When I left work in the UK, I was given a voucher for a meal for two at Beluga as my leaving present. My wife and I decided that we would use the voucher for a special occasion so we decided to go there to celebrate our wedding anniversary this year.
The restaurant is about a ten minute or so walk from Central station and is easy to find as Bourke Street is a main thoroughfare through Surry Hills.
We were the first there and were greeted warmly by the Maitre'd who showed us to our table and we chatted about food in Australia and other restaurants that we had visited.
One of the reasons that the people at work chose Beluga was that it had a vegetarian degustation menu and it was this that I chose.
The first thing delivered to the table was an amuse bouche of Green Pea and Basil Cappuccino. It was wonderful. The taste of the peas was so fresh and I could've drunk gallons of it! However, it was not to be. A small espresso cup was all we were given.
Shortly after we'd finished the amuse, the first course arrived. It was Cherry Tomatoes in Olive Oil with Tomato Sorbet. Now, anyone who knows me will tell you that tomatoes are fighting for the top position in my pet-hate list along with parsley. However, surprisingly, this dish was rather good and the sorbet, dare I say it, was quite amazing.
Next up was Ricotta Dumpling with Cauliflower Purée and Avocado Brulee. This was the matching course to my wife's scallops. It worked pretty well, and I'm still deciding whether the avocado brulee should go on the list as, although it was a brulee, it wasn't actually a dessert. If it does, it would be an eight as it was very good, and avocado isn't a favourite of mine either but the combination of it with the slight burnt taste of the caramelised sugar worked a treat.
The next course was Sweet Corn Crepe with Carrot Saffron Emulsion and Micro Herbs. It was nice, the crepe had a very slight curry flavour and the saffron emulsion was very good, but the micro herbs were just a few small leaves on the side of the plate that had wilted badly under the lights on the hotplates. They did nothing to the dish not even adding a nice garnish.
Next a palate cleanser of Lime Sorbet with Yoghurt was delivered. Nice though it was, it didn't really work as a palate cleanser as there was too much going on in there. As well as he lime and the yoghurt, there was also the odd cardamom seed. It was very nice and would've worked well as a small dessert.
It was now that we noticed that the service was beginning to slow down and it took an hour to deliver the next two courses. The restaurant was by no means full, in fact it wasn't even half full, so I'm not sure what was causing the slowdown.
The next dish was described on the menu as Portobello Mushroom, Haloumi and Red Pepper Emulsion. I'm not sure what happened, as what turned up was polenta topped with pimento pepper, the aforementioned red pepper emulsion and, what was described to me as, porcini with champagne emulsion. Now, I know my mushrooms pretty well and can recognise a porcini at a fair distance and I have to say that the item on my plate neither resembled boletus edulis in look or taste and Patrick Harding would be in despair should anyone identify a bolete as having gills as the specimen on my plate so obviously had. As for the dish itself, it was okay but definitely my least favourite of all the courses so far.
The next dish on the menu was Polenta, Vegetable Terrine, Confit of Eggplant and Egg Yolk Pearl. I was wondering what the Egg Yolk Pearl might be and had visions of some of the things that come out of the kitchen of El Bulli. Alas, I wasn't to find out as what appeared had little in common with the description on the menu.
My disappointment was short-lived though as what arrived was Vegetable Terrine, Wild Mushrooms and Truffles! It was great and my favourite dish of the evening so far.
Before the desserts came Pear Sorbet and Strawberries. It was like eating a really, really ripe pear – yumm!
Service began to speed up now. The first of the desserts was French Chocolate Ganache, Saffron Ice Cream, Chickpea Dust and Strawberry Caviar. It was really tasty and the ganache and the ice cream went together perfectly. The chickpea dust added a slight bitter-sweet taste to the dish, but the strawberry caviar didn't really add anything – to be honest it was just like very small balls of strawberry jelly.
We had wines matched to each course and we had the same wines despite my wife having the normal degustation menu. However, for me, they matched pretty well except for maybe one of the reds.
The service was very friendly, if a little slow in the middle. One thing struck me as odd though, especially as this restaurant is mixture of French and Indian influences, and that was that there was no bread. I'm not sure whether this is an Australian thing, but I would really have liked some with the first course to mop up the gorgeous oil dressing.
It was an enjoyable evening and we both enjoyed the meal. The tables are quite well spaced, offering a degree of privacy. The toilets could do with a decent tidy up, but that is a small criticism. If you're looking for a place for a special meal that is imaginative and not too expensive you could do worse than go to Beluga.