In Short: Little Jean is a charmingly relaxed and inviting atmosphere, outstanding food quality with a focus on seasonal and healthy ingredients, friendly and attentive service.
Little Jean Double Bay Video Review
I can recall, almost with the salty taste of the ocean on my lips, long summer days of my mis-spent youth lazing around eastern suburb beaches – the infamous Bondi, Bronte, and Coogee. As the sun slowly set, with sand in our hair and salt on our skin, and famished from being too lazy to get off our towels to venture off for food, my girlfriends and I often made a pit-stop in Double Bay to satisfy that hunger in its café lined streets.
I’m here again as the sun sets, sans beach hair, in the familiar streets of Double Bay, close to 20 years later, and while some things haven’t changed, the café and restaurant culture certainly has. Once just the back-side of The Golden Sheaf hotel, there is now a small corso filled with restaurants and bakeries luring people from busy New South Head Road and into its lair. And, front and centre is the fantastic, chic Little Jean.
Owners Chris Stockdale and Jeanette Woerner, have taken their culinary runs from Paddington Inn and Golden Sheaf, and with Chef Rob McWhinnie, have evolved them into this trendy little bistro, with a big emphasis on ethical, sustainable produce. Well known for its breakfast and coffee (and of course, lured in by it’s sustainability focused menu), we’re here to try their dinner menu and find a good excuse to laze away a late afternoon and early evening.
I leave my culinary choices for the evening, with our charming host Ben, who whisks off to the kitchen. And no sooner have I turned back to watch the passers-by, a ‘refresher’ of apple, mint and cucumber juice lands on the table. This delightful and fresh palate cleanser has the right balance, so that each flavour can be tasted and is just the right amount of sweetness.
Since we are so near the ocean, it’s no surprise that seafood plays a prominent role in the Little Jean menu, and its Chef McWhnnie’s favourite. I am treated with an array of plates to indulge in, the first of which are the Seared Scallops served with celery, cucumber, paprika aioli and soft herbs. There is this perfect balance between the crunchiness of vegetables and the soft and perfectly pan-fried scallops. A slight hint of heat from chilli oil and a great mix of mint and coriander add freshness to this dish.
Now if you are going to do seafood, it’s practically un-Australian not to have a prawn dish on the menu, and the Butterfly Prawns served at Little Jean, are nearly unbelievable in their crunch and juiciness. Topped with scallions and a spicy aioli for dipping, these buttery smooth, deliciously tender morsels of prawn meat are heaven in your mouth.
Often when a ‘protein’ is accompanied by a side, whatever that side dish may be, it often plays second-fiddle, but that is certainly not the case with the Atlantic Salmon. These are sensationally matched flavours. The salmon with its crunchy, salty skin gives way to a tender medium-rare done flesh that is a delight as soon as it hits the tongue. Accompanied with cauliflower, currants, walnuts, sumac, tahini yoghurt, it’s no shy ‘side’ dish. The flavours are rich with the crunch of the fried cauliflower and walnuts, mixed in with the tartness of currants and sumac. The tahini yoghurt is a unique and surprising addition, that adds a further lightness. My idea of a perfect ensemble to take me into a late summer night.
I’m pleasantly surprised again by Ben, breaking up the food with an Aperol Spritz with Micro Herbs and Blood Orange.
I’m about to take a leap out of the water and on to the land, but not without a quick ‘drying off’ with one of the more unique servings of bread I’ve ever experienced! Served in its own clay pot, warmed and straight out of the oven, I could indulge in this just on its own! With olive oil and a mix of pistachios and almonds, the great subtle flavours are far too easy to devour.
As I scrape up the last of the nut mix and olive oil with my bread, my nose is suddenly filled with the wonderful aromas of my next dish. For those of you that frequented The Golden Sheaf just for its Angus Eye Fillet, Jeanette and Chris have made sure that it has followed them to Little Jean. A perfectly portioned, 220g Cape Byron PF, the Angus Eye Fillet is served with an unusual but oh-so-good, crisped risotto, onion jam, red wine jus, aioli. I can see why this was a crowd favourite! The meat is fall-apart tender and cooked to a perfect medium-rare. The gooey-ness of the risotto is encased in a caramelised, crusty outer layer that cracks as you cut into it. It perfectly complements the meat and is a great twist to the regular ‘meat and potatoes’
Now no early evening sojourn is complete without a touch of the sweetness. Although it sounded fairly simple, there is certainly nothing ordinary about the Chocolate Fondant served with vanilla bean ice cream. The warm, moist cake ring houses a decadent chocolate pool of goodness, and as my fork breaks through the crust, the walls give way to an oozing chocolate river. The cold ice-cream is a delight against the warm cake and fondant, and I am perfectly satisfied with this end to my meal, toasting the amazing kitchen staff for the wonderful culinary adventure I’ve been taken on!
Despite being better known for its daytime fare; you must head to Little Jean of an evening. Just follow the twinkling light from the candles, and the cool, funky sounds and you will, like me, wonder where the long hours went. Wasted? Definitely not!
*Coco & Vine dined as guests of Little Jean.