The Union Hotel is located on a relatively quiet stretch of the Pacific Highway, and if you’re not paying attention you’re likely to drive past the establishment. From the outside it looks like your usual run-of-the-mill pub.
Head in through the bistro and up the stairs to the Uncorked restaurant, and it’s almost like you’ve stepped into a completely different world. A pub is the last place I would ever expect to be sliding into a white leather booth, and I couldn’t help but admire the opulent red and white Parisian-themed decor and furnishings. As it was a balmy Thursday evening, the back doors to the balcony of the restaurant had been thrown open to let the gorgeous night air in. It was rather amusing to see the lights of the offices flicker on and off per level as the cleaners made their rounds.
The booths are ridiculously comfortable, cosy and intimate, with partitions in between each booth. The music playing is soft French jazz – perfect mood music.
The Sister and I had a look through the menu and while we had already narrowed down our choices for our mains, we were stuck on what to get for entrees and asked the maitre d’ for recommendations. We were able to chat extensively with him because there was only one other table of customers in the restaurant over the course of the evening, which was a shame for such a lovely place.
We eventually ordered and I had a glass of a Clare Valley riesling, while The Sister asked the maitre d’ if she could possibly have a mocktail. He was more than happy to make one up for her, devising a deliciously refreshing concoction that was a mocktail version of a Mojito with pomegranate.
For entrees, I had ordered the Pear & Ricotta Cigars, Red Grapes, Roquefort & Walnut Tuille with Red Wine Honey Vinaigrette ($18).
It was quite a light entree, punctuated with the buttery tuille, and tangs of the creamy roquefort and red wine honey vinaigrette. I couldn’t particularly discern the pear from the ricotta in the cigars but enjoyed the delicate combination of flavours and the way in which it was beautifully presented.
The Sister had gone for the Smoked Pig’s Cheek, Cauliflower Velvet, Crisp Pig’s Ear and Blackberry ($18).
She had to make a conscious effort to save half for me as she was enjoying it so much. The gelatinous cheek had been cooked so tenderly that it shredded easily beneath my fork, and paired with a blackberry-based sauce, crunchy pieces of the ear and carefully mandolin-ed cauliflower, radish and vegetables, it was a truly unique little dish that the both of us would have loved more of.
I had been craving steak for a while so it was with great anticipation when my “Tasmanian Wilderness Beef” Eye Fillet 200g with Mint, Green Olive and Black Radish Salad, Kumra Fondant and Wasabi Emulsion ($35) arrived.
Perfect. Medium. Rare.
The steak was perfectly salt and peppered – good enough to eat on its own really, but perfect with the little accompanying salad and the quite astonishing wasabi emulsion. While most people will blanch at the idea of a wasabi sauce and the vivid colour of it when it arrived, think of it more as a creamy horseradish sauce instead – it had a slight kick to it but not on a nasal-clearing scale.
We had been greatly anticipating the Signature ‘Bouillabaisse’ (Seafood Rustic Stew) with Market Fish, Scampi, Scallops, Prawns, Clams and Mussels, served with warm Bread and Rouille ($40).
The seafood had all been beautifully cooked, and the bouillabaisse soup was lighter and easier on the palate than many of the other ones I’ve tasted. The seafood had mostly absorbed the tomato-based flavours from the soup, but there were particularly distinct flavours from the mussels and the incredibly sweet scampi. We were idly wondering what would have happened to the other half of the scampi as we were the only customers in the restaurant – we would have been more than happy to eat the other half!
The Rouille (often used in Provencal cuisine) was creamy and had a slight capsicum-spice to it. The warm sourdough baguette was a nice addition, allowing you to mop up the residue of the delicious soup.
We also shared a side, the Roasted Heirloom Carrots with Thyme Brioche Crumb ($6), where the carrots were deliciously sweet having been roasted with honey. The roots were still attached to the vegetables, but well washed and added an interesting textural dimension. They did get a bit tangled though and difficult to serve. Scattered with chunks of tasty chunks of brioche croutons and fragrant thyme leaves, it was a lovely accompanying side.
For dessert, I had been eyeing up the cheese plate which had the desired Roquefort on it, but my eyes kept being drawn to the Orange Mille Feuille, with Fois Gras and Macadamia Ice Cream ($16). Ummm foie gras in a dessert? I questioned the maitre d’ on this and he said that to think of the idea behind a salted caramel – where the saltiness accentuates the sweet flavours present. I agreed to try it and this arrived:
Three layers of sugar-glazed pastry, with a layer of an orange custard below and a thicker orange coulis-type sauce. The plate was scattered with a few pieces of crunchy freeze-dried mandarin and, of course, topped with shaved freeze-dried foie gras. There was a particularly distinct smell when the dish arrived at the table and as this was my first time tasting foie gras, I have to say that I was a little taken aback by the smell. The Sister, who has, was similarly shocked as while she’s had foie gras in dishes, it was as pieces and by grating it this way, the smell was so much more prevalent.
I was a little hesitant in trying the dish, but dutifully took a bit of everything onto my spoon and put it in my mouth, and as soon as I did, the smell disappeared in an instant, replaced by a citrus, zesty tang and a variety of differing textures. The concept of this dish was quite simply amazing and confounding – who would have ever thought to add foie gras to a dessert?!
An interlude for tea. A Chamomile for The Sister and a Peppermint for yours truly.
We had elected to go safe with our second option, being the Chocolate Terrine with Honey Comb, Milo Soil, Passionfruit Syrup and Frangelico Gel ($16).
The chocolate terrine was lusciously thick, almost like you were eating ganache, although the acidity of the passionfruit syrup cut through the slightly overwhelming sweetness. The Milo “soil” added a contrasting texture, as well as a slight dark chocolate bitterness, and the honey comb shards were crunchy and stuck to your molars in the most satisfying way. While the first dessert was an eye-opener, for those who love chocolate and want to play it safe, this would be the dessert for you.
Overall, it was a beautiful dinner and night – who would have ever thought that such a stunning restaurant would be sitting in such an inconspicuous location? It would be interesting to see if they opened up for lunch on the weekends over the upcoming warmer months, as I can imagine that it would be quite lovely.
Uncorked @ The Union Hotel
271 Pacific Highway
North Sydney NSW 2060
(02) 9955 5844