6pm to 10pm
The Ortolan is a European songbird considered a delicacy in France.
The birds, once caught (using nets), are kept in black boxes (to simulate night) for a few weeks and fed oats & millet to fatten them up. Following this, the bird is killed by being drowned in armagnac. The head is removed, it is plucked and then roasted (for 8 minutes) with its internal organs and skeleton intact.
To eat, drape your head with a linen napkin (to capture the precious aromas), take the entire bird in your mouth & chomp down. The flavour is said to be gamey with foie gras overtones.
The bird is considered endangered in France, so it is now illegal to sell Ortolan.... unfortunately though, it is not illegal to eat them.
Bistro Ortolan is not dissimilar to the bird from which it takes its name, it is indeed a rare (though not so endangered) species in the suburb of Leichhardt.
We have wanted to dine at Bistro Ortolan since Paul & Jenny McGrath opened the Bistro back in 2006. A last minute, spur of the moment, decision has us securing a 'rare' Saturday night table; sure we have to arrive at 6 & be out by 8.30, but it is a compromise we are more than willing to make.
We arrive in Leichhardt right on 6 & manage to score a parking spot directly opposite the restaurant - always a good start.
We are excited as we approach this quaint, two storey terrace, it looks cosy & inviting.
We place our order and sit back and each enjoy a glass of 2004 Kreglinger Brut from the Pipers Brook Vineyard.
An icy cold amuse bouche of Heirloom tomato essence with a herbed granita is a thing of beauty, to look at and to devour. The clear liquid is pure, unadulterated tomato in all its glory. Spectacular! The granita, as it melts, slowly gives up more of its herbaceous goodness. The anchovy toast is to die for. Buggles and Squeak have reached Nirvana early.
As Buggles has often stated, she finds it very difficult to pass up fig if it presents on a menu, so Tortellini of Queensland mudcrab with fig and mudcrab salad, silken tofu and roasted crab consommé is an easy choice.
This dish has Buggles in rapture. The thin pasta encases gloriously sweet, abundant slivers of mudcrab. The salad that tops it - apple, fennel & fig, is fresh & crunchy and, while the fig is not overly apparent, this still does not disappoint. The crab consommé (poured at the table) is rich & clean.
Terrine, ‘black and blue’, and tartare of 400 day, grain-fed Black Angus beef, with Fresh Tasmanian wasabi and spicy leaves pays homage to that most wondrous of meats......beef.
Yes beef, presented in the 3 best ways possible...a rich, delectable and unctuous oxtail terrine full of bold & gutsy flavour; a portion of Angus fillet, the outside charred but perfectly rare within; and a mound of perfectly seasoned delicious tartare topped with a silver leaf enveloped quail egg.
It is at this point there is a hitch in proceedings & we are left waiting at least 40 minutes before the main course arrives. This we find odd as they do want us out by 8.30.
The mains finally arrive & we are suitably impressed.
Roast Macleay Valley White rabbit and its’ tortellini, with parsley butter and baby Summer vegetables.
This is a symphony of rabbit. Loin, rack, confit leg & crumbed belly sit alongside kidney & liver. The tortellini contains rich, dark and melting braised meat. The accompanying carrots are cooked well and add some bite. The serve is quite generous & Buggles relishes each mouthful.
Twice-cooked sirloin and tenderloin of Wildes Meadow bio-dynamic, milk-fed veal with Soubise purée, glazed salsify and bone-marrow dauphinoise.
Another bounteous serve.
The veal is gloriously tender, giving way easily under the knife. The Soubise purée is creamy with a sweet onion flavour & the bone marrow dauphinoise is rich & extravagant. I am satisfied.
Mr Durack on his recent visit, was presented with a rather lovely sounding pre-dessert, so Buggles & I are looking forward to sampling it.
Alas, it doesn't arrive.
One of two things has happened here:
1. We don't write for the Sydney Morning Herald, so don't get the benefit of this extra course; or
2. The long wait between entree & main has resulted in a rush to get us out by 8.30 and the pre-dessert is the casualty.
Our actual desserts help to soften the blow however.
Banana and salted caramel ‘Bombe Alaska’ is a nice, sweet end to the meal. Buggles does not taste too much banana flavour, but she is blown away by the thick, salted caramel sauce (she could eat this by the bucket load) and the tiny, salty caramel jellies.
Date and armagnac crème brûlée with caramelised brioche French toast and fennel ice-cream.
The brulee impressively arrives at the table still flaming. On cracking open the shell though, it is quite runny and doesn't have that rich custardy texture. The fennel ice cream captures that wonderful anise flavour beautifully and the brioche french toast is exceptionally buttery.
It is now 8.25 so we have to relinquish all thought of coffee & petit fours.
Service at Bistro Ortolan is friendly, if a little 'neglectful'. No explanation was offered, nor an apology made, for the long wait between entree & main.
No effort was made to top up our water and we were quite parched before we were asked if we wanted to order another bottle of mineral water.
The exceptional food however, is guaranteed to have us return.