The Marriage of Figaro is one of Mozart’s most well-known operas, but if fat ladies singing is not your thing then you may well recognise it from the opening of Trading Places, the vastly-underrated 1983 social comedy with Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd. Either way, it’s an impossibly-beautiful piece of music:
In the 852, Figaro is a French spot, open since January, that is well worth a visit. It’s particularly gratifying checking somewhere out to learn that your preconceptions are way off the mark. For a start, I thought Figaro would be serving Italian cuisine. However it’s indisputably French, even if chef Jon Irwin clearly isn’t.
Then there’s the venue. To say it’s compact is an understatement. You can tell that it used to be more of a drinking den – the kitchen seems tiny, the tables close together, the ceilings not the tallest. So it’s all the more remarkable that Irwin produces plates of real beauty, serious technique and finesse, to rival much grander kitchens across town.
He has serious previous, in France with Pierre Gagnaire, at the Hotel Negresco in gorgeous Nice, and at Moulin des Mougins. Back in Paris he cooked for wunderkind Akrame and followed him as he opened in Ship Street. Now he is a free agent and Figaro should count themselves very lucky to have nabbed him. I get the distinct impression that his skills will continue to be sought after.
The prices are also incredibly reasonable for cooking of this quality. Set lunches run at $150 and $190 while à la carte, somehow the most expensive dish is only $160, even if the menu had been dripped on. But what dishes they are.
A langoustine tartare in a cucumber consommé was the perfect summer starter, light, vibrant and floral. The langoustine came with pickled daikon and apple (I think) in the tiny dumplings below, while langoustine oil added more to the dish through contrasting with the sublime consommé. Never has cucumber been so compelling. Damn pretty and pretty damn fine.
After such a high note to start, could Irwin maintain the level? The photo says it all. Pollock, the flaky and mild member of the cod family, came in two generous discs. Salmon and herring roe bought further snap, crackle and pop from the depths, but it was the oyster and gin emulsion which took this dish from good to great, a creamy and decadent counterpoint to the verdant asparagus. No word where the spears came from, but the English season is just over.
Two dishes, two excellent plates of French-trained cuisine with clear Japanese aesthetics. The plates were so light that a third course wasn’t outrageous at lunch – unlike two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc. They have a 2,000 bottle wine cellar, ‘99%’ of which is French.
Dessert read intriguingly. ‘Fennel mousse with strawberries, basil ice and black olive cacao’. Wow. It was another sublime plate from Irwin, again one perfectly in tune with the beating sun outside and need for light but memorable flavours. Texturally it was a success too, not least through those grey shards of what felt like snaps of salade niçoise. It all worked, looked beautiful and showed serious thought and technique – and all for $85, the same price as the ‘molten chocolate cake’ at Dan Ryan’s.
But the now departed rib purveyor from Pacific Place shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath as Figaro. This is a truly exciting and unexpected culinary destination where Irwin’s star will only continue to rise.
Open daily 11am – 2am