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Arras [Sydney]

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A mixed experience. On one hand the food is superb, the construction of the dishes is done with a great sense of humour and the flavour combinations are fantastic. On the other hand we found the service to be painfully slow and I suspect this contributes to the lack of atmosphere in the dining room this is quite bizarre since Alon Sharman has just won the “SMH Silver Service Award” (Where they there? Was the kitchen swamped by simultaneous arrivals?).

The restaurant is in an old bond store on Hickson Road, so a little walk from the CBD, it is a lovely space with history oozing from the walls, the decor picks up British theme with subtle deconstructed union jacks in the upholstery. The menu on the door has brings to life interestingly named dishes with short descriptions.

We arrive a few minutes early and get offered water, soon some sheets of interesting “lavosh” arrive, each flavoured with different herbs or vegetable, they are stood up in a bowl of peanut brittle. A great start; it would be better with menus and a drink. We demolish the bread and wait. About forty minutes after sitting down we get menus, ten minutes later we get a drink. The problem with the menu is that is doesn’t have the same detail as the menus at the door, it simply has the title of each dish i.e. Squids In or The Raw and The Cooked.

The waiter arrives and she is great at bringing to life each dish with good descriptions. She disappears, we again wait. Eventually we order, and wait. We ask if we could at least have our first entree, “A Plate of British Charcuterie” ($27). The bread arrives, a good selection of home baked breads which are very interesting, then we receive the amuse bouche: half a soft boiled quails egg, a wonderful salad of vegetables including peas and beans bought together with a small quenelle of blue cheese dressing. Very very good, this could be food that is worth waiting for. The first entree arrives, it was worth the wait. It is really good with home made Haslet, a superb Pork Pie some shredded pork, home cured ham, and some soft pork scratching, it is all bought together with a deconstructed piccalilli and pickled onions.

Next we share a “Game Gala Wellington” ($28) and a “Squids in” ($32), the first is a take on a gala pie with a soft boiled egg wrapped in forcemeat and then finished with pastry, it is prettily presented with micro herbs and some spicy relish. The second is a lasagna made with squid as the layers of pasta, some wonderful scallops and blobs of apple topped with foam and again an artful sprinkling of micro herbs. Both dishes are excellent, fun with great flavours.

For mains we order the “Chicken or Fish” ($43) and the “Rossini’s Pigeon” ($46). The fish is served with a wonderfully crisp piece of chicken skin and tiny vegetables, it is all brought together with a wonderfully bright, clear, almost sparkling broth that is poured at he table. Quite a magnificent dish. The Pigeon is similarly sauced at the table with a glorious sticky reduction, it comes with a variety of intensely flavoured mushrooms, some great pate/mouse, and the leg/claw stuffed then wrapped in prosciutto and roasted to give it a slightly macabre appearance standing upright in the middle of the plate. Another magnificent dish with really great depth of flavour.

We go for the cheese trolly as we had seen it wheeled past a few times, the SMH GFG calls this a “highlight”, maybe it is compared to other Sydney restaurants, but all is does is reinforce the woeful state of the Australian attitude to cheese. It is $31 for four thin slices of cheese, all of which, for us, are in sub optimal condition. My guess is the big selection coupled with the high price mean they don’t turnover the trolley fast enough. A narrower selection of cheese, at a lower price may achieve a more rapid turnover would ensure the cheese is served in peak condition which would be better. We love cheese and wish it wasn’t priced as a “luxury” in Australia.

We would have loved to try dessert but we were full, and very tired; after arriving at 8:20 it was now past midnight. Coffee and the famed petits fours rounded off the meal ($10 each). The petits fours are takes on British chocolate bars and cakes and are justly famed: a great selection, all tasty, and very addictive.

With two bottles of wine (it was a long night) the bill came to $362. Was it good value, would we go back? I am undecided: I would eat all the dishes again, the cooking is superb, it is wonderfully whimsical, and he presentation is great. But the combination of slow service (albeit very friendly and professional) and the staid atmosphere in the room would make me think twice....or at least book a far earlier table!

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  1. Interesting review. This place has been on my radar for a while, but never quite a priority. I've walked past a few times, but it's always looked a little quiet.

    The menu looks really interesting, but pricing wise it demands a proper evening out.

    Glad the food was up to scratch if not the service

    1 Reply
    1. re: fergal76

      I have to say I had no problems with the service. The reason I remember is that I had to get a flight back to Melbourne, and managed three courses plus cheese.