Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The White Horse Bistro, Surry Hills.

Happy Birthday to Giovanni!

Birthday boy chose the restaurant and luckily it was open on Monday – it’s so goddamn hard to find nice spots open on Mondays. I suppose that’s reasonable given it is a bit of a slow lunch day. I’ve visited the WHH many times and have had both good meals and average meals, but today’s experience is stupendous. The menu’s been re-worked and Italianated since I last lobbed in, to exceptional effect.

There are separate lunch and dinner menus (plus function-y stuff) and although the lunch menu has some alluring choices, like children locked away from lollies we yearn to try the more glamorous range of evening offerings. Possibly influenced by a near-empty lunch bistro and a pouting birthday boy, chef takes pity on our gastro souls and opens up the full menu for our eager tummies. We are very happy little campers, and fuelled by a round of martinis thank him profusely in the manner of deranged Sahara explorers wandering into an oasis. The selections of antipasti, primi, secondi and dolci are tightly packed but impressive and you can have a squiz at www.thewhitehorse.com.au from their downloadable pdf menus. Not quite sure how often these are updated, but you’ll get an idea of what to expect.

While we ooo-ed and aahh-ed at the choices, we grazed on complementary bread and oil which was just as well because reading the menu works up a hunger. (You might notice that my pictures today are better quality than usual. Photography is courtesy of Dru. You can see more of Dru’s stuff here.)

Hard choices, but we settle on the sardines al forno, duck breast, and char grilled quail from the antipasto menu, all of which are simply delicious. The sardines are little stacked delicacies packed up like baby railway sleepers and baked, with currants, lemon and breadcrumbs, served with a rocket salad. They are so delightfully mild, yet sweetly flavoursome, with a lingering taste of the seaside.

The quail is crisp-skinned and redolent of smoky charring, pinkly succulent and wonderfully offset by the bitter grilled treviso lettuce and balsamic dressing. The seasonings are subtle, but if you close your eyes you can imagine Morocco in the distance.

The rare duck breast is a work of art, artistically fanned and bejeweled with pine nuts and a balsamic glaze.

I opt next for an entrée sized spaghetti vongole while others tuck in to char grilled spatchcock. An inspired choice by me in hindsight, as the generous little birds are a challenge to struggle through in a lunch sitting and there’s plenty to go round for extra tastings!. The clams nestle among the perfectly al dente pasta, peeping out like juicy pearls shimmering under a thin veil of oil, adorned with chilli and parsley. I am wistfully reminded of the colours of the Italian flag and with tear in eye appreciate that I am allowed to eat it. I would be ruthlessly prosecuted for such abasement of the national ensign in my own country (thankfully there is not much around in the way of blue food, so I’ll probably be safe).

The moist wee chooklets are luscious and packed with flavour sitting astride a sweet corn purée and partnered with an eye popping chunky read onion and tomato salad with baby cress.

Chef Henry also sends out a bonus treat of potatoes, and rocket & parmesan salad which was very thoughtful and much appreciated To wash down these treasures from the robust wine menu we sip on a 2004 Vavasour savignon blanc, one of my favourite boutique Marlborough vineyards, its heady lemon and gooseberry, cut-grass nose marrying adroitly with the summer spice scents of the meals.

The dolci looks way tempting but the spatchcocks have quite done us in. All we can manage is a heart-starter coffee to finish before we head out into the sizzling afternoon.

The WHH bistro is a treasure in Surry Hills. Since opening its swish renovated space it has always pleased with decent food and exceptional service. I believe the food has been racked up a notch, representing excellent value for money and a worthy detour for any famished punter. The service is friendly, helpful and you get the feeling that nothing is too much trouble. And as it turns out for us nothing is, and we left happy and full of birthday good humour.


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