The food we had at lunch last week at Balthazar was the best, or at least equal to the best, meal we have had in the past year.
Balthazar is found in the captivating Art Deco styled Lawson Apartments building at the bottom of Sherwood Court, and is both restaurant and bar. During the day, sunlight filters through the leadlight windows fashioning a well-lit and bright dining experience, while at night the dim lighting creates a moody, clubby, more elegant atmosphere.
We were welcomed to the restaurant by the sole waiter who did a splendid job of looking after the three or four tables of diners, with professional good humour and courtesy.
The menu is concise to the point of being terse – simple but evocative descriptions of ingredients give no great hint of what is to come – but this adds to the anticipation: celeriac, velouté, truffle, pistachio, rye; golden beetroot, pickled onion, hazelnut; or spatchcock, lentils, carrots, yoghurt, oregano.
The wine list is extensive, covering Western Australia, Australia, Italy, France, Spain, Europe, the Americas, Africa – it contains some simply outstanding wines, and a couple of dozen by the glass. The prices are a touch on the high side, but the quality and range is special.
We began with a rosé (what a surprise!), a South African, 2014 Circumstance Cape Coral from Waterkloof in Stellenbosch; made from Mourvèdre, it has a delightfully pale salmon hue, spice notes and berries on the nose, and a palate brimming with fresh fruit flavours, a hint of dried apricot and fig, finishing with a stony, crisp minerality. It proved a perfect companion to our food choices.
Starting with tuna, fennel, sesame, ginger, coriander – we were served seared tuna, perfectly rare in the centre, with sesame seed crisps, slivers of radish, pickled ginger and chopped coriander leaves. The fish was juicy, redolent of the ocean, meltingly tender, while the accompaniments married beautifully to provide complementary flavours and textures, nutty, herbal, zesty, fresh.
It was exceptionally well presented – as were all of the dishes we chose – looked outstanding on the plate and the flavours of each dish reflected the care taken with the set up.
Our second entrée prawns, black beans, chilli, grapefruit, oregano, arrived as prawns cooked with their tails, again sweet, tender and moist, served on a bed of black beans and grapefruit, with the tiniest hint of chilli to provide a zesty lift.
It was an exquisite dish.
Of the mains, the first was gnocchi, black cabbage, mushrooms, parmesan – this was brilliant gnocchi so light and fluffy it simply melted in the mouth, while the mushrooms gave a supporting earthy, meaty flavour component, and peels of parmesan a sweet, nutty boost.
And finally, snapper, broad beans, peas, chilli, cos – crisp skin over delicate, lightly cooked flesh, tender, juicy, moist, sitting on a bed of mashed beans and peas providing sweet, garden fresh flavours, another slight hint of chilli, and topped with pea tendrils, combining into a vibrant, lively dish.
But of course, after such excellent food we just had to go on – one of the desserts caught my imagination – honey parfait, yoghurt, bee pollen, beetroot, verjuice.
While for Lady FWO cheese was her unequivocal choice, in this case Gabriel Coulet Roquefort a blue ewes milk cheese from France, served with quince, lavosh and fig loaf.
The cheese was runny, salty, spicy, with that intense complexity of flavour exemplified by Roquefort; wonderful.
Our dessert met all expectations set by the lead-in dishes, creamy, honey flavoured mousse, with contrasting earthy sweetness and mild sharpness from the beetroot, verjuice and yoghurt; again an exceedingly well executed dish.
The cheese and dessert washed down with a glass of red (Lady FWO) and botrytis affected pinot gris for me, was a perfect end to an exceptional lunch.
Balthazar is an outstanding restaurant, with a deservedly good reputation. The food we enjoyed was stunning and we have no hesitation in recommending it.