Thursday, April 30, 2015

Bill's, Darlinghurst

Brunch, brunch, glorious brunch.  One of my absolute favorite meals, and I love that brunch is such a thing in Sydney.

On my first trip to Sydney, I was brought to Bill's by a local, and fell in love with their most famous dish: ricotta hotcakes with honeycomb butter.  OMG.  Subsequently, I made a point to visit Bill's at least once during every visit.

Bill's is rather famous, and Bill Granger, the executive Chef, has capitalized on the success well.  He has several cookbooks, tv shows, and there are now Bill's restaurants all over the world, including in London and Tokyo, and even Honolulu and Seoul, along with three locations in Sydney.

On this visit, we choose to go to the original Darlinghurst location, because on our last trip to Bill's we went to the larger, newer Surry Hills location, and were disappointed.

It turns out, the location is really not the problem.  I think Bill's has just gone downhill as the empire has expanded.

The experience at Bill's started off just as I remembered: queueing up on the sidewalk to wait.  This was actually a good sign, it means people still like Bills, right?  But things went downhill fast.  The service was horrible.  Our water was never refilled, and only 3 water glasses were brought for our party of 5. Likewise, only 4 plates were provided (technically, they brought 5, but one was dirty and so they took it away, and never replaced it).  4 people ordered lemonade, only 3 received it.  It literally took 45 minutes just to receive my cup of coffee, 35 minutes for the others to get their lemonade, and 20 minutes to get sparkling water.  There is no way the beverage station was THAT backed up.  The staff really just seemed to not care at all

We ordered a selection of Bill's greatest hits, and opted to share everything, and sadly, didn't like a single dish.  It is isn't like the problem was that we just ordered one dish and it happened to be a bad choice, or ordered experimental things, these were all Bill's most famous classics.  The food itself took well over an hour to arrive, was delivered lukewarm, and was totally mediocre.  Also, everything was pricier than anywhere else we went for brunch.

I'm sorry Bill's, but this was not a good showing.  Given this, and our last experience at the Surry Hills location, I think I'm done with Bill's.  There are far, far too many excellent cafes in Sydney (like Pinbone, seriously one of the best brunches I've had in my entire life!) to waste time queueing up, waiting forever for food and drinks, and paying too much for mediocre food.
Large Communal Table.
There are a few small tables on one side of the room, but the majority of patrons are seated around a large, square communal table in the middle.  It is littered with Bill's cookbooks, newspapers, and assorted magazines.  There are also displays of cookies and other desserts, to tempt you while you wait .... and wait.

We were seated in this area, and it wasn't very comfortable.  Hard wooden chairs, very noisy with everyone so close together, but it does create a nice communal atmosphere.  You aren't alone while you wait!
Sparkling Water. $4. Salt & Pepper.
Sparkling water is available for $4/pp, house sparkled.  I appreciate this, as I love sparkling water, but I do think it is crazy to drink so much bottled water, imported from far away places.  It was supposed to be "bottomless" per person, but our jug was never refilled.  Nor were the tap water glasses of those who opted not for still water.  Sigh, the service.

On the table was also a cute little pepper mill and a jar of sea salt with a spoon, a cute touch.
Bill's Homemade Lemonade. $7. 
"Iced oolong lime tea, rosehip and mint punch, lemon lime bitters".

It was a hot day, so the others all ordered the lemonade at the recommendation of the server.  None of them liked it.  The lemonade took about 35 minutes to arrive.

Certainly not worth $7 each.
Decaf Long Black. $4.40.
Bill's uses Single Origin Roasters, my absolute favorite roastery in Sydney.  So I was eager for my coffee to arrive.  It took 45 minutes from the time I ordered it.  No exaggeration.

And, it wasn't very good.  I saw it sitting up at the barista area getting cold for probably close to 5 minutes before anyone bothered to bring it to me.  I was tempted to go grab it myself.  But, the lukewarm temperature was not the real issue; it just wasn't good.  It had a strange sweet funk to it.

I had decaf from Single Origin from other places during my trip, like Dough Collective, so I know it isn't just that they don't make a good decaf.  A shame.  Perhaps it was old?  I'm not sure how a barista would otherwise screw up a simple long black, as there is no milk to burn or incorrectly steam or anything.  Plus, she had 45 minutes to make it!

$4.40 was pricer than anywhere else for coffee as well, even if you subtract the extra $0.50 for decaf.
Scrambled Organic Eggs and Sourdough Toast .$14.50.
Bill's is famous for their scrambled eggs, made with excessive amounts of cream.  I'm not really an egg eater, but I tried a bite, just to see how amazing eggs could possibly be.

They were .. scrambled eggs.  Fluffy and rich, but still, really not special.  Everyone else agreed.  The garnish was whole leaves of basil, just kinda thrown on top.

The toast on the side wasn't warm, and the giant pat of hard butter served alongside was impossible to spread on cold toast.  No one even bothered to eat the bread.

$14.50 for some scrambled eggs is certainly a bit pricey.
Sweet Corn Fritters, Roast Tomato, Spinach and Bacon. $21.50. 
Ok, one classic dish down, antoher to go.  The other savory Bill's classic dish is corn fritters.  Again, not something I normally go for, but someone else wanted to get this, and I tried some of course.

The fritters were the surprise of the day, certainly the best item we received.  They were super crispy on the outside, filled with sweet corn inside, and well salted.  Probably too much salt for many, but I appreciate aggressive salting.

The bacon was Australian-style, floppy and flabby, so I didn't try it.  The arugula was literally just arugula thrown on top, undressed.

For corn fritters, these were nice enough, and far better than the ones I had from Trio Cafe a few days prior, but I wouldn't return for this dish.

And again, the price.  Two corn fritters, with a small portion of bacon and a tomato, for $21.50?  A bit high.
Ricotta Hotcakes, Banana and Honeycomb Butter. $20.00.
And finally, the reason we were there.  The famous ricotta hotcakes!

The hotcakes come with three large hotcakes and two slices of honeycomb butter, plus sliced bananas.  A small pitcher of syrup was provided on the side.

To say they let us down is an understatement.

First, they uh, weren't "hot" hotcakes.  They weren't even warmcakes.  The butter couldn't melt into them.  One reason these hotcakes are usually so amazing is the way the honeycomb butter melts into them, infusing them with buttery, sweet goodness.  Alas, no melting here.  We could kinda spread it thin and it would melt a little, but you certainly did not wind up with butter infused hotcakes.  Strike one, temperature.

The hotcakes themselves were ok, large and fluffy, and did have pockets of moist ricotta in them, but without the melted honeycomb butter, they just weren't magical.

The butter was good, but it didn't have nearly as much honeycomb as I remembered and wanted.  Not quite enough sweetness to it, and, we ran out before finishing the hotcakes.  Strikes two and three, not enough honeycomb, not enough butter.

And finally, the bananas.   I swear there were probably two whole bananas on the plate.  They were literally just halves of bananas, sliced and put on the plate.  Thank you for removing the peel at least?  They were ripe, sure, but, just bananas.  I swear they used to caramelize them.

I'm pretty sure there are plenty of cafes in Sydney at this point that serve much, much better hotcakes.  Bill's may have started the trend, but they have certainly been surpassed.  And $20 for cold pancakes?  I'll pass.
See review on Urbanspoon
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