Libertine has been on my 'to eat at' list for some time. Although I have to admit that it never quite made it to top the top, always being pushed back by seemingly more important culinary adventure. When one of my friends suggested that we go to Libertine for a dinner, I was more than happy with her choice. Anywhere with Viet/French fusion cuisine is a must try in my book.
Update: 20th August 2011 - A friend and I stopped into Libertine for a quick snack. We ordered the char grilled baby squid w pomegranate nam jim and vietnamese mint for $18, four scallops w jambon cru and tomato concasse at $7.5 each and the kingfish and crab chao tom at $8.5 each. The squid and scallops were both good, however the chao tom was disappointingly dry and styrofoamy. We let the waiter know, he took the offending chao tom away, apologised profusely, removed the item from the bill and bought us out another 'surprise' - some rice paper rolls. This all happened within a matter of minutes and we were extremely impressed. The service was faultless and I will, on the strength of the response, of course return happily.
As we had a group larger than ten, we were required to have the banquet menu. Obviously, I jumped online to find the banquet menu to look at the options. Never have I been with so confronted by a menu. On the page before me lay a strict list of terms and conditions associated with booking for more than ten people. To be honest, I felt just a bit put out by the direct nautre of the rules. For heaven sake- we were booking to eat at a restaurant not at one of THE top restaurants in the world.
And the irony of the situation didn't escape me either. Libertine basically means devoid of restraints but reading the strict rules associated with booking for more than ten had me feeling like I was back under the iron fist of my boarding school house mistress.
With my nose slightly out of joint I continued on trawling through the menu to pick four of the street food and four of the main dishes to make up my choices for the banquet. Aside from the rules, the menu looked good. It features a wide range of interesting dishes that had both Vietnamese and French touches, that were also not too alienating- perfect for the group I was going with. I bossily emailed my suggestions even though it wasn't my dinner. My friends are used to my overbearing food behaviour by now but it worked out well because the organiser had many of the same ideas as me.
When we arrived at Libertine, I was surprised that the al fresco area was packed with what looked to be an after work crowd. Can't say I blame them- the area was perfect for relaxed drinks in at atmosphere a bit more cosmo than what is on offer at the close-by Caxton Street. I had obviously underestimated the popularity of this eatery, based at the new Caxton Barracks complex. The restaurant had a serious attention to detail and I would have to say the vibe was Asian chic.
We perused the amazing cocktails menu which was characterised by viet styled ingredients- very minty, limey, fresh and fun- just how I love them. I was happy to see my lychee and viet mint caipiroska arrive in reasonable time.
We had already pre-ordered the banquet for $50.00 a head. The food arrived about half an hour into our booking and the table was laden with all the street food components first up. A mixture of greed and wanting to try everything always leaves me concerned that the banquet will be a little on the light side, so when a plentiful amount came out I breathed a sigh of relief.
The wagyu tartare with crisp baguette and pickled vegies was a flavour bursting first bite. The tartare was moulded well and the chilli went well with the tender meat. The pickled vegies provided a good sweet and sour contrast to the heat of the meat.
The 'most excellent spring rolls' were relatively true to their name- the outside was crispy without being too oily and the minced insides meant that the pork and herbed flavours were well combined and presented prettily.
It's a shame the flavour that packed the last two dishes wasn't apparent in the fresh chicken rice paper rolls. Whilst they were really fresh, they were bland and the accompanying satay sauce couldn't add enough flavour to save the dish.
The scallops lacked the green mango they boasted on the menu, but the black seasme, mint and taro were a tasty addition. Unfortunately the scallops weren't plump and were a little over cooked for my liking which was a shame because with a little less cooking, this dish had the potential to be a show stopper.
After the enormous amount of street food, the mains arrived in quick succession. First was the pork belly with spicy apple salad and it was delicious. The pork was thinly sliced and the perfect combination of the cripy exterior whilst still remaining succulent and moist. The spicy apple and accompanying dark sauce were a winning combo and the pork kept me coming back for more. I am partial to a good serving of pork belly and the thin strips meant that the serving was not too overwhelming. In my eyes, this dish stole the limelight, however some of my PIE's disagree.
The duck was the most popular dish among my PIE's. The eggplant and tomato were well placed but I felt the sweet fish sauce could have been more plentiful. The duck was well cooked and falling off the bone with crispy skin and the fish sauce could have pulled the dish through to be the best dish.
The prawns were not to be sneezed at either. They were certainly eye pleasing, the coriander and tomato brightening the whole table. The sauce vierge with coriander added a great kick to the prawns which were meaty and fresh.
The chicken larb type stirfry had a nice flavour of shitake mushroom and chilli but was not overwhelmingly fabulous. It failed to differentiate itself from any other chicken wok dish from any suburban Vietnamese restaurant. Most of the other dishes were a cut above.
The service was good although not fantastic. We had so many different staff serving our table, it was impossible to tell who was assigned. We were pretty much left to our own devices and this was ok given that we had pre-ordered but the time it took to order the next delicious cocktail echoed this sentiment.
I found that we had more than enough food for our party of people and the standard was consistently good. The $50 per head fee for banquet was very reasonable. The cocktails were priced at $15 and were really well done. The rules and regulations put me offside early, but the food and drink won my heart. If you decide to go to Libertine in a big group, make sure the group are not rebellious and don't invite anyone that might do a 'no-show' because you are charged for them regardless. I will be heading back to Libertine especially for the great cocktails and the chilled out atmostphere. Perhaps i'll go back even earlier next time so I can make the most of their $10 cocktail happy hours between 5-7. If the cocktails and food are as good as this experience, I'll be a very happy girl indeed.
Update: 3/3/11 - Sadly, I went back to Libertine last weekend. I say sadly because I went with fond memories that are now tarnished. Whilst the service had improved out of sight from last time, the food was rushed and lacked spark. We ordered a number of the streetfood options (5) and they all arrived on our table within literally 5 minutes of ordering. The table was too small so it took some serious re-shuffling to get the dishes all on. Re-shuffling is not the problem. The problem is that we felt ridiculously rushed because we didn't want anything to go cold. We were in and out in 45 minutes and actually went with the intention of relaxing and having a long dinner. It's so unfortunate because Libertine had a great atmosphere last time, and this just wrecked the whole experience.
No, 5 The Caxton Barracks
61 Petrie Terrace
07 3367 3353