Homey gourmet is I think an accurate description of the food Matt Kemp has on offer at the recently opened ‘Montpellier Public House’. Though the space and menu is definitely geared towards channeling traditional ‘pub food’ (French/English, inspired by the chef’s heritage so our waitress tells us), the 3-hatted, fine dining style of the previous restaurant Balzac definitely shines through with the food. My Mum, having dined at Balzac back in the day, received a $50 off ‘birthday voucher’ in the mail to use at Montpellier, so we took it as the perfect opportunity to test out the new digs.
Stepping into the gorgeous heritage listed building the hustle and bustle of Belmore Rd immediately fades, and the relaxed feel reminds me of the countryside English pubs I’ve been to many a time on visits to family in Manchester. Downstairs there is a bar area with bar food on offer, and al a carte seating upstairs. It is a quiet Tuesday night when the mother and I visit, and at 7:30 we are one of only two couples seated in the al a carte area. Normally I don’t like quiet places, I prefer some busy atmosphere, but dining in this almost empty space managed to feel somehow cozy. This was partly due to the rows of low hanging lights clustered throughout the space, which I loved though were not ideal for photo taking so apologies in advance for the dim lighting.
We had heard that Montpellier houses quite an impressive range of Australian Organic Wines, though when we inquire we are told that they are only served downstairs in the bar area which I think is a bit strange. However, things picked up when it came to the food.
We ordered this starter to share. I love pickles. As a child I never understood why everyone always pulled the pickles off their Macdonalds cheeseburgers. These pickles had a deeply spiced aroma, as well as dill which complemented the dill in the trout nicely. Speaking of which, the trout was delicious and I wish I could buy it in tubs, and was perfect spread on the soda bread. Soda bread is probably my favorite bread (after challah) and this thick, housemade slice had that perfect sweet nuttiness that I adore and good toasty crunch (soda bread is best toasted so you don’t get that bi-carb flavour ).
My bream is perfectly cooked and paired with robust mediteranean flavors that manage not to overpower the delicate fish and teeny tiny baby mussels, so cute I almost didn’t want to eat them. But did.
I tried some of Mum’s hare and chesnut pie, full of rich wintery flavors that are further reminiscent of England. The hare was soft and melting, impressive as this kind of meat had a tendency to be rather dry. The side of bread sauce I special requested is delicious, and came complements of the chef. I made Nigella’s bread sauce last Christmas and fell in love so I had to compare their version as it is a rarity on Sydney menus!
We were full at this stage, but we came in starving, and had to test out their take on some traditional English puddings. Mums Burnt Cambridge Cream is essentially Crème Brulee. Crème Brulee is her hands down favorite dessert, and having lived in France for 6 years, she knows how to pick a good one – this one was declared to be ‘a perfect crème brulee’. As someone who is normally not fussed over crème brulee, I found myself with food envy over this dessert. And I adore the fact that they present it in a tea cup. I mix up almost all my desserts in teacups at home.
My crumble was actually a bit of a let down. The crumble was too fine – gotta have a nice chunky crumble! – and the ‘salted caramel icecream’ just tasted like vanilla. I could definitely have done with about double that scoop to balance the ratio of crumble/icecream. Then again I am an ice cream fiend, so others may not encounter this problem.
Having scanned the bar menu we make plans to re-visit with brothers and father in tow to test it out. If this is Mr. Kemps take on hearty ‘pub food’ then I’m just sad that I missed out on the fancier fare at Balzac!
*Unfortunately this restaurant is now closed*