Let’s be perfectly honest – the Upper North Shore is a bit of a dead zone when it comes to food. Aside from a few decent cafe-style restaurants, there’s not many places that you can go for a nice but affordable dinner (if I’m wrong feel free to provide suggestions!). That is, until Dietmar Sawyere’s Ad Lib Bistro moved onto the Pacific Highway in Pymble with classic French food served in a casual Parisian-bistro atmosphere. It’s clearly a favourite around here since we had to book 3 months in advance for a Saturday dinner.
We start with the onion soup, which I had high hopes for after reading other reviews. The cheesy gruyere crouton covers the top of the soup tureen and eating our way through it reveals a rich, fragrant brown broth. It is sweet from the caramelised onions, though a little heavy handed on the booze which isn’t to Charm’s taste. I can’t pinpoint exactly what I don’t like about the dish but I find it a little underwhelming – but that may be because I hyped it up too much in my own head!
The other entree is more of a crowd pleaser with succulent pieces of salmon with crisp shards of brioche and a creamy herb mascarpone spread. It’s a slightly smaller portion than I expected but is fresh and whets the palate nicely in anticipation of the main dishes.
We have a hard time deciding which mains to get and Charm eventually settles on the duck leg confit. It arrives with glistening crisp skin but sadly the meat is a little dry in some parts. The potatoes are thinly sliced and pan fried until crispy, and the bitter endive and radicchio salad contains walnuts and orange segments for added texture and sweetness.
The chicken escalope Holstein is a simple dish of a crumbed chicken breast schnitzel with a fried egg, anchovies and capers, yet ends up being one of my favourites. The meat is still surprisingly moist and it’s served with a celeriac remoulade, pickles and a lemon wedge on the side.
I choose the special of the day which is a pan fried ocean trout fillet with tomatoes, onion, capers and parsley, and served with some form of greenery (my memory fails me). The two fish fillets are perfectly cooked with super crispy skin. It’s great to see that the portions are very generous here and after the main courses we’re already feeling quite full. Though I was never going to pass up on dessert…
I’d had my eye on the raspberry soufflé since the beginning and it arrived on the table having risen high above the edges of the ramekin which held it. It was a beautiful dusty pink colour and is quite possibly one of the best soufflés I’ve had, with the raspberry flavour shining through. Served on the side was a scoop of raspberry sorbet.
Though I had my sights set on the soufflé, I also loved the tableside theatre of the dark chocolate mousse. The waiter carried a big bowl of chocolate mousse to the table and scooped two large quenelles into a bowl, drizzled it with crème anglaise and used tongs to insert three chocolate wafers. Yes, although the raspberry soufflé caught my eye, the dark chocolate mousse stole my heart. It was rich in flavour yet feather light, and the three of us were scraping the bowl clean with our spoons to get every last bit of the mousse. Amazing.
Ad Lib is a beacon of light on the Upper North Shore dining scene with delicious French food in a relaxed bistro setting, not to mention the prices won’t burn a hole in your wallet. It’s definitely somewhere I’ll be looking to return to – if only it wasn’t always booked out!
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Ad Lib Bistro
1047 Pacific Highway
Pymble NSW 2073
Ph: +61 2 9988 0120
Lunch: Monday to Friday, noon – 2.30pm
Dinner: Monday to Saturday, 5pm – 10pm
Also located in Double Bay