New South Wales comes out of its lockdown and our first fine dine of the season is at Babyface Kitchen, one of only three or four restaurants in the Illawara region to boast a tasting menu.
We start off with the classic sourdough bread and cultured butter. This was exactly as advertised, with nary a hint of innovation.
The snacks course was next.
My favourite of this was the honey bug in bug sauce, grilled over charcoal. The meat of the bug was very similar to other bugs, but what stood out was the deeply umami sauce that surrounded it. It was so good that I actually chewed and ate much of the shell just so that I could taste the sauce that coated it. My girlfriend made fun of me for this, before succumbing and having her own nibble. It’s all just chitin and calcium carbonate after all, and probably not even 1.2g BD of the stuff.
The deboned chicken wing on wasabi leaf didn’t quite do it for us, which was surprising as chicken is my most commonly eaten source of animal protein. I think that outside of extreme desert dryness chicken is something that’s easy to do reasonably well, but I also think that the strength of the mighty chicken wing is not only in its quality but also in its quantity, and the fact that you can just eat like ten or fifteen of them in one sitting. While I understand the whole concept of serving small foods in large plates, having half, maybe one chicken wing fried in a way that did not excite and sitting pretty on a leaf just doesn’t do it for me.
The beef tartare tart was not only a mild play on words, but also the first time I’ve had raw meat in a long time. I trust a restaurant’s ability to not give me EHEC much more than I trust my own. My only complaint here is that it came and went too quickly.
The tea light I accidentally knocked and spilled into the pool of water surrounding it. Tell me you’re poor without telling me you’re poor.
Our snack course was followed by an oddly-timed palate cleanser of fresh pineapple topped with passionfruit lemon myrtle sorbet and zest of blood orange. My partner enjoyed this fresh tart treat (mostly enjoying being able to eat pineapple without the drama of cutting it open and preparing it), but personally I didn’t feel like my palate was so dirty after a piece of bread and three snacks that it needed cleansing.
Our second bread of the night was made of 50% potato flour and lathered in marron butter. I was quite happy with this bread, and found that it had an unsurprising blini like quality. I was however an idiot and ate most of the bread by itself, rather than with the rest of this course.
The aforementioned bread was served with Western Australian Marrow in XO Sauce. I have some feelings about this dish, but the general vibe is that I felt much less spoken down to than when I went to Quay, which was the last time I had marron at a restaurant. Positive elements of the Babyface dining experience included the larger size of the marron, the interesting and fresh tasting accompaniment of white asparagus, Newcastle greens (a microgreen growery), and ice plant (wow! it looks like it’s covered in ice! You can feel the ice buds with your tongue!), and the fact that no one tried to explain to me that yes, we are indeed in Australia. The sauce was enjoyable and had good umami flavour, however in no way would I describe it as an “XO” sauce, a label which generally hints at a bit of spice and a whiff of scallop. I also found myself wanting for a spoon, a utensil that was provided in plenty at the bread and snack courses but not at the course that actually had a bit of soup. My fault for not saving my bread to mop it up.
These skewers of Port Lincoln squid and pork jowl were seriously good. The Port Lincoln squid offered a creamy texture with just enough crunch, whilst the pork jowl absolutely melted in the mouth. The smokiness of ironbark and the natural umami of the squid was amplified by the delicious squid ink sauce underneath, and possibly a hint of black sesame too. This was really top tier, and even my seafood-averse girlfriend eventually grew to enjoy it, even if she needed a bit of coaxing to actually put it in her mouth.
The squid and pork skewers were accompanied by this buckwheat noodle, sauced with black garlic and covered in pecorino. I must admit that while much care seems to have been taken to prepare them, these did not really enthuse me. I thought that while they probably had enough random complexity of flavour, they didn’t actually have enough general flavour to ward off the tastelessness of the soba. I ended up mixing the leftover squid ink sauce from the skewers into my noodles.
Our main course was based around a piece of 7-day aged lamb rump from some kind of station, presumably in the Australian Outback. It was served medium rare in a pool of its own juices – tender, but not really with any other flavour. The lamb rump was accompanied by the most beautifully caramelised piece of fermented pumpkin, however, which really stole the show.
The main course also featured some potato ?accordions in a strange white sauce that my partner enjoyed far more than me. She loves potato.
The salad, composed of green asparagus, Newcastle greens, and flowers in a bread sauce, was a nice and fresh reprieve from the lamb jus. I could eat this every day.
Time for dessert now, and this cracked puff filled with pistachio cream was excellent. They The exterior had a slight pineapple bun quality, but was more structure and much better than the pastry of every other cream puff I’ve ever had. The pistachio cream was nice and not too sweet. They even poked a candle into one of them to mark the occasion. The girls on the table next to us shared one cream puff and sent the other back. They were full, or should I say fools.
I didn’t care much for the second dessert, a malt ice cream on top of chocolate mousse and mulberry. I thought that while the malt ice cream was good, the white slabs were just a bit too sweet.
So this is actually revolutionary. Babyface Kitchen gives you a little take-away dessert snack to have at home following your meal, or even the following day as a little extension to your culinary adventure.
I had a great time getting back into some tasting menu dining for the first time in over five months. Not every dish was perfect, but I very much appreciated the variety of tastes and experiences on offer. $110 per person was a reasonable price to pay for this meal in regional NSW, but I do hope I will get the chance to return for their cheaper and ever changing a la carte offerings in the future. I also enjoyed the very bare minimum of conversation we had with our waiters and waitresses, who were frequently drawn into deep conversation by the middle aged woman on my left. Her poor husband.
1/179 Keira St, Wollongong NSW 2500
(02) 4295 0903