The measured transition of Claude’s by Chui Lee Luk strikes a masterful balance between respecting the much storied tradition of this time honoured terrace and fulfilling the rite of passage in exploring her deepest culinary yearnings. In uncertain financial times, this timely re-invention is not only a prerequisite for survival, but essential in defining the critical relevance of her repertoire. The playful yet discreet reworking of the main dining room strikes me as an ironical metaphor for what promises to be a fascinating pilgrimage.
Tonight’s degustation begins with a well balanced and textured smoked salmon consommé that resonates with a clean and clearly defined flavour. The Southern Highlands truffle supplement option is exercised, but finely julienned on the cured ocean trout & shiso, its effectiveness unfortunately appears lost on a dish that already lacked a sense of cohesion. This could not be said of the roast whitefish, sorrel & leek which is daringly matched with a complex yet subtle spiced reduction of Indian origins. It is a brave dish, brilliant in both conception and execution and is the first clear sign of a definitive divergence from the past.
We return briefly to tradition with a sensationally richly cured breast of Aylesbury duck, lightly seared and served with an unctuous sherry jus which is simply perfection. The confit element, lightly wrapped in the most delectable textbook pasty, provides a delightful simpatico to an ethereal dish which I will undoubtedly take to the grave. The generously shaved truffle was a fittingly decadent conclusion for such breathtakingly executed gastronomy. The Madeira sausage with tubers, another spectacularly rich and comforting savoury dish that followed so nearly hits the same note, but on reflection just did not have enough wow to equal or topple the former.
Our service is handled consummately by one waiter whose overall knowledge covers our every need which provides an intimate counterpoint to the revolving faces experienced at other high echelon fine diners visited recently. The obvious lack of pretension, echoed by the sounds of a joyous kitchen, proves that fine dining can still be accessible whilst not losing the sense of occasion that underpins its existence.
The final savoury course of blue fin tuna is slightly overdone; however the black olive relish is stunningly redemptive despite being misplaced in the overall order of dishes in my opinion. On this occasion, the abundance of shaved truffle contextually raises more questions than it answers. Fortunately, the palette cleanser of truffle & champagne sherbet is far more harmonious and serves as a stunningly effective pre-dessert.
Despite having a severe dose of soufflé fatigue, I am reinvigorated by Claude’s spectacular apple caramel offering with calvados sauce. It is technically perfect in every respect and I swoon with every mouthful. It serves a timely reminder that the clichéd theatre of oversized ramekins with lilting towers is no substitute for precise consistency and balance of flavour.
Sadly, I sense that Sydney takes Claude’s existence for granted, given only ten diners are in attendance the entire evening. The challenge for Chui Lee Luk to successfully change that perception is significant, but it appears well underway if tonight’s experience is anything to be judged by.
10 Oxford Street, Woollahra
Tuesday to Saturday from 7.30pm
Licensed / BYO ($20 corkage per bottle applies)