The new sister establishment of Elgin Street’s 12,000 Francs, Big Sur continues to make good use of chef Conor Beach’s knack for preserving seasonal ingredients, from tart and spicy pickles to homemade jams, weaved into balanced dishes with complex flavours. The elongated dining room is equipped with a well-stocked bar, a sizeable main dining area and al fresco seating that stretches across the entrance of the restaurant.
The room comfortably seats about 50 guests, and tables are sparsely scattered across the space, although an occasional two-top table placed between two pillars was particularly difficult to squeeze in between. The dining area on both ends are spacious and prime for a comfortable night out, but for a restaurant inspired by the sunny West Coast, lighting is an issue—although the space boasts floor-to-ceiling window panels, the room seemed dim, tired and lifeless, and the looping dance music couldn’t ail the lack of spirit in the otherwise handsome wood-toned room.
Big Sur’s a la carte menu is grill-focused, rather similar to the offerings at neighboring Meats. Here, the meats are home-brined and smoked before being served. We skipped the salads and began with herb halloumi, a sizeable chunk of grilled cheese resting on top of black bean-filled pupusa pancake, spicy pickles and tomatillo jam. The filled pancake was rich, enhanced with the chewy, molten halloumi and offset by the sharp heat of the pickles and sweet and tangy tomatillo jam—a nice fruity touch to mellow out the stinging heat of the preserved cabbage and chillies.
There are two types of tacos on the menu, and the Baja tacos were generously topped with grilled prawns and chorizo-like sausage prepared in-house. It was, however, the house-smoked pastrami tacos that won our hearts. A smoky crust and tender pastrami chunks tasted rich with barbecue sauce and cold pico de gallo (chopped tomatoes with onions and parsley), served on a warm tortilla. Be prepared and have napkins ready as you take one messy bite after another.
The free-range California chicken was brined and roasted on the bone with a green herb rub and smoked for two hours before serving. The brining was done properly to ensure a tender and juicy chicken breast, although a sauce or jus and crispier skin will improve the simple dish.
Read more: Review: Meats
On our first visit, the smoked Memphis pork ribs, served divided from a full slab and spice-rubbed, were a bit on the dry side. Fortunately on our subsequent visit a month later, Beach has gotten it just right: the new improved ribs were more tender than before with a generous lather of tangy barbecue sauce all over the ribs. For something a bit richer, the restaurant also serves a rich portion of beef ribs prepared in a similar fashion.
Unlike their rich array of savoury selections, Big Sur’s dessert selections are rather weak. The daily pie, as it seemed, to be the same maple pecan tart served at 12,000 Francs. The apple crisp, despite a buttery crisp oatmeal crumble, was filled with limp apples that were on the bland side. The signature Texas sheet stack cake was generous in size, but a massive portion of thick chocolate cake, dark chocolate glaze and mixed nuts, was one too rich after a few barbecued mains.
The beverage list is impressive at Big Sur, with an extensive draft and bottled beer selection divided by flavour profiles from hoppy options to something bold. Some of the beers may require looking up and further research as the staff are not all well-trained on recommending or pairing drinks with food. The wine selection covers a good amount by the glass, particularly full bodied labels fitting for barbecue dishes. Big Sur’s spirits selection is good, with a particular section for tequila and mezcal, as well as non-alcoholic options such as juice blends and mocktails.
Service is warm and friendly throughout, although at certain parts of the dining room guests may need to make an effort to get attention from the service team, who is keen on helping with portion control and making recommendations on food orders.
How we rate
Each of our reviewers score restaurants based on four main criteria: setting, food, service, and drinks, taking into account more than 35 different points of reference including manners of staff, usefulness of the wine list, and whether or not the restaurant makes an effort to be environmentally aware. 5/5 indicates an exceptional experience; 4-4.5/5 is excellent; 3-3.5/5 is good to very good; and 2.5/5 or lower is average to below average. Before visiting a restaurant, the reviewers will book using a pseudonym and do not make themselves known to restaurant staff, in order to experience the venue as a regular guest—if this is not possible, or if we are recognised, we will indicate this in the review.
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