A lot of people are going to walk past Hubert and have no idea what it is. The façade is just a large, always-closed wooden door. There’s a sign that would suit the front of a family-friendly steak house. But behind that door there’s something unexpected and amazing.

First, you walk down a spiral wooden staircase into a waiting room that looks like an old potion-master’s storeroom. Further down the stairs is Hubert, a restaurant with the lost grandeur of another era. “It's a throwback to great restaurants of the past,” says head chef and former 10 William Street man Dan Pepperell. “You can come down here and step into another world; you could be in Paris, or wherever in Europe.” If there were a few more tablecloths and suit jackets, it would be intimidating, but there aren’t, and it's not. It's special, but comfortable, and so is Pepperell’s menu. “We're just trying to do retro. We call it daggy,” he says.

Retro or daggy here means classic French, a cuisine that was once the standard of Sydney’s fine-dining establishments, but has since gone out of fashion. “Everything now looks the same,” says Pepperell. “You go on Instagram and look at these dishes – ‘Where is that? Is it in San Francisco or Copenhagen?’ It looks the same and it’s plated the same. It's been fun to go back.” Instead of edible flowers, pickles and vegetable desserts, at Hubert you get terrines, parfaits, blood cakes, eggs in jelly, steak with pepper sauce, cassoulets and crème caramels.

The base of much of what Pepperell is doing is from classic cookbooks such as Le Répertoire de la Cuisine (1914). “They're fucking gold. I found this one in a second-hand bookstore in Glebe. It had 1500 recipes, and we were looking through thinking, ‘Holy shit, look at these dishes’. You just don’t see them anymore.” Because Dan Pepperell making them, these dishes are not exactly straight out of the book. A classic chicken fricassee is prepped Chinese style, with shiitake mushrooms. The oeufs en gelée ditch the egg whites for dashi. Then there’s the melon en surprise, a half melon capped with young-coconut sorbet, which hides popping finger lime; sorrel and apple jelly; and melon balls. “We got the idea from Michel Roux's old-school pastry book. He does this big rockmelon filled with all this crazy shit. We just did our version of it,” says Pepperell. “It's been really fun.”

15 Bligh Street, Sydney

Mon to Sat 5pm–1am

Get our pick of the best news, features and events delivered twice a week