You’re sitting at the bar, drinking a gin Martini out of a Nick and Nora glass, and ‘As Time Goes By’ is being played by a jazz quintet set against a red velvet curtain. This isn’t an elaborate Casablanca fantasy but rather the very real experience of dining at Restaurant Hubert on a Wednesday or Thursday night. That’s when they have the live band, which is essential to maintaining the illusion that you have travelled back in time, helped by the fact that two stories underground your phone won’t get reception worth a damn.
Dinner here is akin to immersive theatre: the narrative is a love story and the leads are played by a perfect steak bavette and your fine self. It catches your eye on the menu, it joins you at the table, and after that first bite you fall deeply in love. The Rangers Valley flank has a char that is textbook, it’s served bloody and melting over the top is a Café de Paris butter that features no less than 19 ingredients. It has a complexity worthy of a Millenium Prize Problem.
Out of the kitchen comes work from the classic French bistro handbook, punking up a velvety soft Wagyu tartare with anchovy, and directing sweet, juicy baby beetroots to go full melodrama in a purple pool of sharp blackberry vinaigrette, wearing a fascinator of flamboyant curls of crinkled Téte de Moine, a sour and creamy Swiss cheese.
Don’t be fooled by the diminutive title, because le petit aioli is no tiny snack – it’s a weighty grazing plate starring celeriac wedges, fresh avocado, cocktail potatoes, caperberries, blanched green onions, cucumber, baby corn in the husk, boiled eggs, zucchini flowers, fat prawns and bouncy mussels, lining up to be swiped through a pungently garlicky aioli.
There’s no denying that Hubert is one of the best settings for a hot date, but there are three very good reasons to make it a party of six: it means you can book, allowing you to sweep from spiral staircase to table in one smooth move; you can order the chicken fricassée, that famous golden chook served with bread sauce that has never left the menu; and you can deep dive on the wine list. Hubert is famous for their wine offering, and the best value is on pages 10 to 51 if you can order by the bottle. In saying that, Burgundy is never a bad date, especially when it’s a lean, mineraly Pierre-Yves Colin Morey aligoté.
Do not skip dessert. Even if you’re already a little achey from all the butter and salt, you’ll find new reserves for a sexy, wobbling, moulded Champagne jelly that’s a little boozy, tarted-up with freeze-dried raspberry and bathed in vanilla creme Anglaise. Fruit jelly and cream sounds like nursery food; this is the XXX, adults-only version.
There are some venues that have a theme, and then there are venues that live a theme. Hubert is the most thoroughly realised venue in Sydney. No expense was spared by the Swillhouse group, who also count wild west Americana hideout Shady Pines Saloon, whisky bunker the Baxter Inn and pizza party bar Frankie’s Pizza by the Slice in their cabal of venues. When you’re sitting down here, among the red velvet, chestnut timber, polished brass, and what we would guestimate is tens of thousands of dollars of vintage posters and prints in frames, you may as well have landed in Oz, or Pleasantville. Political storms and economic maneuvering may rage overhead in the CBD’s financial district, but down here you’ll always have a piece of Paris, with steak, jazz and wine. Here’s looking at you, Hubert.