Sunday, January 17, 2010

Buffalo Bill rides again

So the birthday dinner had to wait, so what? Buffalo Club would open a week later than I had wanted, and yes, I realise that chefs and restaurateurs have to have a break sometime too, just like the rest of us.

The crew at Buffalo were booked out upon reopening in 2010 so we were put on a waiting list. We didn’t have to wait too long, we were promptly told that somebody had cancelled and we could take their place. We couldn’t wait to eat.

The dining room is understated, dark and slightly broody. Juxtapose that sombre, almost monastic atmosphere with the floor-to-ceiling window showcase at the end of the room; and what you have is a window into another world – a little bit of the craziness of the Valley snakes its way into the atmosphere of the space.

Ryan Squires has won many acclaim for his innovative food. The latest gong is for‘Best New Talent’ in the Australian Gourmet Traveller food awards. It’s easy to be caught up in all the media hype and glam, to succumb to food critics’ praises and idiosyncracies.

The night we went we were told that there was only one menu and everyone was having the same thing. 10 courses with petit fours for $120. I wondered later about the poor vegetarians. Most establishments these days have a very good degustation menu for vegetarians and most deal well with diners with allergies. I’m glad I don’t fall into the vegetarian camp for I wouldn’t have been able to eat anything – except perhaps one palate cleanser and the dessert courses.

I won’t launch into a blow-by-blow account of what we ate in succession but will point out the highlights and lowlights of the night. The Pinkie reef fish sourced from Southport was delicious – the flesh was pink and firm, the flavour of the fish was subtle and sweet. Buffalo yoghurt, paw paw, apricot, date puree and a curious addition, Madras curry flavoured malto and pine nuts.

The ‘Calotte’was the highlight of the night: a cube of grade 12 Wagyu beef with pea and horseradish puree, mushroom and truffle puree, dried garlic slivers, basil, puffed wild rice and red onion dust. The beef had been cooked sous vide in a water bath and then grilled. The double-cooked cube was extremely tender and the fat marbling in the meat worked well, creating a wonderful mouthfeel and flavour. It was so good I wish I had more than a few mouthfuls at this stage!

An interesting dish was the Iranian Osietra caviar with a selection of heirloom tomatoes with smoked duck fat in malto form with raisins and tiny pillow of pastry. The white powder that is duck fat melts in your mouth to create a pretty great taste sensation with the caviar. Squire’s big on maltodextrin powders to create mouthfeel and flavour sensations. Spain magic must still flow in Squire's blood for a bit of Spain creeps into the menu here – the Spanish touch is realised through the extensive use of Manchego cheese in various guises – it’s used as garnishing, stuffing and starter.

Some of the lowlights were the ‘Crevette’ – in this case, mine was with baby octopus (I am allergic to prawns) with honey gel, perilla and black sesame paste, avoado puree and eggplant puree. The octopus although tender was completely overpowered by the very salty and overpowering black sesame paste. I tried my best to sort out the flavours in the paste but for the life of me, couldn’t discern the perilla or the black sesame. All I could taste was overpowering sticky soy. It killed all other accompanying flavours and in the end, I left most of the sauce and ate the rest. The honey was overly sweet and the avocado was bland. The eggplant puree was the star – it was naturally smoky and sweet capturing the essence of the fruit.

The other course that I wasn’t so sure worked was the foie gras, marshmallow, limoncello jelly and tamari-coated almonds. A very thin sliver of foie gras mousse was completely overpowered by the uber sweet marshmallow pudding, the tamari almonds packed a too-salty punch and the limoncello jelly added to the confusion with its sweet/tangy and sour notes. I’m not sure the foie gras needed all the confused embellishments – which was a shame because not did I once get the taste of liver coming through.

What is very clear is that Buffalo Club’s chefs excel in their clever techniques and manipulation of food ingredients and have no doubt, excellent plating-up skills as the dishes are like little works of art. What I felt was lacking is this: ingredients that are fresh and obvious star ingredients in a dish are often compromised by awfully complicated and confused companion gels, foams and purees. These overpowering and sometimes conflicting flavours completely take away from the dish, not complement them. What is also lacking is the professionalism and friendliness of its staff. For an establishment of this calibre, it was disappointing to see staff rushed and abrupt. Instead of providing the highest quality of service, waiters were spilling water on tables, not bothering to clean up after the spill and generally the mood was one of disinterest. In comparable establishments like The Press Club and Vue de Monde, service is noticeably more professional, welcoming and friendly. This is perhaps a little stumble on Buffalo’s part, I feel the potential for a complete package of excellent service and innovative food should be something good restaurants should strive for. It’s got the goods on food and with a little more interest from staff, it’d be an experience worth repeating.