Universal, Sydney

February 7, 2008

Christine Manfield is well-known among serious restaurant-goers in Sydney. She had a well-known restaurant, Paramount, and then went off to London, where her restaurant East@West got good reviews, but closed. Now she has reopened with Universal in the Sydney suburb, Darlinghurst. Sue, Linda and I went for dinner on February 5, 2008 to form our own opinions.

Universal is a small space with one wall entirely open onto a courtyard. The menu is an unusual (unique?) formula. There are twenty savory dishes each shown with an optional 90ml wine-pairing. They are served in small portions on small plates. It is suggested that each diner order two or three from the savory menu and then one from the similar, but smaller, sweet menu. We ordered glasses of 2006 Wanted Man Marsanne Viognier; it was nice, but it was slightly musty and did not taste like a viognier. After considerable discussion with the waiter and among ourselves, we ordered two dishes each. We also ordered a bottle of 2004 Morillon (Moreton Peninsula) Pinot Noir. The wine pairings looked intriguing, but most of them were not Australian and we were in the mood for a good Pinot Noir. There was no amuse-gueule.

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Sue started with the steamed hapuka, spiced sausage, harissa, orange and black olive couscous. She thought that the thin heat of harissa, the spiciness of the  chorizo and the busy-ness of the various ingredients overwhelmed the delicacy of nicely-cooked, meaty fish (hapuka).  Too much happening on the plate, and too many flavours. 

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Linda’s first plate was the seared venison, soba noodles, sesame miso shiitake mushrooms. She thought that the sesame overwhelmed the taste of the shiitake.

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I had the spiced soft shell crab, tamarind and lychee salad. The waiter said that the “soft shell crabs” come farmed from Queensland. He said that generally in Australia they come frozen from Thailand. It is not clear to me how close these may be to the soft shell crabs of the Middle Atlantic US or the moeche of Venice. The dish did little to enlighten me as the crab was soggy in the salad and any flavor it might have had overwhelmed by the other flavors. It would have been cheaper to use tofu, but then she might have had trouble asking A$24 for the little dish.
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Sue’s and Linda’s second dish was the rosè (sic) veal, caramelized foie gras, green peas. The menu didn’t warn that the other flavors would be submerged in curry powder or that “caramelized” meant a slice of foie gras.

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I followed with the tea smoked duck and Sichuan eggplant salad. Once again the flavors were all a jumble hiding the two main ingredients.

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Manfield is knwn for her desserts. Sue and I had the splice: passionfruit banana sorbet and yoghurt sorbet pyramid. I thought it was pleasant enough, but nothing special. At least the different elements were separate.

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Linda finished with the totally nuts: hazelnut chocolate mousse, caramel parfait, salted hazelnut caramel. She thought it was “fabulous.”

There were no mignardises.

It was a disappointment to have misspent one of our few nights in Sydney, where there are so many interesting sounding restaurants. On the other, hand we are always looking for the cutting edge and this might have been it.

http://www.universalrestaurant.com/home.html

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