Food, like fashion, goes through its own trend cycles, and right now rich, retro French-inspired dishes are back.
Between the Thermidor lobsters, creme caramels and Alaska bombes appearing on Sydney menus, beef Wellington is at the forefront of this retro revival.
Beef steak wrapped in puff pastry is a dish that many people associate with the golden age of dining in the 1970s.
But its origins date back to the early 19th century, when England’s first Duke of Wellington is believed to have sampled a similar French dish (boeuf en croute) during the Napoleonic Wars.
While steak and batter are mandatory Welly components, between the two you might find a layer of ham, spinach, foie gras, or more commonly mushrooms.
“I think people like the idea of these expensive ingredients all together to make a special dish,” says Damiano Balducci, chef at Chippendale Eastside Bar & Grill.
Wellington carries a lot of romance and luxury and association with fine dining.
He goes all out with his Beef Wellington, stuffing a piece of Gippsland O’Connor Beef fillet with foie gras, which is lightly melted to create a savory sauce.
The veal round is slathered with Dijon mustard, wrapped in Parma ham (similar to prosciutto), and finished with mushroom duxelles: a mixture of mushrooms cooked to a paste with herbs, shallots, and butter.
If that wasn’t luxurious enough, the Eastside dish is showered with black truffle at the table (although that will soon stop at the end of truffle season).
“It’s pretty labor intensive,” says Balducci. “But people love it; it’s a beautiful thing to do.”
Wellington variations are innumerable, but none are as daring as Saint Peter chef Josh Niland’s Tuna Wellington, which he created during last year’s lockdown and has demonstrated for prime-time audiences on kitchen master.
“I think Wellington carries a lot of romance, luxury and association with fine dining,” he says.
Niland takes loin of tuna, the main cut of the fish, and tops it with a traditional mushroom duxelle before wrapping it with crepes and a sour cream batter that’s “egg-washed up to nine” for a deep golden color. Crepes are believed to prevent internal moisture from causing the batter to become soggy.
He says tuna loin is the fish world’s equivalent of beef steak. “There is so much you can do with a fish that is beyond the parameters of what we think we can do.”
The lockdown bestseller is now a permanent part of Fish Butchery’s home meals.
Manon Brasserie in the CBD chooses to serve sautéed mushrooms on the side of their Wellington, rather than cooking them in duxelles to spread over the meat.
“It just gets a bit mushy and anyway,” says French chef Thomas Boisselier.
It also wraps the eye steak in a layer of filo pastry, followed by an outer layer of puff pastry, to create additional crunch. “The old-school way of doing it is to wrap it in pancakes, but I think it’s a bit heavy,” she says.
Given the price of the dish, between $59 per person at Manon or $95 per person for the enriched truffle and foie dish at Eastside, some diners might be tempted to try making their own Wellington at home. These rules of thumb, offered by chefs Boisselier, Niland, and Balducci, will help you tackle the many elements of a Welly.
How to make beef wellington at home
- Have all of your ingredients prepped, weighed, and laid out on the bench where you’ll be working. Chefs call this their mise en place.
- After browning the meat and adding the mushrooms and other additions, wrap it tightly in cling film and chill to help create a circular shape. Don’t forget to remove the plastic before cooking!
- Always use puff pastry for the outer shell and brush it with beaten egg for a golden finish.
- Let the Wellington rest before cutting, otherwise it will weep and destroy your beautifully crisp layers of dough.
- Using a serrated knife, cut thick slices (3cm to 5cm) to ensure the Wellington does not fall apart.
Where to Find Beef Wellington and Friends in Sydney
East Side Bar and Grill serves an ultra-decadent version with foie gras and, through August 31, black truffle, with the dish brought to the dining room on a cart.
Level 1, 2-10 Kensington Street, Chippendale, eastsidebarandgrill.com.au
fish butchery offers home-heated salmon and nori Wellington with side dishes like mashed potatoes. Tuna Wellington requires a 48 hour notice.
Pick up from Paddington or Waterloo; home order for Fridays, fishbutchery.com.au
Manon Brasserie brings the dish as a special from time to time, so keep an eye on social media for your next outing.
Queen Victoria Building, Store 55, 455 George Street, Sydney, manonbrasserie.com.au
Restaurant Hubert It keeps things traditional with its bouef en croute, the French name for Wellington. You will have to order 48 hours in advance.
15 Bligh Street, Sydney, swillhouse.com
Vic’s quality meats has tapped into his high-flying cousin Victor Churchill to create a wagyu welly to heat and eat. Stone ax eye steak, prosciutto and mushrooms are wrapped in lattice dough.
Order home delivery at vicsmeat.com.au