C Restaurant, Caves Beach

It may be a little early for a review but this place pushes all the right buttons the executive chef with high credentials, the elegant dining room with its soaring ceilings, the wavy glass mural behind a fresh seafood display, the white linen, the fine glassware and silverware and the innovative descriptions on the pared-back menu.

It is a challenge when a fine diner and a bistro share a roof and a kitchen. If all you need is a good-value meal, the bistro will win every time. Exceptional food but also great service, presentation and ambience are needed to convince the average punter to pay higher prices. And I'm not sure it's quite there yet.

So many places offer a range of top-quality wines by the glass but disappoint when they persist in pouring behind the bar.

A complimentary "nibble" arrives fine croutes topped with sashimi fish in a light mayonnaise. The regular menu components become "embark" (nibble), "explore" (bread), "enlighten" (entree), "experience" (main), "extras", "enjoy" (dessert) and "espresso". Descriptions are tantalisingly terse but detailed enough to inform choice.

Enlightenment begins with spinach linguini and seared scallops, and the pressed rabbit, quail and ham hock terrine (both $17).

Fine tresses of pretty green linguini are crowned with three perfectly seared scallops and a jumble of mache (lamb's lettuce) leaves. The flavours of basil and lemon are refreshingly simple but there is too much oil left on the bottom of the plate.

An exemplary terrine is dense with pieces of rabbit and quail and studded with pistachios, the ham hock providing binding and structure. It is slightly let down by the rather oily, though light and crisp, toast but a dish of pickled carrot, celery, baby corn, capsicum and cornichons (baby pickled cucumber) goes a long way towards providing some balance a perfect match for the terrine.

Roasted duck, cassoulet of white beans and chorizo ($32) promises to "excite". The twice-cooked crisp duck legs spilling out of the white casserole are fall-off-the-bone tender and the chorizo and tomato add piquancy to the cassoulet. There's no need for an "extra" of garlicky, sesame-coated grilled asparagus as this dish comes with broccolini. And the white beans provide enough carbohydrate to render the wedges which came instead of traditional chips redundant.

The description 'tandoori' tuna ($32) intrigues. A just-seared rare tuna steak is coated with a tandoori glaze and sits on a bed of snow peas, zucchini and cucumber, and a mint salad. A raita-style yoghurt dressing and very crisp and fine pappadums add a traditional twist.

There's hardly room for dessert but sauternes custard and passionfruit soup is a must. A couple of twists of sugar-dusted puff pastry provide crunch.

With some fine tuning C could take its place as a fine diner, but in the meantime serious wine buffs take note: the owner, Greg Hopper, has brought some of his legendary cellar with him.

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