It could be said when the accomplished Jane and Jeremy Strode opened Bistrode in 2005, they first read the tea leaves about the non sustainability of fine dining in Sydney. At the time, many questioned the wisdom of paring back from the heady glam of MG Garage to more humble Bistro fare in a former, albeit charming, butcher’s shop. Seven years on, that judgment is now seen as somewhat prophetic. Merivale, always quick to read the current trends, recently lured Jeremy Strode to open Bistrode CBD, leaving Jane to ‘look after the ranch’. It is rumoured that she may eventually join him, but for the moment, a new and inspired direction has reinvigorated the flagship.
The intensely caramelised pan-fried gnocchi ($18.50), yet still light and puffy, is nicely balanced by the smoky chorizo, garlic, and the acidity provided by the zesty tomatoes. Vibrant on the palate as on the plate, the dish is not overly rich, as it potentially could have been. Mackeral ($21.50), slightly polarising in flavour for some, is soy glazed in this instance, giving it a slightly sweeter aspect than expected. It is nicely offset by a smoky characteristic, served with daikon and shallot, freshening up the dish on the palate. This also provides an Asian feel; the first sign of a departure from past menus, lightening up the whole context of the food.
Similarly, a cracking and crackling Szechuan pork belly ($19) follows, seasoned right to the edge with lovely pickled mushrooms, pear and a background star anise note, cutting across the richness of the pork. Some nicely grilled calamari ($21) is just a bit overtaken by the mint Marsala, but nonetheless it is a welcome departure from the salt and pepper stalwart which is trotted out elsewhere. Straight from the textbook is a crispy skin, well seasoned moist Snapper ($35) with white bean brandade, rich smoky speck, and curly kale, which provides a lingering back note to a dish with a lovely mouth feel.
A thoughtful wine list covers the remnants of the classical British/French and more recent Asian crossovers, with a selection of well priced and chosen local and international varietals, with a midweek ‘byo’ option for that special bottle. Service is both informed and noticeably efficient; given that tonight FOH is the power of one, which goes to prove experience is priceless. The intimate charm of the room is juxtaposed against the passing kaleidoscope of Surry Hills, and the polite chatter of the noticeably informed regular diners.
Probably the dish that best symbolises Bistrode’s Renaissance is the poached chicken ($34.50), served with an incredibly aromatic broth, delectable fried tofu, and prawn dumplings. The nuance and harmony of the spicing, belies the colour and complexity of the broth, which brings the whole dish together on both a flavour and textural level. The restrained harissa elevates the more traditional lamb rump ($36) beyond just a showcase of produce execution and texture, with green beans, mint, and a faultless side of buttery potato puree ($8.50), providing more than enough gratification for my dodgy ticker. Not much elaboration is required for Jeremy’s texturally inspired corned beef wagyu ($34), other than to say it’s quintessentially him and mother England on a plate.
Perfectly set pink champagne and berry jelly ($16.50), with peach custard, explodes acrossthe palate with cleansing berry, ambrosia and light floral notes. The mango fritter and coconut sorbet ($15.50), clearly a playful and respectful nod to Asian desserts, is deceptively simple on the plate to the eye, yet provides an absolute triumphant moment of balance, flavour, texture and technique. It is the very epitome of “less is more”, and that restraint is not only the virtue of the dish, but of the Chef who fully understands the futility of overworking the palate.
Nothing more need be said of Jane Strode’s signature honey tart with peanut butter ice cream ($17), other than perhaps the honey needed the volume tweaked up a fraction, but that is just a minor and preferential criticism of a dish that has stood the test of time for very good reason. Unfortunately, those two desserts set the bar way too high for the tad one dimensional dark chocolate mess ($16.50), which suffers by comparison, other than the textural play of the meringue and crushed nuts. With caramelised notes and tones of ginger, the palm sugar caramel cheesecake ($16), has lovely texture, and layering of sweet complex notes. The white panforte ($4.50) to finish, is spicy, and matches nicely with a tidy Pedro Ximénez from the list.
The recent closure of Bird Cow Fish emphasises the ongoing struggle for relevance and viability in the trend-driven Sydney market that sadly often appears to overvalue that as currency above all else. The recent move of Jeremy Strode to establish Bistrode CBD under the Merivale umbrella has provided head Chef Jane Strode and the talented Anne-Marie Rodrigo, with an opportunity to express an exciting exchange of styles on the plate. The results have been a breath of fresh air, and it is a welcome time for diners to renew their vows with a touchstone restaurant that offers much more than just than the classic dishes it is more renown for.
478 Bourke Street, Surry Hill
Fri from midday, Tues to Sat from 6pm
Licensed / BYO (Tue-Thu corkage $5)