What is about to come is a night of delicious decadence, and also some of the worst photos my poor Nikon has ever taken. Yes, welcome to Print Hall where the dining is fine and the lighting is both intimate and a food blogger's worst enemy.
Much like all bloggers joke about Balthazar (still on my wishlist) is one of the darkest places to eat and impossible to ever get a good photo, Print Hall seems to be my achilles too. But with that disclaimer out of the way, lets focus on the actual eating experience.
I've had Print Hall on my wishlist since it opened a year or so ago. While I've been in for drinks, and also dined upstairs at the Apple Daily, I kept dinner at Print Hall for a special occasion. So when my partner Jeremy's birthday rolled round, I was all too pleased to inform him I had booked dinner at this restored newspaper house.
Situated in Brookfield Place on St George's Terrace, this bar slash restaurant has become an institution to the after work business crowd and can often be considered by some as 'yuppie'. But on a Saturday night it seems to be transformed, with intimate tables of diners leaning in over bowls of Jerry Fraser's famous shucked oysters. It's pretty needless to say, I was excited for what our night would bring.
Freshly shucked oysters and cheese dip
We arrived for our booking at 7pm, making our way immediately to the back dining area which I could see already was only lit by the dimmest of softened lights and a single candle on each table. The decor is beautiful - white, pine and a lot of glasswear. It's opulent without trying too hard, and has a real freshness to its aesthetics.
As we're shown to our table, I note immediately how flawless the service is. My jacket is whisked away to a coat room, and my bag is set up with a bag hook all within seconds. Our choice of table water is selected and then our waitress tells us about Jerry's oysters and the sauce for the day. Before we've even seen a menu she's taken an order for half a dozen oysters from us. Very smart and efficient way of working!
While we're perusing the wine and cocktail list, our Pacific Oysters ($24) come out to the table with our complimentary canapes. The oysters are presented simply but enticingly - resting atop of crushed ice, with threads of seaweed wound underneath. There's a lemon and lime slice, plus the dipping sauce of champagne, shallots and fresh herbs.
I am, and always have been, a massive sucker for an oyster. I love small, sweet oysters which are creamy but not sickening. These ones definitely hit the mark - so much so I wish we'd ordered more than just our half dozen. They're shucked perfectly, sliding out of the shell with ease - and working in perfect harmony with that vibrant and zingy dip.
While munching away on the delightful oysters, we place our drink orders for the night.
I choose a Foxy cocktail ($18) which is vodka, berries and grapefruit - and comes garnishes with a pretty little edible flower. In today's day of overcomplicated or overly alcoholic cocktails, this one is well balanced and smooth. It's icy cold and the glass it comes with is beautiful and old fashioned.
Jeremy orders a glass of the Bordelet Sydre Argelette ($16) which is a French cider and tastes just as a good quality bottled cider should - like a fruity wine. It's sweet but dry at the same time, slightly red in colour and fizzy on the tongue.
Our complimentary canape for the night arrives with our oysters, which is presented before we have even seen the food menu. But we haven't noticed really, we're enjoying the manner our dinner is unfolding before us.
The canape for the evening is a soft cheese combination of marscarpone and feta, with sourdough crumbs, diced olives and fresh dill. It comes with a housemade cracker that we're told is made primarily from plain flour and water. It looks like a gigantic prawn cracker!
The cheese combination is light and creamy; the crumbs from the sourdough crunchy and the olives sweet. I love dill, and think it works so well with cheese - here it doesn't disappoint. It's fragrant and fresh. And while I'm not a big fan of olives, here they're quite mild and soft, so as not to overpower the cheese but rather compliment it.
The cracker is fun to tear apart - it's so crunchy and crisp and perfect for scooping up the moorish elements of this canape. If only my photos had turned out better to do the food justice!
Sourdough bread and butter
The menu is presented to us once we're munching away on our canape dish - the options nice and simple. We can do a degustation ($150) with set menu items, or we can choose four courses for $110 each. While I do love a good degustation, Jeremy and I are both keen to choose our own courses and to try some different fare.
The four courses option consists of choosing a cold entree, a hot entree, a main and a dessert. There's four different items in each section to select from.
We provide our ever friendly (and slick) waiter with our choices, then relax as we're presented with another complimentary course - freshly baked bread from their Small Print Bakery downstairs. I select a white sourdough, while Jeremy picks the soy & linseed sourdough. It comes with some light whipped butter.
Sourdough has fast become the go to bread for restaurants and cafes as of late I've noticed. It's a slightly dense bread, that (as the name suggests) has the faintest sour taste to it due to the lactic acid produced in the leavening of the bread.
Here the bread is actually quite fluffy for the white, though Jeremy tells me the soy & linseed is quite heavy - though he does enjoy it. The butter it comes with is soft, creamy and delicious. It could have used just the slightest hint of more salt but all up it's pretty damn good. We're offered a second slice each but choose to pass so we can focus on the food that is to come.
Blue manna crab
For the first course, it comes out perfectly timed about 10-15 minutes after we finish our bread. Jeremy has ordered the Blue Manna Crab, which comes with curried egg, cucumber and avruga caviar. It's decorated with paper thin parmesan crisps which offer a nice salty edge to the dish.
The crab is the hero of the dish much to his pleasure. It's cold, fresh and succulently sweet. The curried egg is mild in flavour, working well with the seafood. I like how simple the dish is, while showcasing all the beautiful ingredients.
Slow cooked organic egg
For my cold entree, I choose the Slow Cooked Organic Egg - which is actually a bit of a cheat because the egg is warm. For me, this was the dish of the night.
The egg is wobbly and only just cooked through; the yolk breaking open and coating the other ingredients like a sexy binding agent. Yes, I just called egg sexy! But if there ever was one to live up to this description, this is the dish.
It comes with a sourdough crumb, lemon, thyme, nasturtium and porcini mushrooms. The crumb is fragrant and crunchy - a great texture that doesn't soften when the yolk spills out. I love mushrooms, and these porcini ones are toothsome and earthy, perfectly cooked and seasoned.
I could rave about this dish all day because each bite was something different, with a great explosion of flavours and textures to send my tastebuds into overdrive. Who knew an egg could be so right...
King prawn carbonara
Within minutes of finishing our cold entrees, our plates were cleared away efficiently, our table quickly wiped down. By now Jeremy and I had started making jokes about a hidden microphone being attached to our table with a camera; an unseen watcher barking orders to the service staff. While this might not have been the case, the level of attention and speed of the staff really needs to be recognised. These guys were on top of their game!
What I particularly liked throughout the evening was the way each course was brought to the table by a kitchen staff member; the elements talked through and advise provided on how best to enjoy the elements. It's a nice touch and makes you appreciate the food all the more.
Next up for our hot entrees (which came well spaced out about 15 minutes later again), Jeremy experienced his favourite dish of the night, the King Prawn Carbonara. It comes with porcini, parmigiano and San Daniele proscuitto.
Our server pours the creamy sauce onto the plate of ingredients at our table, leaving the little jug next to Jeremy's plate with a small smile and the instruction that the pasta is in the jug. Yum! I have massive food envy because I love carbonara (though I usually prefer the traditional dry version) and this looks so rich and decadent.
The prawn is so well cooked it snaps as his knife pierces it; the flesh sweet and juicy. The proscuitto is so salty and melt in your mouth, the pasta perfectly al dente.
Smoked ocean trout
My hot entree is the Smoked Ocean Trout with pumpernickel, lemon yoghurt and oyster. It comes out as a pillow shaped bundle of trout that's soft and flakes away temptingly as my fork enters the flesh.
Smoking any meat can be quite a delicate process and I'm really happy to note that the smokiness here is mild and not overpowering in the slightest. The lemon yoghurt on the side offers some zing and freshness to the fish which I really enjoy. The strip of skin is shockingly crisp - it snaps as I touch it, shattering into bite sized pieces that contrast the fish. There's something so satisfying about crunchy elements of a meal!
The only downfall for me with this dish is the oyster. While I love a good oyster, this one is hot from sitting on the fish and feels out of place - I don't think it adds anything and the dish would probably be better with a different ingredient instead.
Wood fire grilled cape grim beef
The main items all sound delicious, and we both find ourselves a little stuck on what to order. In the end Jeremy chooses the Wood Fire Grilled Cape Grim Beef, which is a grass fed sirloin cut that comes with farro, shimeji and smoked onion. He asks for it to be cooked rare.
The meat is utterly tender, pink throughout but seared well on the outside. It's slightly smokey from being cooked over the fire, and well rested - no juices spill out when Jeremy cuts into it. I really like the onion puree it sits with, as well as the onion rings on top. The farro is earthy and softly toothsome.
Considering we weren't too sure if the dish sizes were going to be small or standard, it's a decent size after all. It's comfort food but presented in a modern and impressive manner.
Cauliflower and cheese
My main is the Cauliflower and Cheese, which is my second vegetarian dish choice for the night. It wasn't even intentional, but Jeremy laughs since I am often a self declared carnivore. But in this case, I couldn't not choose this dish which comes with my beloved potato gnocchi, as well as goats curd, raisins, roasted almonds and dandelion.
My benchmark for gnocchi is Cantina 663... at least it was until I tried Print Hall's version of it. Soft fluffy gnocchi squares that have been pan fried sit atop of a cauliflower puree that is silky and fine. There's chunks of goats curd throughout that's dreamy creamy, with little mini cauliflower florets for a nice textural element.
The raisins are just plain wonderful inside - hot, plump and juicy. They give a burst of sugariness as I chomp away. I also love the roasted almond chunks that are crunchy and flavoursome. I'm actually a little devastated when this dish is finished!
When ordering our mains, we were offered the options to add Confit Potatoes ($10) as a side, which we happily accepted. Why not! They're soft and oh so fluffy inside, with a great scattering of sea salt flakes. They taste really good, and are great at soaking up the sauce swimming around on Jeremy's plate.
To our surprise, we're also presented with a complimentary salad to enjoy with our mains. It's a great concoction of crisp lettuce, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and many other items that all bind together well while looking wild and unpredictable.
The dressing is simply oil; the flavours of the ingredients themselves shining through. I love the use of the seeds which are crunchy but also filling - they elevate what would otherwise be a very simple salad, into something quite memorable. We nearly finish the whole plate, but realise we're both getting quite full so opt to stop to leave room for our fourth course.
Jeremy and I really enjoy pumpkin pie which is a traditional American dessert that is not very common here in Australia. Print Hall's version comes with pepita sponge and maple ice-cream, plus a clove crumb.
It's a deconstructed modern day interpretation of pumpkin pie; with the sponge looking almost like something from the bottom of the ocean. The pumpkin filling is sticky and sweet - hovering somewhere between savoury and dessert. I like the pumpkin reduction which is jam-packed with flavour and works well with the maple infused ice-cream.
It's not a dish I myself would have chosen in hindsight now that we've tried it as I usually like my desserts quite sweet, but if you don't have a sweet-tooth, this is right up your alley.
My dessert is the Mandarin Vacherin, which comes with freeze dried and tinned mandarin segments, mandarin curd, rhubard, coriander seed ice-cream and mini meringues kisses.
I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant around how this coriander seed ice-cream would go, but it's quite wonderful. Sweet, fragrant and just the slightest hint of coriander. I love the rhubarb which looks firm but is soft and perfectly cooked.
While normally I don't mind herbs in desserts, the ones here felt a little out of place - though the green was quite striking amongst the orange and white. When I bit into them I felt like they distracted from the rest of the elements and not in a good way. But thankfully there weren't too many of them!
My favourite thing about this dish is just how much mandarin there is. The freeze dried pieces are so inventive and playful - shattering when I bite down as opposed to the segments which are juicy and syrupy. The curd is sweet but also sour at the same time, a good balance with neither being dominant.
After our dessert we're given a final complimentary dish for the night - just when we thought we'd been spoilt enough! A pretty little petit four of choux pastry and vanilla custard - basically a tiny profiterole.
It is awesome! The custard inside is light and creamy; the pastry crisp but still soft in the right places. What a lovely sweet note to finish up our evening of decadence, and actually quite impressive food.
I have to say, Print Hall has been on my wishlist but I did have my reservations before coming here. I'm really happy to say that I shouldn't have worried because our evening was one of great service and incredible food. We had a great time, and it was such a nice place to visit and celebrate my boy's birthday. While it's not cheap, I had actually anticipated it to be much more expensive - so that was a nice win too!