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Fine Dining in a Food Court: Eating at Becasse

18 Jul

This week I experienced one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. And it was in a food court. OK, well not exactly in a food court; we didn’t have to forage for our own table like seagulls scavenging for chips, we didn’t have to wipe someone else’s smear of tomato sauce off our table and we weren’t eating with plastic knives and forks. It was a restaurant within a food court. A restaurant called Becasse – one of Sydney’s best fine diners, which now resides on the same level as the new Westfield Sydney (Pitt St) Food Court. As far as food courts go, it’s very glamourous – with lots of stainless steel, black marble and chrome. Still, it’s a food court and you do have to walk past lots of diners filling their faces with burgers, sushi, chips and sandwiches in order to reach the sanctuary that is Becasse. The fine dining experience starts outside the door. The vine-covered entry gate is guarded by the maitre-d’, who checks our names off a list, unlocks the gate and leads us into the secret garden. Believe me, this really is like a secret garden.
 Beyond the gate lies a long corridor which is covered floor to ceiling with leaves and branches. It’s like walking through a five metre long arbor. At the end of the corridor sit four or five barren tree trunks, sitting like a sentry point to what lies beyond. And what lies beyond is an exclusive dining enclave – an intimate space with room for 25 diners only. Seating is at curved, velvet-covered banquettes. There are little footstools upon which to place your handbag, or shopping bags given the restaurant’s location. Even the tables are soft, shaped like an ellipse and covered with ostrich skin. There are more vines around the central pillar of the room, against an exposed sandstone wall backdrop and floor-to-ceiling arched windows, looking out onto the busy Pitt St shopping mall below. It’s kind of rustic luxe. The secret garden theme continues on the menu. We plump for the five course degustation, which includes dishes like ‘forgotten’ vegetables with smoked pork jowl, yabby tails and aromas of cedar. What arrives is a slab of hot stone upon which sit a collection of delicious baked and roasted root vegetables, a morsel of tasty pork (complete with crackling), some delicate tasting yabby, and a smear of creamy and sweet veg puree underneath it all. Topping it off is a sliver of cedar, the tips of which are gently burning, sending a waft of cedar smoke across the table. It’s like having a five star camp fire dinner, except we are sitting in velvet chairs in the middle of Sydney CBD. It is refined rusticity and it’s a dinner of many thank yous. Staff are there with comfortable regularity to refill our water glasses, clear plates, explain the menu, or ask if we would like to have a little break between courses (we can’t, the babysitters are waiting). And the icing on the cake? We are given a little gift bag containing a sweet treat to enjoy on the ride home. Not that we’re hungry. After five courses (eight really if you count the amuse bouche, pre-dessert and petit fours) we are replete. I’m more than happy to pay the rather large bill. It’s that good. But it’s over. Time to leave. The waiter leads us back to the front gate, produces a key, and unlocks it. We’re hit by the chaos of the food court. No wonder they keep the gate locked. We ask the waiter for a quick way out. He leads us through the middle of the food court, and keeps on going. There clearly is no quick way out. I think he’s going to escort us home but finally he points out the lifts. They are out of service. Eventually, we catch the service lift which delivers us back to Pitt Street. So does the food court location enhance or taint the experience? On one hand, a restaurant like Becasse is a special occasion kind of place (at least it is for me). It’s the type of meal that you dress up for, take someone special to, celebrate an occasion. So, you find yourself wearing your Sunday best…and walking through a food court, trying to convince your ‘someone special’ that Becasse really is (apparently) a two chefs hatted restaurant. It’s just not quite right. On the other hand, Becasse is perhaps more memorable because it’s such a surprise. It’s hard to comprehend that such a culinary oasis can exist in the midst of a burgers and burritos food court. Maybe it’s easier to appreciate blackmore wagyu with jerusalem artichoke, burnt butter and porter ale (it’s on the menu) when you know that someone is sitting 20 metres away from you eating a ham sandwich.