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World class fare

For those of you who follow these things, I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say it’s difficult to believe The Globe restaurant at the Hilton is now two years old. It has developed into something more than just a showcase for Cheong Liew’s Sino-Aussie food which despite his entirely deserved status as the father of modern Australia fusion cookery is no bad thing. It’s now possible to go to The Globe and order a good steak frites and simple grilled fish.

However, it is still Cheong’s restaurant, in terms of menu and theme, and his fans continue to have much of his refined food to choose from.

When The Globe opened, there could have been no more emphatic eulogy to the passing of the five star hotel restaurant as we had known it. It launched in a blaze of publicity. The Cheong Liew connection was enough to fuel endless streams of hyperventilated, hyperbolic copy from the nation’s food literati. It was a triumph for Hilton GM Ruth Harrison, whose belief in both the concept and Liew’s pulling power saw her embark on what, at the time, was a risky gamble.

Returning two years later to review The Globe found it better than ever. It has settled into its skin. In an obvious response to customers, the menu has become more mainstream in parts without losing the headline attraction that is Liew’s food. Three steaks – a T-bone, a sirloin and a tenderloin – leave little doubt that modern hotel cuisine can only go so far in abandoning its roots. Three fish dishes, all simply cooked and garnished, are also welcome, along with rack of lamb, squab, Mount Barker chicken and sweetbreads.

The signature dish is the curiously named sitting duck ($16.50 p/p); comprising six amuse gueule size dishes of outstanding virtuosity. It’s been written about often so there’s probably little left to say. However, one of the dishes, saltwater duck with black pepper pineapple, is an apposite example of Liew’s preternatural command over simple ingredients.

There are three ingredients: pineapple, sliced roasted duck breast and black pepper. The preparation and combination of these create a textural rhapsody of sweet, sour, heat, spice and that wonderful gym sock influence that Chinese wine has on duck breast. The precision is extraordinary. The combination of flavours is subtle at first, revealing layers of complexity as one eats.

The sitting duck also includes Fremantle sardines, deep fried bean curd roll withglacé vegetables and tandoori chicken with onions – all simply executed, yet with some masterstroke of flavour or technique which sets it apart.

The Globe recommends wines with each dish, and sommelier Ben Mayne faced a Sisyphean task matching a wine to the sitting duck. The 1998 Hugel ‘Gentil’ from the Alsace region of France – with its chalky, floral flavours and crisp acid finish – did the job perfectly. Who would have thought?

The roasted red snapper ($29.00) with chilli, coriander, leek fondue and calamari shavings was at the more accessible end of the menu, and an example of mixed European and Asian flavours. The calamari shavings delivered the Asian tones. The strong, slightly rotting fish smell which emanates from this traditional dried squid product is immediately suggestive of cool, dark Chinese groceries and their distinctive aroma.

The leek fondue was from the other side of the world (a place where Wales meets Switzerland?) and was a creamy foil to the robust chilli and coriander flavours: good construction, well judged fish cooking, silkily adroit technique.

The grain-fed tenderloin fillet ($31.00) was well aged, well cooked and well presented. Served with Lyonnaise potatoes, it was served with a sticky reduction sauce.

There is an effortless expertise about Globe. This is not to say they don’t get it wrong from time to time (although this meal was virtually pitch perfect), but there is something comforting, and stress-free, in the knowledge that the food will meet the expectation of the diner. The solicitous service, the décor, the fluent floor staff and the premium price

point are cues which drive an expectation of excellence.

At Globe, one gets what one expects. It is the Volvo of restaurant experiences – safe, well constructed, slightly sporty (especially the more exotic models) and calmly, quietly efficient.

The brigade is big and clearly well trained. The night we dined, they were hit with sixty extra customers at short notice, courtesy of a Singapore Airlines flight delay which saw many of their passengers bought dinner at the Globe.

Stress levels in the open kitchen were palpably elevated by the extra covers, but a quiet, heads-down earnestness took over with the only noise the chef calling the orders in and calling the meals out with brusque efficiency.

All desserts are $10.50 and the two we chose – chocolate and orange brûlée and lemon sericaia – were well presented and well prepared.

The word ‘fine’ placed before dining conjures up images of over-reaching, slightly pompous food and service in the old style ‘five star’ mould. The Globe is undoubtedly fine

dining, but achieved with a more casual and contemporary mien in keeping with the times. The Cheong factor also makes it engagingly unique and in some ways hard to pigeonhole.

It’s a wholly enjoyable experience. And if you went once and were put off by Cheong Liew’s often challenging food, the menu is now friendly to those with more conventional palates.

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