maitre karl

mainpictureIf you pass by Maitre Karl pre-sunset, you will most likely see an assorted gaggle of young and old, hip and not-so, human and canine. If you are lucky, the canine will be tethered to the coat hooks that are firmly lodged in the wall, just outside the door, and under the blackboard. "Garage á chiens" the sign reads. "Parking for dogs". And if the canines are lucky, they will be snacking on a canine-friendly treat, served up in a round metal bowl. I have been and seen on previous occasions, supped on the kitchen speciality of flammenkuche (complete with sharp knife and the heavy wooden board of a plate it comes on), and flashed a toothy grin at Chef Lex who works in the kitchen.

Yes, that Chef Lex. He of the how-to-do-your-steak. He who is quitting his long-held post at Maitre Karl to wander around America. He who has invited me to Maitre Karl for a final Lex-like meal, along with the two Bs.

For clarity's sake, the deal. "Order and pay for your mains & drinks - I'll take care of the rest. Shez, bring your camera along. You're in for a treat!" And with that, I was booked in for dinner with the Bs on a windy, rainy Wednesday night.

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table water, salt & pepper

I arrive early with intentions of taking a couple of exterior shots, but as I cross the road the cars fly by, splashing water here, there and everywhere. And as I set up for a shot, I am blocked by a bus and then a truck. And oh! How warm and cosy the inside of the restaurant looks. And oh! How I wish I was in there and not out here and so in I go to see B1 nestled contentedly on a mahogany leather banquette.

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entree: tasting plate

B2 arrives minutes later, as we are perusing the menu. "Harris Farm is closed yeah?" he asks, as we nod our respective heads. "Good. Cos I parked in their carpark." And as we sit, perusing (and secretly hoping that Chef Lex's version of "taking care of us" involves flammenkuchen) the man himself pops out from the kitchen, clogs and all.

"I've put together a tasting plate for you. Not on the menu, but using the ingredients we have." he says. We nod. And with that, he disappears and is replaced by three long oblong plates. Three tastes lie on each.

Frontmost is a tempura'd disc of pumpkin with a beetroot and mandarin gelee. Many of you will by now know of my aversion to orange vegetables. I know. They're sweet. And delicious. And I still don't like them, try as I may. But this! Oh, I ate it up, and didn't pull a face at all. It may have been the pairing with the beetroot gelee. A mandarin segment and slices of baby beet floated mid way through, and the sweet red-ness of it all was comfortingly slurpable. At the rear, a smoked oyster with saffron "sushi" and pea puree. Lovely and light in flavour, each flavour complementing the other.

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kangaroo proscuitto & goats cheese on rye

But my favourite (and, indeed, the table's favourite) is the kangaroo proscuitto with goats cheese on rye. Never had kangaroo proscuitto before? Well, neither had I til then. I'll tell you this, it packs a punch. A salty, gamey punch that, when paired with the creamy tang of goats cheese and the earthy nuttiness of rye, makes you think of a robust glass of shiraz and men sitting by a log fire after a hunt.

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palate cleanser: frozen kiwi fruit with vanilla sugar & strawberry coulis

When it is done, we are served a palate cleanser. "It is" says Chef Lex "an experiment. I saw it done at some other place and was wondering if it worked. It's not a normal menu item, but, yeah..." He trails off a little, before darting back into the kitchen. I am wide-eyed, confronted by the dish's likeness to little red tadpoles swimming endlessly towards big green eggs, when B1 picks up a stick to pop in his mouth. I follow suit and it is sweet at first, and cold, before the acidity of the kiwi fruit kicks in. As it thaws, ever so slightly, I crunch down. And like that, my palate is ready for the mains (and on my notepad is written "To do: freeze kiwifruit").

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steak cafe de paris: rib eye with herb butter and red wine jus,
pomme frites and leaf salad $30.50

There was a slight scrimmage between the Bs & I at mains time. "What" I asked "are you thinking of ordering? It would be good to have three different meals" and before I had even finished B1 said "Steak!" and so my steaky dreams were left unrealised. B1's steaky dreams, however, were oh-so-sweet. A 350g rib eye on the bone steak, cooked medium-rare as ordered, and served with crispy shoestring fries, a lightly dressed salad and a disc of melty, rich and creamy cafe de paris butter. Oh. My.

A mouthful was traded, as is customary amongst all good dining companions. It was just lovely. Fatty without being overpowering or gristly. Tender without lacking texture. Flavoursome without being excessively salty. Beautiful. And at a touch over $30, it is a steak well worth the money paid for it.

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poisson du jour: oven baked barramundi
with lemon aioli $30.50

While I contemplated steak-alternatives, B2 was rationalising his dinner. "If I go for a run tonight, and don't do dessert, I should be ok" said he. "But mains! Maybe Lex will make me a chicken salad..." he pondered. We stopped in our tracks. "A chicken salad? For dinner?" said we. "The fish is baked in paper" chimed in Chef Lex "hardly any fat at all if you don't eat the aioli" "Done".

The barramundi came wrapped in sliced zucchini and a smattering of tomato, and then wrapped again in a paper bag. It was fresh and it was firm. Don't be fooled though, it may look like a small serving, but it appears generosity is the key at Maitre Karl. Not one, but two fillets were contained in that paper parcel, and B1 was full and happy. And the lemon aioli? Stuff the diet and eat it by the spoonful. Truly, it is that delicious. (Or, you could do what B1 & I did and eat it with the pomme frites from the steak. Also delicious, and far more digestible).

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canard röti: oven roasted duck, braised red cabbage,
spaetzle, cranberries and port wine jus $29.50

Re-reading the above paragraphs, I realise it may seem that I had myself a decent case of diner's envy. Be not fooled dear friends, for while B1 was moaning at his steak, and while B2 was delighting at the sheer loveliness of being able to eat a meal without worrying about his waistline, I was scoffing, nay, inhaling the duck. I tried to pace myself, really I did. But the crisp skin and tender, succulent, fork-able flesh were calling out to me. And oh! The bliss. And underneath, a tangle of still slightly chewy spaetzle and vinegary red cabbage, doused with a port wine jus and shocked by the occasional burst of cranberry sweetness.

I will say it but once. Get out and eat this duck. It is, without any qualification whatsoever, the best duck I have had this year, and very possibly the best duck I've had in some years prior. And, try as I might, I cannot quite finish it. It is, after all, two duck marylands on a bed of german noodle-esque squiggles. So bring your stomach with you.

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creme brulee: espresso creme brulee
with frangelico ice cream ($12)

We mull over dessert. I am fingers crossed and hoping for crepe suzette (I've had it here before and oh-lordy-me it's a good thing). B1 is hoping for anything except ice cream and B2 is adamant that he will not partake in it. It is here that Chef Lex brings out dessert. It is the creme brulee, but not as I have ever seen it before. It is usually served in a wide dish, but tonight, Chef Lex has put it in a dainty espresso cup, topped it with a suitably boozy foam and oh-my-goodness, the espresso creme brulee looks like a mini cappucino!

But now, let's move past the kitsch and talk about flavour. I'll admit, I was sceptical about this dessert. I haven't had a coffee in the last 5 or so years and I wasn't sure I'd like this. But I did. Just like that circle of tempura'd pumpkin. It was creamy, it was oh-so-much like coffee. But without the bitterness, and without being cloyingly sweet. And the frangelico icecream? Di-vine. Truly. And just to prove how much I liked the dessert, here's my serve after I was done.

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all done!

If you do happen to pop by at Maitre Karl and order the creme brulee off the menu, it will come in a larger serving size than what we had here. And if you aren't an alcohol-friendly person, the vanilla ice cream is really vanilla bean ice cream and comes complete with lovely little specks of bean and a heady post-consumption all natural aftertaste.

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the bill

And with that, we paid our meagre bill and disappeared into the night. I back home for beauty sleep and a chocolate truffle in my bag for the Bean. B1 back home to pack for Egypt, and then America, and then who knows where. And B2 back home to walk the dog and the rest of his meal off.

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Maitre Karl
197 High Street
Willoughby NSW 2068
(across the road from Harris Farm)
ph: 02 9958 1110

5 bites more:

Arwen from Hoglet K said...

I love the way Chef Lex was trying out his new ideas on you. The kangaroo prosciutto with goats cheese sounds like a wonderfully flavoursome combination. Frangelico icecream sounds tempting too!

Stephcookie said...

The dog parking is the cutest thing ever. I want a dog just so I can park it there haha! Oh man that steak and duck look so good, I've been craving it ever since you guys were talking about it on the weekend.

Maria@TheGourmetChallenge said...

Sounds like an awesome meal, what a treat you were in for!

FFichiban said...

Hee hee you dined with 2 giant bananananas XD!! Im gonna check it out this sat! Hopefully get some of Chef Lex's secret sauce ;)

shez said...

Arwen: I'm none too upset at his trying new recipes out on me either! It's such a treat :)

Stephcookie: Everytime I look at the pictures I want to go back and eat it again!

Maria: It was really enjoyable. And tasty to boot!

FFichiban: Let him know you're coming yeah? He's @vuedecuisinier on twitter.

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