Sunday, 28 February 2010

Restaurant Review: Pilu, Freshwater

I've long been anticipating a visit to Pilu, nestling next to Freshwater beach in Sydney, with promises of spectacular views and exemplary Sardinian cooking. On Saturday night I finally got the chance to visit for Penne and Clint's leaving party.

The restaurant is situated in a lovely restored beach house with uninterrupted views of the beach. The staff were friendly and accommodating, not batting an eye lid at the fact we arrived half an hour early and offering a us a drink on the terrace while we waited for the others from our group to arrive.

Once seated we decided to go for the tasting menu, which as the menu states is designed for the whole table. Luckily we were all in agreement. Four of us also took the option to go for the accompanying wines with the tasting menu. When each dish was brought out the waiters explained a little bit about every plate, highlighting some of the key ingredients, flavours and cooking techniques. There was also an explanation of the matching wines and why they had been chosen to go with each particular dish. The team of waiting staff were clearly well trained and I've no doubt they've tasted everything on the menu.

The first dish was courgette flowers filled with ricotta, bottarga and pecorino; it was also the only disappointment of the evening. The first fritter I had was all courgette, with only the smallest flower and I was beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about. The second fritter was a large courgette flower with a healthy amount of the luscious filling. Dave reported having two courgettes sans flower and others at the table seemed to only have one courgette flower like me. It seemed a bizarre let down on an otherwise excellent evening of food.

The second course was the wonderfully delicate Spring Bay mussels, clams, tomatoes, fregola pasta and a sea water sauce. I couldn't resist casting aside my fork and spoon and using my fingers to eat the mussels which were perfectly cooked without a hint of toughness. The soup was the star of the dish for me with the white wine, sea water and olive oil coming together in perfect harmony.

The pasta course was next. Exquisitely shaped ravioli of potato, mint and nutmeg, with a fresh tomato sauce and percorino. How did they perfectly fold that oh so soft pasta? The nutmeg came through as the dominant, but not over powering flavour, and the fresh tomato sauce had a rich flavour full of summer. The pasta was one of my top three dishes of the evening.

The palate cleansing sorbet which came next, was also one of my top three dishes from the evening. The flavour of the granny smith apples really came through with a perfect balance of sharpness from the apple and sweetness of the sorbet. Palate cleansing heaven.

Our fifth course of the evening was snapper, prawn and sage wrapped in carta di musica and served on a red pepper sauce. Pan frying the fish inside the wafer thin carta di musica flat bread was a novel touch that added texture to the dish. Each parcel only contained half a prawn tail wrapped in a small piece of sage, I slightly wondered what the point was and felt the parcels could definitely have used more sage and potentially more prawn as well. The red pepper sauce was lovely, but a common complaint from me, I would have liked a bit more. I think I'm a sauce kinda guy.

Our final main course was the restaurant's signature dish of suckling pig. High expectations can often lead to disappointment and this dish just missed the mark for me. The crackling on the suckling pig was to die for, but the meat wasn't as tender or quite as flavoursome as I was expecting. The pig was served with two accompaniments. The first was an interesting mustard, rosemary and caper condiment which was slightly dominated by the mustard. The second was an apple and cinnamon sauce which was a little too sweet for me to be served with a main course.

For desert we had the most exquisite pannacotta with orange abbamele (a Sardinian honey reduction). The pannacotta had a perfect texture that dissolved in your mouth. The abbamele sauce added an extra dimension to the flavour, and a sweetness, without making the pannacotta too rich. The matching desert wine with orange and honey tones was the perfect accompaniment and best match of the evening. The pannacotta was the final of my three star dishes.

I sometimes doubt my own taste buds and don't think I can detect complex layers of flavours, but they were alive last night. I was really trying to savour each course and wasn't let down. The food at Pilu was fantastic. The atmosphere and service helped combine for an excellent evening. I'd put the food right up there with the meals I have had at Maze in New York and Le Manoir. If you go, and I think you should, make sure you ask for a table by the window.

Yes it was expensive, but worth every penny (or cent). The only real disappointment of the evening came when one of the waiters spilt some olive oil on the back of Brad's shirt as he was serving the homemade bread rolls at the start of the evening. It's one of those unfortunate mistakes that you can't do a lot about. However, in a place this classy I would have expected them to be a bit more apologetic and offer a gesture of recompense. Offer to pay for the dry cleaning? A free drink or course?

Pilu at Freshwater on Urbanspoon


  1. Great review Richie and nicely critiqued.

    It was a fantastic night to see Clint and Pen off but I just felt it was way too expensive.

    A tasting menu is a hard act to get right across a menu and I just felt the meal fell down in places.
    My restaurant experience is made up of many factors with the food but one. So let's give the postcard location and architecture as a given. It was incredible and added a lot.

    But again, to concentrate on the food, it was rarely robust and I found it quite apologetic in places. It was hinting but not delivering any knock out blows.

    The great Italian cliché set the tone first up — melon and parma ham. All that was missing was the Godfather theme. I was beginning to think I was on the set of My Kitchen Rules. Nicely book ended with the ubiquitous panna cotta, except executed perfectly.

    There were as you pointed out some highlights, none greater than the sorbet and mussels.

    But the fact that I was given a lecture before each meal only served to increase my disappointment. I wanted what I was told not the poor rendition now in front of me. Grand theatre promises much and I felt like I was getting Westside Story performed by the local but talented village troupe.

    It should have been exquisite and delicate considering the money, location, hype and most of all two hats.

    Worth going for that sorbet and crackling though. And the view.


  2. Excellent comments Dave.

    I haven't been to any other two hatted restaurants in Sydney, perhaps I need to get a benchmark? (Or am just looking for an excuse for more meals out.)

    I think the lecture is the sort of thing that on some days would have really wound me up, but on Saturday night I actually didn't mind it.

    I don't think I'd describe the food as apologetic in places, but for the money maybe there were one or two, too many weak links in the chain.

  3. good to read the review. i've heard good things about pilu but have yet to visit. interesting having a suckling pig as signature dish when i always thought it was a seafood restaurant but i'm mistaken. :-)