A few weeks ago I received an invitation to lunch at Selah Restaurant. For just $25 I'm enticed with a 2-course meal (normally $45pp), a taste of the new menu celebrating the change in season. Having surrendered my entire savings for the purchase of a house, even a deal such as this comes under great scrutiny. I check the website and look up the Chef, I read through a year of eatability reviews, I even google other blogs with results that seem promising despite finding nothing more recent than 2007.
Eventually I shrug my shoulders and think 'hey, why not?', so a reservation is made for two and at 1PM on Wednesday afternoon, D and I rock up at the restaurant. An immediate glance around the dining room leaves me feeling a little out of place. Everyone here is either middle-aged or elderly and dressed in business attire. The restaurant is only running at half-capacity today however and the atmosphere feels quite relaxed. It's not long before we settle down into our seats to hear the waitress explain the current $45 x 2 course lunch. I tell her we came as part of the Sydney Food Blogger Deal on offer during March and she nods and jokes "Ahh! Well that's even better!".
Sam Pask, owner and restaurateur, swings by to introduce himself after popping corks for another table and wishes us an enjoyable meal. 'How nice' I think, turning back to the menu placed in front of me. I was lusting after wagyu pie after reading positive reviews online but it seems to have since disappeared from the variety of choice. D picks a pork belly entree and lamb main so I go for something a little different - a vegetarian gnocchi entree and seared Atlantic salmon dish. The waitress informs us that the chef likes to cook both mains to medium-rare which sounds good to me.
We're left twiddling our thumbs for some time so I swivel around on my seat to take a good look at our surroundings. Exposed sandstone runs along one wall and large prints echoing red and gold colours of the restaurant signage mark another. The tables are a deep, resonating timber and are quietly adorned with a ramekin of flaked sea salt and small wooden pepper grinder. A few intricate lanterns hanging from the ceiling emit a warm yellow glow about the place, giving the establishment a casual, homely feel.
My zucchini, pea and sweet corn gnocchi with lemon, basil and Parmesan arrives without peas. The gnocchi is well-made however, and pan-fried which gives it a light caramelisation and resistance with each bite. The immature zucchini stems are just cooked, still crunchy and delicious. I quite like this dish for its simplicity and reflection of the ingredients used, although I would prefer it to be served with a little sauce as the dish just feels a tad dry.
D polishes off her plate of sticky pork belly with shitake, apple and cucumber salad but finds the pork is a little dry around the edges, most likely from overcooking. I taste a little and it's a nice flavour but the salad of apple and cucumber isn't quite crisp, tart and refreshing enough to balance the richness of the pork.
D's main is the marinated lamb back strap with quinoa, harissa mayo and roasted pepper stuffed with goat's cheese. The lamb is nicely cooked and the slices are fanned out over a mounded ring of quinoa and parsley. Harissa-spiced mayonnaise is drizzled over the lamb and a small roasted pepper stuffed with goat's cheese balances on top. I'm not really a fan of the goat's cheese personally. It's quite pungent and overpowers the flavour of the lamb which I would expect to be the real hero of this dish. Perhaps goat's curd would be better suited than cheese as the flavour is not so intense.
I try the seared Atlantic salmon with 'Asian mushroom', crab and shallot omelette, soy and ginger dressing next. Everything about this dish seems wrong. The fish is more medium well than medium rare and the white clumps of protein exuding from the flesh is a sure sign of being overcooked. It's obviously been placed skin side down, in a hot pan, then finished in the oven. Imagine beautifully crisp and golden skin, glistening with fat from the pan and sprinkled generously with flaked salt. That sounds tasty right? The crispness of the skin would be a perfect textural contrast to the softness of the egg and crab. Something that marginally resembles dashi floods the plate. It's a little smoky, a little more acidic and much too sweet. The fish sits skin side down in this pool of ultra sweet dashi-like liquid so I now have to face battle against a soggy strip of sweet, stretchy salmon skin. It's a horrendous let down to receive a piece of fish that's only a fraction of its former glory. The omelette is disappointing too. It's bland and there's parsley in it. I'm no authority on Asian or modern Australian food but parsley seems to clash horribly here. There's no denying it.
I'm getting ready to leave when the waitress presents us with the dessert menu. We decide to order a 'baked blueberry clafoutis, vanilla bean ice cream, star anise syrup' to share between ourselves and we're well rewarded. The clafoutis is light, eggy, studded with blueberries and comes with a cream-filled tuile cigar perched on top. I topple over the tuile with my spoon and smash through it with an earth-shattering crunch. Chantilly cream has been piped into both ends and proves delicious, but with the middle empty it leaves me wanting more! The star anise syrup is overly viscous and could use a gutsy boost of flavour, but regardless, this is definitely something I would order again and again.
Sam Pask comes by offering a complimentary dessert. A mistake made by the kitchen he says, despite neither of the two remaining tables having dessert. Apparently the waitress made a mistake putting an order through for a table that had left some time ago so she had to do it again but instead of ignoring the docket the chefs plated a dessert anyway and it happened to come out just as we were finishing the last few morsels of clafoutis although if we didn't want to eat it Sam would be more than happy to devour it himself because it just tastes soooo good. Yes. A likely story.
Never one to turn down dessert, we end up with another dish of 'raspberry jelly, coconut sorbet, raspberry, chantilly & lemon sable biscuit'. The menu description leaves nothing up to the imagination. A smear of raspberry puree divides the plate with a firm, cylindrical raspberry jelly sitting at one end. The jelly is guarded by a scoop of coconut sorbet with toasted coconut shreds underneath, and two discs of lemon sable sandwiched with fresh raspberries and chantilly. It's not amazingly good or incredibly bad. It's just nice. Although it does border on being a tad too sweet.
Every restaurant has room to improve. The service at Selah is an exception and is practically faultless. Our waitress is friendly, attractive and perceptive; invisible yet approachable; not to mention entertaining. The Chef is clearly skilled in his trade however the execution of a few dishes we tried lacked finesse and could use further examination and fine-tuning.
12 Loftus Street
Circular Quay, Sydney
(02) 9247 0097