Restaurant Atelier in Glebe is one of those restaurants the Pricks have followed for ages but only recently had the chance to try – not once, but twice, and in two very different circumstances. And in the interest of avoiding the old journo’s sin of “burying the lead”, Atelier is the sort of place that has no trouble shifting gears between spit-roasting pigs during the day and turning out eight or nine courses of clever, inventive, yet still classically informed, high-end bistro cooking (bistronomie, as it were) at night.
By way of backstory we had always heard good things about Atelier, which lives in a sandstone cottage down the business end of Glebe Point Road. Countless times over the past few years Mrs Prick and I would have walked by, ducked up to have a look at the menu, and said, “we really ought to get in there one of these days”.
The case was bolstered one afternoon last year we picked the Little Pricks up from school and heard all about “the chef who came in to class and made mango spaghetti”; we soon figured out it was in fact Atelier’s Darren Templeman. On the general assumption that anyone willing to introduce children to the delights of molecular gastronomy is the Prick’s sort of fellow, we underlined the point in our heads, reminding ourselves again, “No, really, we really ought to go to Atelier one of these nights”.
But of course life gets in the way and it wasn’t until the Pricks received an invitation to a Sunday pig roast last month that we actually darkened Chef Darren’s door and met the man and his wife, Bernadette, who runs front-of-house. A couple of porkers turning away over the heat is not necessarily for the squeamish or the militant, but for the Pricks and their foodie confederates, the day produced one of the best pigs they had ever had and formed a fine way to spend an afternoon. Hell, even the cous cous was good, and how often can one say that? Atelier does these sorts of events regularly, and all a Prick can say is that if you’re of a carnivorous bent, this is not to be missed.
Fast-forward a few weeks and a few of the gang are looking to get together over the holidays, and it was back to Atelier and degustations all around. This being the holidays, we had the joint almost to ourselves, which wasn’t bad, because (a) it’s cozy and house-like and not some over-designed restaurant space that only feels like it’s working when it’s heaving with people and (b) our group can get a little loud. Fortunately no shaggy-haired restaurant critics were in the house for us to ruin their meal.
In any case, any remaining readers who have made it this far are probably saying, Fine, great, but what the hell did you have!? Well, bread, butter, and a jar of house-made pork rillettes to start. An amuse built around a single, simply-dressed scallop, delicately seared. A gentle plate of kingfish sashimi “officially” opened the batting of the dego – and for a moment the table was worried that everything would be beautiful but pitched so high we would have to quiten down to hear the flavours. Not to worry: Venison carpaccio saved the day, with, from memory, elderberries, radishes, and other elements that were best rolled up with a slice of the meat and popped into the gob like a little burrito. Boom. Then some prawns, done confit (in oil, apparently, to which the Prick says, why not with butter next time?), with a little morsel of pork belly, topped with a pair of sweet and peppery yarrow leaves (a new one for the Pricks). Course of the night.
Others followed: a lovely cylinder of poached John Dory with béarnaise and fennel. Very French with the bearnaise, and the fennel pollen smelled great at the table, but there was some disagreement over whether the fennel on the plate was a bit too much. Duck, two ways (Szechuan breast, and a rich, salty, soft, cruchy little nugget of fried confit which, as a confirmed duck confit lover, I would love to learn how to replicate. We even forgave the kitchen for sending it out on a board). Lamb, again two ways: very, very lamby and meaty and paired with an awesome 2006 Tasmanian cabernet I am kicking myself for not noting the name of, though the shoulder component let us down somewhat, lacking that soft fall-apart quality one hopes for in the slow-cooked cut. While we’re on the subject there were a number of excellent and interesting wines, including a lovely white Châteauneuf-du-Pape, poured throughout the night. Perhaps I should have been taking discreet notes, but I was having too much fun.
Cheeses, then desserts (though we could have gone the other way, the French order of batting won the toss). Of the former, the stand-out stab-your-neighbour-with-a-cheese-knife-to-get-the-last-piece winner was a hunk of morbier. Of the latter, it was hard to choose between the chocolate “delice” with house-made ice cream or the tropical fruit soufflé with its very clever milkshake and mango ice cream accompaniments (“No-no-no! Wait! I’ve got instructions!” laughed Bernadette, rushing back from the kitchen when she saw us about to attack: unless you’re a confirmed food separatist, the deal is that you open the soufflé, and add a bit of milkshake and ice cream. Got it. Good.)
The Templemans (Templemen? Templepeople?) have been in business for ten years, eight in the same location on Glebe Point Road. This makes them old-timers in a neighbourhood that would not have had much in the way of fine dining when they arrived and stayers in a city whose industry is too often a hyped-up parody of Schumpeter’s notion of “creative destruction”. In this way Restaurant Atelier cuts against the grain, and as any chef knows, cutting against the grain is how you get the best results. If you haven’t been already, don’t be like us and faff around for years waiting to check the place out. Book in now. Tell ‘em the Prick sent you.