Review: Solander Dining and Bar
My dining partner is not talking to me. She’s just nodding her head, uttering mmmmmmm, mmmmm, mmmmmm. Kind of like Homer Simpson. But it’s not donuts that have her, it’s the Freshly Baked Banksia and Acacia Pot Bread with Black Garlic Butter from Solander’s Dining and Bar that’s just landed on our table.
It’s warm, comforting and aromatic. While we pretend we don’t do carbs, we cannot get enough of it. And our head nodding and mmmm-ing continues.
While the pot bread is in the very centre of the comfort eating, the rest of the menu at Solander requires the diner to extend their palette to textures and tastes they may not have previously experienced. This culinary challenge puts Belgian born Executive Chef, David Vandenabeele ahead of his peers when it comes to innovation with Australian meats and herbs. The herb inspiration comes directly from naturalist Daniel Solander (1733-1782) whom the restaurant was named after. The meat incarnations are part indigenous, part colonial and part modern (Vandenabeele is French trained). This culminates into a mouth-watering menu you won’t find anywhere else in the world. There aren’t many restaurants that can say that!
Vandenabeele has wanted to be a chef since he was six. He launched his career at The Hilton Hotel in Brussels and Brisbane before joining the Michelin- starred 1 Lombard Street, London. More recently, Vandenabeele was made Executive Chef of The Langham Place, Fifth Avenue in 2013, before moving back to Australia for the 2018 launch of Solander Dining. Vandenabeele has adopted a unique approach to Australian native ingredients by incorporating products that are often taken for granted yet found in natural abundance locally. He’s created signature menu items like slow-cooked wallaby shanks accompanied by wattle seed and a rich macadamia crumble-style crème, fermented macadamia nut cheese with roasted baby beets and Australian mussels which is his personal favourite, as a nostalgic reminder of his Belgian upbringing.
We are still stuck on how good the bread is and discover there is a secret ingredient – Banksia nectar, (and a back story). Solander documented the banksia plant in his journals and Vandenabeele enjoyed delving deeper into its origins. He learned that banksia were a sweet treat with indigenous Australians who sucked the sweet flavour from the leaves. Now he often hikes the Bondi to Clovelly coastal walk filling his backpack with banksia. He soaks the flowers, strains them and reduces it down to a sweet succulent syrup (similar to maple syrup).
We move onto starters and have the Slow roasted tomato and capsicum terrine with aged goat cheese and black olive jam and Fermented macadamia nut cheese with roasted baby beets and balsamic, both elegantly plated. Whimsical bright flowers and petals add romance, colour and a “wow factor” to the dishes. The flavours are perfect. The nut cheese is heavenly and creamy and we learn the macadamias are roasted on site to create a completely vegan cheese from the nut itself.
For our next course, mains, we couldn’t push our boundaries and opt for delicacies like the Wallaby. This is a regretful missed opportunity. That is until our delicious fish mains arrive. We had Crispy skin salmon with fennel pollen and lemon myrtle hollandaise and Seared king fish with Sydney rock oysters asparagus and pickled lemon butter sauce. Exquisitely presented with decorative saucy lines and mini seagrapes the mains ensue another round of head nodding and mmmmming. Our waiter has recommended the Palliser Estate Pencarrow Pinot Noir from Martinborough New Zealand, a beautifully crafted light wine that suitably accompanies us through all the courses.
Which brings us to the highlight of the meal, dessert. We have the Watermelon drop cake with sloe gin pearls, pepper charcoal pearl and micro basil and the Chocolate mousse with cinnamon and nutmeg crumble.
The drop cake harnesses a fresh infusion of watermelon and mint, the texture resembling Asian jelly-style desserts. The dish is made unique by the charcoal crispiness taking the edge off the watermelon’s inherent coolness. The mousse is the chef’s own favourite. Having learned the recipe back in Belgium in his first restaurant job. It’s rich with bitter Belgian chocolate though incredibly light and fluffy with whipped crème and egg white, taking us to the next level of mmmmming…….
Thanks to Solander for hosting the writer and her friend.
Solander Dining and Bar is located in West Hotel, 65 Sussex Street, Sydney. Check it out while enjoying Vivid Sydney.
For more info and bookings go to www.solanderdiningandbar.com.au
Words: Sonia Komaravalli