Restaurant Hubert: the game plan
Author: Pat Nourse
Photography: William Meppem
Let's take it as a given that you want to go to Hubert, the first full-service restaurant from Anton Forte and Jason Scott, the Sydney bar czars behind Shady Pines Saloon, The Baxter Inn and Frankie's Pizza. We can confirm that it's worth the hype, combining a powerfully convivial vibe with a satisfying amount of heft in the food, wine and service. But it's also a big space sprawling over two bars, a glam dining room, two menus and a substantial wine list, and can be a bit overwhelming when you first step through the door. In other words, you need a game plan. We're here to help. We've thrown ourselves on the grenade, selflessly marching down the stairs for four dinners (and drinks!) in five days, eating the entire menu and drinking our way through a heroic chunk of the cellar to bring you a plan of attack.
Or, as the case may be, three plans of attack.
Option one: eat in the bar
Make your way down the stairs and to your right you'll find Bar Pincer. Given that Hubert won't be taking bookings for another few weeks yet, as a walk-in, chances are you'll end up here regardless. No bad thing. Nicely upholstered booths, world-class foot-rails and an excitingly uneven timber floor make it atmospheric as all get-out, and bartenders James Irvine and Brendan Keown are as handy with the drinks as they are quick with the chat. Irvine's pastis-infused play on the Ramos Gin Fizz is the sole exception to the classics rule on the seven-cocktail list, and there is much to be said for the house Martini, served in an etched bottle with a choice of garnishes (olive, twist, pickle, pickled onion) to the side.
The bar menu is a truncated version of the restaurant carte. Fear not: what you lose in whole roasted fish and epic platters of duck, you make up for with the addition of Marcona almonds on one end and steak frites (flank, Bordelaise, thin chips) and the Normandy burger (dry-aged beef, pickles, Gruyère). Consider the fine duck-liver parfait, bordered with maple syrup jelly, and the anchovy toasts, made irresistible with the addition of watercress, pickled onion and a whole lot of cultured butter, to be non-negotiable.
Option two: eat in the other bar
Turn left as you enter and you're at Bar Normandy, a sliver of a serving bar that has places set for dinner down its length, plus a short row of tables for two in high booths, which are soon to be the most sought-after Tinder real estate in town. If you're dining à deux, they're very hard to beat. This bar offers the menu in full, so you can pick coyly at fromage blanc swirled with seaweed oil and dab daintily at egg yolks set in bonito jelly while you play footsie, or signal serious intent and engross yourself in bone-sucking and toe-nibbling with the chicken fricassée, an epic production that sees the kitchen brine a Holmbrae bird, deep-fry it and then sauce it, feet and all, with a deeply flavoured mixture of cream, butter, white wine, tarragon, garlic and mushrooms.
There's a vast selection of spirits French and otherwise to ogle behind the bar, so this is a pretty cool place to take a nightcap.
Option three: go the whole hog
To really, truly get the full Hubert experience, you'll want to come with a posse. Rolling six-deep is ideal - that way you can get to grips with the full range of big dishes designed to share, whether it's that $62 chicken, a $95 kilo of Riverine rib-eye grilled on the bone, or the $85 Murray cod, roasted whole Grenobloise-style, with brown butter, capers and lemon, and a full chorus of sides. (The pommes Anna, done in vertical strata rather than the usual gratin style for maximum browning, and napped with beurre blanc, are essential.) The main dining room offers Hubert in all its flickering candle-lit glory, and affords the clearest view of the stage (though it has thus far only played host to a baby grand piano and a 1950s-style microphone rather than actual musicians).
And to drink?
Dan Pepperell's menu is, as the kids like to say, baller, but the wine list is also a thing of beauty, both in design and content. It wouldn't be unreasonable to liken the impressive selection by the glass to the sort of thing you'd see at Monopole, where sommelier Andy Tyson has trod the boards, and there's plenty to tempt you to order a bottle, half-bottle or (yay!) magnum. There's lots of good Burgundy both red and white, and if you've been distressed by the recent trend away from red wine in pairings with tasting menus in Sydney, the wealth of shiraz and grenache here, complemented by healthy offerings in the gamay, Loire rouge and Languedoc-Roussillon departments, will do much to soothe your troubled brow.
There's no shortage of good advice to be found on the floor, but for maximum effect you want Tyson himself leading you through the list, pointing out succulent bargains (Pichot Vouvray for the duck-liver parfait), curiosities (a whole section just for Aligoté) and things that are simply dangerously drinkable. There are weird wines for those who want them, plenty of perfectly straight-down-the-line stuff, and then those ideal hybrids such as the Béatrice et Pascal Lambert "Les Terrasses" Chinon, a cabernet franc made from organically grown grapes and bottled without sulphur, but not something that'll scare the horses. In other words, dangerously drinkable.
Our full review of Restaurant Hubert will appear in the June issue of Gourmet Traveller. We'll see you propping up Pincer and Normandy or elbows-deep in a Murray cod in the dining room in the meantime. Santé.
Restaurant Hubert, basement, 15 Bligh St, Sydney, NSW, restauranthubert.com; open dinner Mon-Sat 5pm-1am.
Styling: Lisa Featherby