Back when I was studying at Sydney Uni, I remembered Chippendale as the suburb with the dated, slightly run-down pubs (Purple Sneakers at the Abercrombie anyone?) and the huge old Carlton brewery site. How times have changed – there’s now a new fancy hotel, a shopping precinct complete with high rise apartments and heaps of restaurants to eat at.
Ester is one of those restaurants and it definitely fits in with Chippendale’s new hipster vibe with the polished concrete, the mismatched chairs and the industrial decor. We’re seated underneath an arched window that looks directly into the kitchen, so we have a great view of the pass and all the awesome food that gets sent out to hungry diners.
Already on the table is a small dish of deep fried chickpeas, which make for a surprisingly addictive snack as you browse through the menu. The menu is designed for sharing, with the dishes getting progressively larger and heavier as you go down the menu. There’s not much description on the menu beyond the key ingredients in the dish so it’s a bit of a lucky dip as to what the dish will actually be!
Queen Chu recommends ordering the squid dumplings from her previous visit to Ester, so we follow her orders and do exactly that. They come out as black football shaped pieces, coloured from the use of squid ink. It’s quite an unexpected and almost intimidating presentation, but we dig in regardless. The dumplings remind me of the chewy football shaped “ham sui gok” from yum cha, with the same chewy texture and a filling of pork and squid.
The Pyengana cheddar pie is as pretty as a picture, quite the contrast from the previous dish. The pastry is buttery and super flaky, and there is a nice balance with the sharp cheddar, the greenery and the hot sauce served on the side. This is one of my favourite dishes of the meal.
This is another one for the ‘ugly but tasty’ list – Ester’s beef tartare is shaped into a ball and rolled in an earthy mushroom powder until it resembles a giant black truffle. Cutting into it reveals chopped raw beef in a creamy egg and oyster sauce with flecks of green herbs to cut through the richness. It’s served with kipfler potato chips which are a nice crunchy vehicle for the tartare.
If there is bone marrow on the menu, you can be sure that I’ll order it. This is bone marrow at its best – roasted in the bone, topped with a flavoursome chilli sambal and served with toast. It’s fatty, spicy and crunchy all at the same time. Some at the table aren’t huge fans of the fattiness but that just means more for me!
By this point I was starting to see a theme with the food, and that was the colour black. Black squid ink, black mushroom powder, and charred toast all make for very striking dishes. The leeks are no different – charred on one side on a slick of white sesame sauce and a sprinkling of breadcrumbs. Wood-fired burnt leeks probably don’t sound that appealing, but they are perfectly cooked and buttery with a slight charcoal flavour.
For our main protein we decided to go all out on the salt-baked mud crab. Let me warn you by saying this is not an easy dish to eat, but you’ll be well rewarded for your efforts in picking out the succulent crab meat from the shell. The shell has been cracked in several places to make it easy to peel, and there is also a delicious shellfish sauce which is rich and buttery. Heaven.
The cauliflower is also a popular dish with the table, again with a smoky, charred surface. It’s served with an almond sauce which adds a creamy and slightly nutty flavour to the dish. Mint leaves add freshness and there’s also a nice crunch from some roasted almonds.
We also order the flank steak dish which is full of umami. Flank isn’t the most tender of cuts, but it definitely makes up for that in flavour. The beef is cooked to a perfect medium rare and goes brilliantly with the mushrooms and anchovy sauce.
There’s no way we could see duck fat hasselback potatoes on the menu and not order them. The cuts in the potatoes make it so that there’s lots of surface area for the duck fat to get into and form crispy bits!
There’s about six desserts to choose from at Ester but we are pretty stuffed so we decide to share two. The first is the three milks with rosemary and olive oil. “Tres leches”, or three milk cake, usually involves a sponge-like cake being soaked with three milks – normal milk, evaporated milk and condensed milk. Ester takes it one step further with a ricotta pannacotta, sheep’s milk yoghurt foam and dulce de leche with biscuit crumb. There’s a nice flavour contrast between the creamy pannacotta, slightly tangy foam and sweet dulce de leche, and the biscuit crumbs add a bit of crunch.
Our final dish also continues the charred theme with a burnt pavlova. It is visibly black on top which had me slightly worried, but it tasted amazing with the passionfruit curd and elderflower. The burnt top actually made the pavlova have more depth of flavour, with some bitter caramel notes coming through what is otherwise a one-note, sweet dish. A brilliant dessert and definitely one I would come back for!
46/52 Meagher St
Chippendale NSW 2008
P: +61 2 8068 8279
Open for lunch, Friday and Sunday from 12pm
Open for dinner, Monday to Saturday from 6pm