Basic But Never Boring
Claim to fame: The quiet achiever
Reason to go: A kitchen that walks the line between rusticity and polish with rare grace.
To look out for: The signature blood-sausage sanga
You don’t need to be Australian to enjoy the blood sausage sanga, though knowing that “sanga” is local slang for sandwich certainly helps. The pleasure lies in the contrast; dense, crisp-skinned sausage and fluffy steamed bread, this creation needs no explanation. Yet for the Australian diner there’s an added layer of meaning and a welcome frisson of wit as it conjures the humble sandwiches that are a staple of suburban barbecues.
Everyone at Ester is perfectly friendly and welcoming, low-key is the staff’s default setting, and “under-sell, over-deliver” is the mantra for everything from the food and drink, to the simple, almost Spartan room set on a nondescript street.
The heart of this operation is a wood-fired oven that Chef Mat Lindsay and his team use ingeniously, whether it’s to warm oysters just enough to pop their tops before they’re sent out with a grating of horseradish or to scorch the meringues for the “burnt pav”. This clever caramelly take on the classic Antipodean dessert is dressed with the perfectly traditional passionfruit and the perfectly left-field addition of elderflowers.
Breads are a big deal here, whether it’s the toasty house sourdough, the fermented potato bread served as a starter with trout roe and dashi jelly, or the steamed sanga bread, based on a mantou dough, something Lindsay might have mastered while cooking Cantonese as head chef of Billy Kwong.
The signature dish is a masterpiece of minimalism: half a head of cauliflower, roasted dark golden and served with a sauce of almonds and lemon.
Wine leans minimal – or rather with minimal intervention on the part of the winemaker, and the list is studded with the names of local and international heroes of the natural wine scene; Ochota Barrels and Shobbrook among the former, Christian Tschida, Cantina Giardino and Jean Foillard in the latter camp.
The grape is complemented by a healthy selection of sakes, one of which features in a beautifully restrained dessert comprising a sorbet of young coconut flesh served with a splash of unpasteurized sake – and nothing more. Let’s hear it for the elegance of simplicity.