Chippendale favourite delivers honest, punchy food and has gained a cult status on the Sydney restaurant scene. 

The restaurant sits unassumingly in a suburban Chippendale warehouse-style building, just off Regent Street. It's chockers full of diners even when we visit early on a Monday night. The vibe is casual and laid-back, with warm, naked globe lighting, dark mahogany banquettes and minimalist table settings.

The menu is a mix of small and larger plates designed to share. Each dish is a combination of two or three main ingredients that read simply on paper, but transform into clever, refined dishes on the table. One of the more heavily utilised kitchen features is the wood-fired oven, which provides the backbone to more than a few of the dishes on the concise menu. 

We opt for the set menu, which is a well-rounded selection of ester's must-try dishes. All of them are relatively light as separate courses, but the set menu as a whole delivers a generous amount of food that is more than enough to keep you happy and full by the end of the night. Smaller courses come as a separate serving per person and large plates shared at the table. We're pleased to be told that the menu can be adapted to suit any dietary requirements.

Roasted oyster / horseradish / finger lime
Gently warmed in the wood-fired oven, this oyster is the perfect summation of everything that ester represents: understated, quirky, sublime. The heat of the fire takes away the strong, metallic undercurrent of the shellfish to render it smooth, creamy and sweet. It's topped with a warming horseradish emulsion, and droplets of finger lime provide little pops of zing.

Fermented potato bread / kefir cream
If there is one thing that you must try at ester, it's this gorgeous potato bread. It's quite possibly one of the best breads I've ever eaten. Fresh from the oven, it's a rustic, plump little round with an alluring, spotted charred crust that protects an unbelievably fluffy, moist crumb. The bread has that slightly sour, fermented tang, and is just as good on its own as it is with the kefir cream and dashi jelly that comes with it. The cool, slightly tart cream goes exceptionally well with the coolness of the wobbly umami, jelly. It's a match made in heaven.

Zucchini flower / salted egg
A single zucchini flower is separated into two: the stem burnished and dusted in ash, the flower filled with salted egg. The stalk has a tender, sweet bite, while the yolk inside the flower is cooked until just gooey in the centre. The egg really is quite salty, and can be a little overwhelming upon first taste. 

Blood sausage sanga
Blood sausage isn't typically something I'd order off the menu, but of course I had to give this a go. A bite-sized sausage is served the good old fashioned way with caramelised onions and aioli, atop a slice of handmade steamed white bread. It's not as bloody as one would think - the sausage itself has sweet, slightly metallic notes to it, and has a chewier texture compared to more traditional sausage varieties. 

Prawn / cabbage / koji butter
Underneath a theatrical, sculptured dehydrated cabbage leaf lies a succulent, fat prawn doused in an uber-delicious koji butter. Further research informs us that koji is a fermented rice product which is used as the base ingredient for miso and soy. In this dish, it brings out the sweet flavour of the prawns. Hidden underneath the shellfish is a salty, fragrant ginger and shallot sauce. Everything on the plate here is just delicious.

Potato pasta / potato dashi / pepper leaf
Although this potato pasta wasn't an item on the set menu, my dining companion had it as a substitute for the prawn dish because of dietary requirements. The pasta was something I was extremely curious about when I saw it on the regular menu, so it was good we got to try it! It's made using potato flour, and forms a single, wide sheet that sits in a potato dashi broth flavoured with pepper leaf. The pasta is silky smooth, and the whole dish reminds us of a giant wonton in terms of texture and flavour (sans the filling). A creative and intriguing dish.

Hanger steak / onion / anchovy
This is a beautifully aesthetic dish, with slices of rare hanger steak laid in a row and topped with long shards of lightly picked onion. The meat has a blackened, caramelised outer crust and is a blushing, tender deep pink. I'd usually avert from having beef this rare, however this dish is cooked so well and the meat is so unbelievably tender and juicy that I really enjoy it. The hanger steak is a really nicely marbled piece of meat, and the mellow onions help cut through the richness of the whole dish. The anchovy jus has aniseed undertones and is so incredibly packed full of flavour that a little goes a long way. This would usually be poured on top, however because of the fish allergies it comes on the side. We're also served with a rich pancetta jus as a substitute for said allergies. 

Cauliflower / almond / mint (front) and Butter lettuce / sesame / pea / wakame (back)
A whole portion of cauliflower is roasted in the wood-fired oven so that it takes on a smoky, sweet char. It's jazzed up with chopped roasted almonds, mint and a creamy almond sauce on the side. This cauliflower is so good that I'd be more than happy to have it just on its own; it's a really good demonstration of how meat-free eating doesn't mean that you have to skimp on flavour. A fresh, leafy butter lettuce salad is the perfect source of relief to give our tastebuds a break from the relatively richer steak. It's a tumble of crisp green butter lettuce, wakame and pea tendrils, tossed simply in a light dressing. Although we probably would've normally overlooked this on the menu, we're glad that we have this as a refreshing palate cleanser. 


Three milks / rosemary / olive oil
This was probably the most surprising, ingenious dish of the night. A combination of sheep's milk yoghurt and light-as-air milk pannacotta sit atop smears of sweet, golden dulce de leche in this mind-blowingly delicious creation. At the very bottom of the creamy white softness is a toasty rosemary biscuit crumb which provides a wonderfully earthy flavour and rubbly texture to each mouthful. A touch of olive oil adds a fruity dimension. 

Leftover sourdough ice cream
This is the perfect dessert for those who don't like anything too sweet; or those who just love bread full stop. Bread is made the star of the show in a leftover sourdough ice cream, which is finished with a rubble of blackened sourdough crumbs. The ice cream has a malt-like flavour that is hard to pinpoint, and a super smooth, creamy texture. An absolute winner to top off the night. 

ester is top game contemporary dining. It's not over the top, exuberant cooking, but rather cooking that truly celebrates ingredients for what they are and showcases them at their very best. It's somewhere you'll definitely want to come back to eat at again and again. 


Ester Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

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