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.
Automata, plural of automaton:
Machines that operate on their own without the need for human control, or people who act like a machine, without thinking or feeling.
When a restaurant calls itself Automata, I think of a restaurant that runs with machine-like precision and accuracy, where the staff are cool, calm and collected, and the kitchen executes every dish perfectly, every time.
Automata, a new-ish restaurant at the Old Clare Hotel, comes pretty close. As soon as we entered the restaurant, we got the vibe of a smooth running machine, with the industrial polished concrete and raw wood decor. We were promptly seated on a large shared table on the lower level, which had a clear view of the open kitchen. With Clayton Wells at the helm (ex-Momofuku Seiobo), all the chefs were working quickly and quietly – like a well-oiled machine – to push out food to hungry diners.
The five course set menu ($88) changes frequently – in fact, 3 out of 5 dishes have already changed since we dined there in late February. We also opted for the beverage pairing ($55), with each beverage being explained to us by the knowledgeable sommelier upon pouring. The pairing included an “orange” wine (skin contact white wine) and a cocktail of sake and yuzushu.
We started with some snacks – a baby gem lettuce with a striking violet mustard and chives, and wagyu beef with brown rice miso and enoki mushrooms. The gem lettuce was crunchy and tangy, readying the palate for more. The wagyu beef was super juicy, with slightly crunchy enoki mushrooms and a burst of umami flavour from the miso. The moment when I popped the wagyu into my mouth, I knew this was going to be an amazing meal.