Ad Lib Bistro | restaurant review

picture credit: The Sydney Tarts

Ad Lib Bistro has been on my restaurant “to do” list for ages. It opened a couple of years ago on a controversial site in Pymble (the former Tables restaurant which closed after a man died of food poisoning). The resume is formidable; it’s been on Australian Gourmet Traveller’s top 100 restaurants list for 2010 & 2011. The Executive Chef is former Berowra Waters Inn & Forty One‘s Dietmar Sawyere and Head Chef Crosby Mar also from Forty One.

It’s a strange place for a high end Parisian-style bistro; located about 20 minutes out of the CBD (depending on traffic) on the main road in Pymble on the North Shore suburb of Sydney, but what is lacks in suburb atmosphere it does fine with interior decor; bright and classically modern with polished wooden floors and crisp white tablecloths.

picture credit: Time Out Sydney

It was my pick for the last Dinner Club of 2011 and also our pre-Christmas celebration. It’s not fine dining but it’s on the higher end of restaurant fare and I would say ‘Bistro’ refers to the menu and not the prices as it takes a nice little chunk out of your wallet.

The food is generally good but the service certainly let’s the place down. On entry we stand waiting for a good few minutes while one of the waiters just ignores us, no word of hello and continues looking at the computer. Then we’re lead to our table and our waitress is one unhappy person. She is total bitch throughout service and seems annoyed by the fact that she is there. It’s as if we silently make an agreement not to let her terrible attitude spoil our evening.

the wine: Chateau de Sours

We order a deep rich Red from Bordeaux, France.

The entrée


Janine has the Oysters which are presented on rock salt and served with condiments.

Steak Tartare

Ian & I both have the Steak Tartare which is a nice texture and is topped with a small quails egg. It’s under-seasoned though. A small bottle of Tabasco sauce is placed on the table and we use it generously.

Cured Kingfish

Jay has the Cured Kingfish which is carpaccio-style served on a salad leaf bed and salmon roe. The simple flavours are light and tasty.

Plat Principal

Grilled Sirloin Steak, Beurre Cafe De Paris

This is Janine’s steak which the waitress carelessly dumps in front of her. The presentation is poor and the ‘Beurre Cafe De Paris’ (Paris butter) is unimpressive.

Grilled Sirloin Steak, Beurre Cafe De Paris

My steak is better presented but still mediocre. The quality of the meat is really disappointing as it’s sinewy.

Spaghettini Pasta, Lamb Meatballs, Shiitake Mushrooms, Garlic, Chilli, Parsley

Ian orders the pasta and finds the meatballs overdone and generally underwhelming.

Peppered Fillet Steak, Baby Spinach

Jay is really happy with his steak which is a good cut and cooked medium-rare to his liking which has a bearnaise-style foam.


We share 4 sides; Cauliflower GratinRoesti PotatoesButtered Baby CarrotsFrench Fries. The Cauliflower Gratin is so creamy & delicious, the Baby Carrots are tender yet still firm and the Potatoes are so tasty.

Menu des Desserts

The Mousse preparation

Ian’s dessert comes with pompous ceremony that is completely pointless. The waitress comes out with a giant bowl of mousse, a little saucer of cream and wafer sticks which she silently and humourlessly prepares. I think it’s served like this to dress-up the fact that it’s chocolate mousse. In a bowl. At a french restaurant. The end result looks like this

the Chocolate Mousse
the Christmas Pudding

Janine orders the Christmas Pudding which is a menu supplement. She loves it, it’s like a Christmas pudding flavoured semifreddo.

Pear Tarte Tatin, White Chocolate Ice Cream

This could potentially be the best Tarte Tatin I’ve ever had. It’s the perfect balance of sweet buttery crispy pastry and perfectly poached pear served with white chocolate icecream. I don’t speak while I eat this as I’m in heaven!


Jay has a cognac to finish.

Our consensus is that the desserts save the meal (but the service is still unforgivable).


The take away: it’s a bit of a trek for those not living on the North Shore and you can get better food & service at Bistro Ortolan in Leichhardt (which also have 2 Chef’s Hats) but the Pear Tarte Tatine is amazing. The service stinks.

Food: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Service: 1 out of 5 stars
Atmosphere: clean & modern with medium noise. Mostly older crowd and well-to-do family dinners.
Value: moderate

Ad Lib Bistro | 1047 Pacific Highway, Pymble NSW

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