For months, I had been reading incredible reviews about a relatively new dining location that had decided to call Wollongong its home, though it was only after a bad experience at my usual special occasion restaurant of choice that I decided to branch out and give it a try.
When you’ve been celebrating those anniversaries and birthdays at the same place for more than 15 years, it can be hard to recommit to a new restaurant relationship. After a slow and steady decline at my favourite fancy go-to, from magnificence to mediocrity, a rough and sudden breakup soon followed. I was hurt and sceptical, never thinking I could love again. Little did I know that I would find a special place that could warm my heart again so soon.
It was a cold and stormy night when we braved the rain to attend a long-awaited dinner reservation for four at Wollongong’s Debutant, described as classic French bistro collides with a modern Australian steakhouse. As with all first dates, it was hope for the best, expect the worst.
We were seated promptly in a timelessly elegant setting with a serving platter for the wait staff in the centre of the room. The smell of potato bread rolls were enough to get even the most reluctant of tastebuds interested.
A simple menu, featuring their specialities and no fodder in between. Our server greeted us with an authentic French accent and welcomed us warmly. As we were celebrating a birthday in the ranks we decided to go all out and try everything we could.
It began with the bread rolls that teased us earlier and fresh butter. Real butter, not the stuff that comes wrapped in foil or served on a side plate virtually frozen to the dish. This was followed by the Charcuterie Board and Cheese Souffle, both standouts on the scoring board for entrees everywhere. The souffle tasted like pure cheesy heaven. Not too dense; light and airy like a cloud of happiness.
Next course was the main event, the steak. Of course, just to be difficult, both of our children (13 and 10) ordered themselves the fish which felt like a mistake in a place spoken about for its steak offerings. Sure enough, all meals came out and re-wrote the book on what good food in this city really is. Our two different orders of steak were cooked to perfection, paired with outstanding sauces that were clearly created by some culinary genius I would never have the pleasure of thanking in person.
And the fish? Well, let’s just say it has ruined all other fish dishes for us everywhere. It was mind-blowing, with texture and flavour that I, an avid fish-orderer, have never experienced.
All were served with a family-style serving of fresh salad and steak fries. To add to the decadence, I splurged on a side order of the mushrooms with herb butter, that had everyone moaning, including my son who doesn’t even like mushrooms.
This food journey had brought us so far, why stop now without a sampling of the dessert on offer? We don’t usually order desserts when dining out, though I had read reviews about this lemon tart that I knew I couldn’t leave without trying.
As we had come to expect at this point, the tart didn’t disappoint, with a strong, bold bite that lemon lovers crave. The other desserts held up their end of the deal as well; another house tart with custard consistency and the creme caramel, both tasting like something you would dream others desserts to be, but they never are.
All in all, this unique little restaurant had me at hello and made whole my broken heart. Topped with kind, attentive, yet subtle service, we were left never wanting more, not able to think of a single way this dining experience could have been improved.
Of course, no one knew going in that this would result in such an outstanding experience so I wasn’t prepared to take photos, however, a quick request on exit and I was allowed to use the images above from Debutant’s Instagram feed. The thing is, these are the exact dishes we had, presented the same way you see here, if not better in person. Every dish that came from that kitchen looked like it had been prepared for the cover of a magazine.
The next time there is a special occasion, you will know where to find me; 119 Keira St, Wollongong, behind the opaque glass of a little, unassuming restaurant where I can truly tell you, magic happens.
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