At Bistrode, the Surry Hills bistro run by Jane and Jeremy Strode, what’s on offer goes beyond your meal for the night. You can also snap up the chefs’ cookbook (Two’s Cooking), and even stock up on Jane’s range of jams and relishes. But the French-style bistro can be very limiting in other ways – ring days ahead to let the restaurant know you’re vegetarian, and you’ll sadly get cast-offs as an actual meal.
Sure, the French base entire dishes on dried duck’s blood and are famous for their love of goose-choked foie gras, so they’re not the poster country for vego-friendly cuisine. But having eaten great meals at French restos such as Elysium and Assiette without even having to first tip off the places that I was a pesky vegetarian and wouldn’t be able to have anything meat-centric, I was a l’il ticked off that the advance notice I’d given to Bistrode was to no avail: they still served me random vegetable bits and pieces fossicked from the other mains. I guess the site’s former life as a butcher shop was hard to shake off.
For my main, my plate was plopped with shreds of cabbage and fennel, a tomato, some baked potato, a bit of salad, a slop of tapenade, and a ramekin of bland tomato-stewed borlotti beans with peas and corn. The tomato-bean mix tasted like what my sister used to get fed at childcare. (If her childcare centre had boasted a chef’s hat and $30 mains, she would have been making unimpressed faces too.)
My friends didn’t suffer from such menu misfires though, happily digging into entrees such as the Leek & Bacon Tart ($18) and Pig’s Head Terrine ($16.50) and mains like the Warm Duck & Fig Salad ($33) and Blackmore Wagyu Corned Beef with Potato and Anchovy Salad ($32.50).
I also lucked out on the sweet tooth front, my White Peach, Raspberry & White Chocolate Sorbet ($17) sounded exquisite in print but was pretty flavourless to tuck into. Will, on the other hand, scored the dessert hit of the table, with the Honey Tart & Peanut Butter Ice Cream ($16.50). Just so I don’t come across as a sour-faced diner, I did enjoy my Passionfruit Turkish Delights ($3) and stealing nibbles from the Cheese Platter ($23.50) that Matt and Al had ordered – especially the ‘Valdeon’ Blue from Leon, Spain.
Interestingly, while Bistrode gets critical buzz, the punter reviews on Eatability are on the cooler side of lukewarm. One diner nails it when she confesses to being bamboozled over why the restaurant has a chef’s hat (it’s the most disappointing hatted place I’ve been to too), and the fact the Strodes were writing for Good Living in the Sydney Morning Herald . Funnily enough, they’ve had a vego recipe almost every week since I ate there. Surprisingly, the instructions don’t say “just add whatever meatless bits you’ve got lying about in the kitchen – vegos don’t mind being demoted as second-class diners anyway!”.
Luckily, I was with such warm and buzzing company that the night was incredible and far from a write-off. If only what I’d ordered had matched those heights.
Bistrode, 478 Bourke Street, Surry Hills NSW (02) 9380 7333, www.bistrode.com