Wildflower – Perth – Thursday 28 December 2017 – Lunch

Whipped Bahen & Co chocolate, river mint, wattle seed cream

It was the best of food, it was the worst of service. Sitting four floors above St Georges Terrace, the main question I have is how does this happen? That, and “can we please leave now?”

Normally in situations like this I would describe how brilliant each dish tasted, and looked, to begin. This is one time where the level of uninspiring service cannot be tolerated when you are in one of the best restaurants in the country, Wildflower. The reason we want to leave isn’t because of the food, which was outstanding.

The reason is our friendly, but inexperienced, and ill-hired, waitperson, has taken all of ten minutes to correct the bill. It must have been a big problem; now he has then brought it back and I’ve found another mistake. He has disappeared for another ten minutes in a restaurant with two tables left. When he comes back he comps our tea and coffee due to the second mistake, which is a nice touch so I still leave a small tip hoping it gets split amongst the staff (including the kitchen) evenly. We say thank you and begin to leave.

Artisanal Western Australian cheeses with pink lady gelee, oat cakes & lavosh

However, the restaurant manager cannot work out how to use our Australian Gourmet Traveller vouchers (not the plastic card, but paper vouchers that we paid hard currency for through my work benefits program), so she asks a bar person to make us complimentary kir royales while we wait. At this stage of proceedings this was not an off-moment; it was a theme.

Wood grilled Arkady lamb, Jerusalem artichoke, salt bush, dripping emulsion, peppermint tree leaf dressing

Mistakes happen. It was the demeanor of the restaurant manager that was the issue, not her ability to try to smooth the matter by providing a drink while we waited, or the fact Mum saw her visit most other tables during our three hour sitting (but not ours or any of the other tables further to the west of the restaurant). And once she rectified the problem and used the vouchers to pay the remaining $550 of our bill, she didn’t come over and apologise and say “it worked now, thank you”. No, I had to come to her fifteen minutes later to see how it was going.

Strawberry gum cheesecake, candied outback lime, raspberry, coconut charcoal & bottle brush

This sounds like a rant, but anyone who has read my reviews more than a few times would realise I value food far more than service, and rarely have significant critiques. There were so many mistakes at this beautiful, expensive restaurant, that it really needs to be discussed. So many that only a list can be used without going to another page.

1. Sher’s water glass had lipstick on it. The sommelier didn’t apologise, left the water glass on the waitstaff table for most of the meal, and didn’t offer a new bottle of sparkling water (since the first glass of the Cape Grim bottle had to be removed).

2. Our waitperson was new to the restaurant (and we think to hospitality, which is not his fault, but is a mistake of the restaurant’s hiring policies). He was very nice and friendly, but just not up to scratch. Simple things that you take for granted in fine dining restaurants (like grabbing the menus as people ordered for example) were not done. Harder aspects were mismanaged as a result.

3. When my Mum asked him what jelly came with our first dish he had to be asked again an hour later, and still didn’t come back immediately to reveal it, but did eventually come back. It was the only ingredient we asked about the entire meal (we were not asking constantly in other words about everything, or being annoying customers in any way).

4. I asked for a 2015 Cape Mentelle Chardonnay and got presented with a Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, which was a fine error. But then the sommelier came back with the chardonnary and explained that only 2016 was available (fine again). Then we were charged $10 more for the Curly Flat 2014 Pinot Noir on the bill and it was blamed on the wine list changing (so check your bill). It took ten minutes for the wine list to be checked to confirm it was an error, in an empty restaurant at 4.30pm.

5. Three courses was $88. Because you order dessert after mains, the first two courses were correctly shown as $68 on the bill. However, underneath this item showed “4 @ $20” for dessert, but then had below it “$30… $120”. We were the last to leave the restaurant so it is quite possible that everyone who had the three courses got charged $10 extra per head because the error was automatic.

6. Catherine’s tea cup had pronounced coffee stains on it, which were blamed on “the finely made cups are difficult to clean” which would be fine at a dinner party, but seemed odd at a fine diner.

7. The sommelier seemingly refused to fill our wine glasses after the initial pour. This meant we had to ask our waitperson (the bottle is not on the table), which meant he was a bit torn (knowing he shouldn’t be pouring, but realising it had been forever since sommelier even batted an eyelid at our table).

8. It wasn’t until the end of our meal that we realised the restaurant manager was not the person who greeted us. The restaurant manager was not the person who led us to the table, and the person who greeted us walked to the opposite end of the restaurant at a brisk walk, leaving my aunty Sher and Mum literally 15 metres behind. It didn’t dawn on me until later that it was not the best way to open proceedings, but the issues across the board brought it out.

There’s no justification for these issues in totality. It has simply not happened at a Gourmet Traveller top 100 restaurant that I’ve ever visited. So, besides company, what saved our experience?

Shark Bay Blue Swimmer Crab, avocado, kohlrabi, sea blight (blite), native basil dashi, finger lime

The food was inventive, beautifully presented, exquisitely executed, and absolutely delicious. Shark Bay blue swimmer crab is generously served under thinly sliced kohlrabi, in a gazpacho style of native basil dashi, and given zing with finger lime, and mild sweetness with a limey tomato jelly. Sea blite adds bite, and the avocado pairs with the gorgeous texture of the crab, which shows off as the star of the dish against the backdrop of competing, but balanced elements. It is absolutely superb.

Berkshire pork is incredibly tender considering the perfectly executed crackling, that somehow balances its salt content. While a little more jus could have been warranted, the soft sweet white onion, scattering of quandongs, and sides of bitter greens, and Paris style mashed potato, were all excellent.

Berkshire pork, sweet white onion, sour quandong and mustard

As if the savoury courses being perfect was not enough, the kitchen’s take on an after-dinner mint includes the best mint gelato imaginable. Sitting next to whipped Bahen & Co chocolate, and atop wattle seed cream, the combination is unashamedly classic, but still innovative, without breaking the modern movement in plating desserts.

Once we eventually received the right bottle of chardonnay, the 2016 Cape Mentelle was outstanding with restrained use of new French oak, and a refined palate. Just as spectacular was the 2014 Curly Flat Pinot Noir; an expression of this variety that seems to find the right part of the spectrum between fruit and game.

Food first. It is the reason I go to restaurants instead of staying at home. But there are natural elements you expect when paying $610 for lunch. I wouldn’t normally mention the amount, but it brings into view the importance of providing service that is fit for the food. I haven’t read other reviews (I rarely do before going to a restaurant to keep my own perspective) but if there are any themes here they need to be rectified quickly at this flagship of Perth restaurants that is thankfully not at the all-too-dominant Crown. Go for the food and all the best with the service. Did I mention the view?

Wildflower Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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RyuGin – Tokyo – Tuesday 13 June 2017 – Dinner

Normally I write about a three star meal in the few days that follow the experience. There is a degree of excitement and anticipation that keeps alive when you get to deeply think about the meal that was. Occasionally, especially on holidays, it is just too hard to find the time. That is not to say a serious delay is a negative measure.

After a great meal you have a glow. You can still almost taste some of the most exquisite dishes and smell the scents. Over time you lose many aspects, and those that last are often with you for life. Add in the travel element, and you are much more likely to remember some dining experiences with even more fondness. They are connected to holidays; less stress; more indulgence.

The weight of evidence suggests tonight is going to be an experience to behold. Good friends have been here and recommended it, but it wasn’t just them. In Tokyo, many restaurants do not accept foreign bookings, so our hotel was responsible for organising our visit to RyuGin. Walking up to the door there is nothing that suggests this is one of the best restaurants in this huge city.

As in all Japanese establishments, the welcome is warm and respectful. We are early to make sure there are no hiccups travelling to the quiet part of Roppongi, so we are shown upstairs to wait for our sitting. Funnily enough, with some nice green tea and a splendid room (more on this later) we suggest getting here early is a good idea.

Once led into the dining room we realise that the restraint of the entrance is no different here. It is very nice, and there are some dominant features, but it is certainly not elaborate. Given we are in a non-English speaking country we don’t expect to understand everything, but generally the staff deal well with our lack of Japanese.

Sea urchin, broadbean, green soybeans

Our first course is sea urchin packaged in crispy batter and seaweed, with broadbean and edamame soup. It is quite sensational. The sea urchin is unrecognisable and brings out softness and that subtle flavour, while the broadbean is beautifully seasoned. The soup is simply stunning. Salt is around the edge of the cup and I can’t stop until it’s gone, continuing to run my finger around the edge for more of that salty hit! The abalone in the second dish is the best I have ever tasted, in a deep cloudy broth with a white paste we’ve seen elsewhere but have no idea what it is.

Abalone, lettuce, yam, water chestnuts

Earlier we had been sitting in the waiting room admiring firstly the gigantic owls and then the video of the head chef’s exploits with cooking amazing produce. The dish we were presented with showed fabulous technique in the form of divine knife skills allowing eel to blossom like a flower. The flavours, especially the broth of Mt Fuji water, and glutinous vegetable scattered throughout, were probably too different to fully appreciate, but it was still a tremendous dish to eat.

Pike eel, eggplant, water shield, green yuzu

Our sashimi course has challenge, beauty and intrigue. The challenge is the crab which is chewy and not everyone’s cup of tea, but I like it all the same. The Benito is absolutely gorgeous with not one flaw. It is the equal of the ootoro tuna sushi I earlier tried near the fish market as my best fish for the visit. The intrigue is the flat fish which is again a different texture to what you associate with sashimi, but is delightful and beautifully matched to the accompaniments, this one being salsa like.

Ocean delicacies

The frightening looking fish, called Ayu is served next in the theatrical style some love and others despise! I love it, the challenge in presentation, and the impact it brings. The instructions given are three bites – one over the head to the wing, the next over the wing, and the last over the tail. Wow, the first bite is scary. Then you taste the impact of the char, reminiscent of great squid or sardines over charcoal in say Portugal. Then you calm and the next bite is delicious and all of a sudden you are dipping into the watermelon based sauce like a pro and absolutely loving it, trying to work out the next time you will eat Ayu again!

Specialty swimming ayu fish

As Catherine would describe, the first half of our meal is different and confronting. But the second half is basically just awesome.

Noodles and broth

We are almost onto our beef course and we’ve already gone through about $160 on 4 glasses of premier cru Montrachet so spending another $130 on two glasses of red was a stretch but you only live once. If I had a critique it would be that the wine, as sublime as the limited options are, is nevertheless very limited and all very expensive. Finding some glasses to offer that are nice for $30 would really help our wallet! We only had the choice of two reds and both were very expensive by the glass.

One of the incredible owls in the waiting area

Prior to the beef we had a surprise in the form of noodles and broth, a dense egg yolk sitting atop the noodles, looking very proud, and eating wonderfully. The terrific floor staff directing us to dip the noodles into the broth, which is consistent with the way connoisseurs would eat their noodles here in Japan.

Sanuki olive beef, onion, white asparagus

The beef course was something to behold. Presented over a steaming contraption, it was completely rare and slowly being cooked above an onion, with a semi-glutinous broth and asparagus. It was so delicious it was gone in a flash, even with trying to have a sip of red between each taste. Left behind, the onion was about as great an onion I’ve eaten. And I never ever finish an entire onion portion.

Chicken rice

We were really getting into a groove. This is thoughtful modern Japanese food and maybe a bit above our abilities, but intriguing and indulgent at the same time. The next course was chicken rice with a miso soup. The miso has an ode to the chrysanthemum flower which is a Japanese icon, and you could not believe it is tofu! Not only that, the miso is wonderful. The chicken rice has intricate knife skills being shone on the dish, but the flavour, whilst very nice, is not one of the better profiles of the evening. The chicken is fabulous though.

Chrysanthemum soup

This took us to dessert. Absolutely no offence to Asia, but desserts here are different, and often more savoury than many other cuisines. So imagine our surprise when a deliciously balanced but sweet mango ice dessert with sweet mango concentrate comes to our table. It is hard to describe how good this was, but knowing this combination well, I can honestly say it was the best I’ve ever had, including several goes in Hong Kong.

Shaved ice with mango

Then to follow up and smack it out of the park comes a double take on sake, leading to me having a double take on how good these desserts were! A soufflé of sake and a sake ice cream hit the high notes. The soufflé is perfectly constructed and deep in the vessel, with a textured top, and soft bottom, with just the right balance of egginess. The ice cream keeps its form and actually tastes of the key ingredient. Knowing how difficult it is to achieve this I take my hat off to the chef and his team.

Sake souffle and ice cream

We finished with a matcha green tea as the night was ending, reflecting on a second half that was definitely more settling. It goes to show that in both Western and Eastern fine dining, being brought to the edge of your tastes by the chef is part of the experience. Sure, it should still be comfortable on the whole, but a few dishes outside your comfort zone brings the meal to an entirely different level. Several months later I look back at our time at RyuGin with fondness and respect.

 

Oter – Melbourne, City – Wednesday 6 September 2017 – Dinner

Tamarillo Millefeuille + Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Time passes by so quickly. Now almost three months back, Catherine and I had our first experience at Oter since it replaced Yu-U. Across from its sister restaurant, Coda, the space has been thoroughly renovated.

The feel is not dramatically different thanks to the large bar focussed seating space, and the fact the restaurant is partially below ground. Back in the Yu-U days it was a little claustrophobic though, but now it is quite open and airy. We are happy to sit at the bar, which seems to be the place to be, not to mention the view of three tarts of the day is close to irresistible!

Moulton Sea Urchin + Kohlrabi Noodle

The menu is interesting in its diversity, and the prices are reasonable for some sophisticated dishes. Service is knowledgable and quite attentive, though the whole bar dining concept is a bit confused here with the majority of service coming from the floor, rather than from behind the bar. The bar does give the chefs (largely working further back and not right in front of you) the opportunity to present dishes to you, which has a charm to it.

Blue Spanner Crab + Pickled Cucumber, Hazelnut

To begin we tried one of the Moulton sea urchin on top of a bundle of kohlrabi noodles. Served cold, the sea urchin has that soft texture that can put people off, but when paired next to the firm vegetable noodles, the subtle flavour was able to show itself off. Next we shared the blue spanner crab with pickled cucumbers and slithered hazelnuts. Presented with a cucumber foam, the dish looks delightful, and the flavour is its equal. At this early stage we were growing in excitement for the dishes to come.

The wines by the glass have many points of interest. We started off with a champagne by Piper Heidsieck, before moving into a Chardonnay by Salo. I hadn’t heard of Salo before but it is made by two of the best winemakers in the Yarra Valley, as part of a project to make natural wines. As we got towards our mains we chose a Cabernet Franc by Crawford River. All three glasses were fantastic, pointing to a well thought out wine list.

Alsatian Bread Dumplings + Onion Sousbise, Boudin Noir

We had to ask our waitperson a bit about the Alsatian bread dumplings because they were something we hadn’t encountered. There was just something about bread dumplings, onion sauce, and blood sausage that really piqued our interest. In the end it was a very hearty and satisfying treat prior to our shared mains.

Kurobuta Pork + Confit Celeriac, Lardo

We decided on two mains that we would share to avoid any menu envy. The Kurobuta pork was served perfectly pink, with a whole slow cooked confit celeriac really making its presence felt. The Gippsland duck was served with a pretty beurre blanc sauce, scattered with charred baby leeks. Both were excellent, with some nice contrasting features for us to enjoy while sharing. The pork soft and tender; the duck with that crispy skin around the drumstick, and a more generous sauce.

Gippsland Confit Duck + Charred Leek, Beurre Blanc

Earlier in the night we were craning our necks to check out the amazing looking tarts of the day. One of the floor staff saw us and instantly brought them closer to us, sitting them on the bar touching distance away (we refrained!) There was no doubt one of us had to order one of those slices of heaven. With Catherine keen to try the tamarillo millefeuille, it was up to me to chose a slice, and I went with the chocolate, pistachio and blood orange. As delicious as the tart turned out, with some reduced milk ice cream accompanying it, the millefeuille won the day for its taste and immaculate presentation.

Tart of the day – chocolate, pistachio and blood orange + reduced milk ice cream

Reflecting on our experience at Oter provides memories of some beautifully executed modern Australian dishes that walk the tightrope between bold rusticity and fine dining pizazz. Eating on the bar is not for everyone, but it is the way modern dining is going. With a few tweaks to give some more life behind the bar, Oter could deliver and even tighter experience. It’s not out of the question to go past just for the tart of the day, but stopping in for several courses like we did is well worth it.

Ôter Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Woodland House – Prahran – Sunday 5 November 2017 – Lunch

It was many years ago that I experienced my one time at Jacques Reymond. Getting there at night didn’t do justice to the beauty of the surrounds, but the care and attention of the staff was memorable.

In recent years, the restaurant has changed hands and names, but its prestige has not. Woodland House isn’t the latest and greatest, but neither is fine dining. A beautiful dining room, overlooking a stylish courtyard for a pre-lunch drink, give that feel of a great meal to come. This is something that will never go out of style.

Lunch here on the Sunday following Derby Day for our annual “recovery lunch” is quiet. In fact, while we are a relatively polite group of gentlemen, there is no doubt it is probably unusual for the other few couples here, with a large group of us in the centre of the restaurant. This is one of the reasons I love this lunch!

Very early on it is obvious that our main waitperson is going to split opinions in our group. Personally I like an eccentric waitperson/sommelier to make things more interesting, but I equally understand some of my friends who found him on the pushy side of enthusiastic. In the end, he did have care and attention for us, and some of our experiences were great.

Tasmanian salmon, broad beans, beurre blanc

A few examples. I was looking at an aged chardonnay for the first few courses and he guided me towards a lighter Chablis for the balance of the dishes. At the same time he didn’t deter me from a Bannockburn Pinot for our second bottle, even though he may have wanted to. On the flip side, one of our fussier mates asked for a Hendrix gin and tonic and he instead half-insisted on another gin. While I probably would have been happy with that, the seaweed accompaniment to the gin chosen was not to my mate’s personality or taste.

Spanner crab, confit red gurnard, potato foam

When the first course came out and I tasted the generous serve of spanner crab, my excitement levels for the remaining several courses elevated. While foam might be a dirty word of late, the potato foam, combined with the spanner crab and fish (red gurnard) was absolutely delicious and probably my highlight of the meal.

Nicely cooked and stylishly presented, the Tasmanian salmon with a beurre blanc sauce, was a simple but tasty second course. The let down of the meal was poached and roasted chicken. There was nothing terribly bad about this dish, but merely executing  sous vide technique is not enough. The skin was soft and fatty, rather than roasted to that crispness you expect, which was enough to make it texturally unsound.

Poached and roasted chicken, parsnip, mustard sauce

Instant improvement came with my second favourite dish of the savouries, with Western Plains sucking pig looking glorious, and tasting incredible! Here, the crispiness of the crackling made the dish, with a globe artichoke puree adding to the flavour profile. This was the kind of dish I love, balancing between the rustic flavours of the pork and the need to present with some flair.

Western Plains sucking pig, globe artichoke, tamarind

With similar groundings, the short rib from Cape Grim, also had the balance right. Here is an incredibly tender meat that is often served in large portions with no pizzazz, but is usually delicious. For a group of blokes, having this on offer at the end of the savoury courses is exciting, and we were not let down.

Cape Grim short rib, preserved plum, horseradish

We decided to pause before dessert with the cheese board as we finished our Franklin River cabernet. Once dessert came around we were ready for something sweet. The creamy nut ice cream, combined with caramel sauce, and some texture from milk skin, is a crowd pleaser. Sweet desserts are something I can handle at the end of a long meal and this did the trick.

Beurre noisette ice-cream, whipped caramel, milk skin

Rocking up first to lunch, sipping on a gin and tonic in the courtyard waiting for the boys, and reflecting on a great Derby Day, set the scene for a long and enjoyable lunch. There is always a place for the good aspects of fine dining, and I think Woodland House exhibits most of the good traits.

Woodland House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Doot Doot Doot at Jackalope – Mornington Peninsula – Thursday 7 September 2017 – Dinner and Breakfast

Infinity over the vines

So much beauty is hard to take in over a 20 hour period – we do our best.

Jackalope boutique hotel and its restaurant, Doot Doot Doot, opened on the first of April this year, and is the most beautiful art inspired hotel I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying in. There is no pomp and ceremony here, but the fine detail, and incredible wonder of design is breathtaking.

Behold the Jackalope!

There is a country vibe but not in a “laid back” fashion, with professionalism not watering down the hospitality. Being boutique is not just down to size. The front of house have time to see you to your room and show you around, and you feel comfortable to have a chat as you do the obligatory walk around for photos of the Jackalope itself (a mythical creature), the infinity pool overlooking the vineyard, and the design elements that see a merging of functionality and art.

Besides the beautiful rooms, some complete with Japanese bath, all with a free mini-bar and sublime furnishings, there is a restaurant that is becoming increasingly renowned, despite its name. Doot Doot Doot is the flagship restaurant. By night, Doot Doot Doot is an edgy fine dining restaurant, and by day it operates as the anything-but-ordinary breakfast venue.

Flaggerdoot

If this hotel isn’t luxurious enough, the distinct advantage of staying here is the short stroll to dinner, via a cocktail hour drink at Flaggerdoot. The bar for Jackalope is extraordinary with its artistic vice, combined with several comfortable spaces, and a bar surrounded by huge vessels filled with paraffin wax. Somehow the obscenity of the fitout comes together seamlessly.

The fascinating light installation

Back to the restaurant. We are seated in the middle, with Catherine on the banquette, which forms a divider in the room. Above us are hundreds of amber coloured light fittings that brighten and fade in a slow rhythmic pattern. Across in the back corner is the envy of the restaurant with a table for two that has gigantic lounge style chairs with high backs stretching almost to the roof. We missed out at breakfast the next morning too, but never mind.

Pea, broadbean, goats curd, capers

There was something about the hospitality here too. It was almost as if the sommelier had been chosen to provide an actor (with great wine knowledge) that could work with the eclectic feel of the room. We had some great conversation in a way that only a long dining experience can allow. There is that country hospitality, and it only needs a slight sharpening to be perfect.

Quail eggs

Bread made with cumin, fennel and linseed was a sign that the food was going to be good. After the amuse (a cracker with quail egg), the first course added to the intrigue. A deliciously fresh beginning of peas and broadens with goat’s curd, capers and a lemony dressing. After one beautifully presented dish, the scallops looking amazing was not a surprise. Thinly sliced into three pieces of sashimi, this scallop is served with ginger and finger lime, completed with a fabulous sauce.

Scallop, ginger, finger lime

Then came one of the highlights of the night. A generous serving of spanner crab sitting in a potato puree. Bottarga adds to the depth of flavour, with furikake used as a seasoning to further enhance the dish. We were enjoying the 2015 Robert Weil ‘Trocken’ Riesling which had been selected by the sommelier for the first few courses, but especially for this one. I would quite happily return to Doot Doot Doot just for this dish, and this wine.

Spanner crab, potato, bottarga, furikake

Not reaching the heights of the spanner crab, the beetroot soups were still an attractive and tasty dish. One side was yellow beetroot, infused with saffron, and the other was the more traditional kind. In the middle sat a hay infused cream. I think it may have acted as a cleanser between dishes, but was probably a touch too large.

Beetroot soups, hay cream, coffee, sunflower

Tuna quickly seared but over a high temperature hit our table next. It was served simply with some Japanese salt plums (Umeboshi), olives, and mushrooms. By this stage the skill of the kitchen was obvious, and the Japanese slant of the hotel intricately applied to the food.

Tuna, umeboshi, olive

As we finished our 2013 Willow Creek Chardonnay, which also showed the winery next door is no slouch. The tide turned with a dish of sweetbreads, shiitake mushrooms, clams and walnuts in a crumb. Matched with the 2005 Cabernets by Yarra Yarra (wonderful) this expression of offal is a dish to behold. That earthiness, savouriness, gaminess, and downright rusticity, cannot be beautifully presented, but that doesn’t detract from this being one of the dishes of the night. Yes there is more than a hint of Asian there, but it takes me straight to the backstreets of Rome, dining at Checchino dal 1887. Stunning.

Sweetbreads, clams, shiitake, walnut

Thankfully for Catherine we were back in more well-trodden territory next, finishing our savoury courses with flank steak, cooked medium rare, with a spectacular pumpkin puree, and onion rings. As you would expect, a cut like flank steak that is done well, exhibits so much flavour, and this one hits the mark. We wash down the remainder of the red wine, turning our thoughts to dessert.

Beef, black sesame, onion, pumpkin

With a figurative bang, out comes the toasted marshmallow with rhubarb and blood orange sorbet. It is a little dismissive to call this a refresher, when it is as good as most desserts going around. The toasted marshmallow coats your tongue and you are taken back to other times in the country around a camp fire.

The main dessert is comforting, but in a fine dining way. The malt ice cream again bringing back flavour memories of childhood, with a very grown up honey sponge, and meringue scattered through. A satisfying way to finish.

Malt, burnt honey, dark ale

The whole meal had been engaging and entertaining. With terrifically executed dishes, excellent wine service, and art filling the restaurant, it is a fascinating take on modern dining. With our senses fulfilled we strolled back to our room, ready to do it all again tomorrow morning for breakfast.

As breakfast goes, the biggest surprise here is picking up the menu to find a treasure trove of stylish offerings. There is nothing of the hotel classics (using the word classics quite loosely). It is actually akin to the fine dining take on breakfast that is so beautifully done by cafes in Melbourne like Top Paddock and Higher Ground.

Five spice and pistachio waffle – berry compote, vanilla cream, Oreo crumb

I think I was being a good sport leaving Catherine to order the five spice and pistachio waffle, but at least I got a few tastes. Complete with berry compote, vanilla cream, and Oreo crumbs, the waffle is quite spectacular to see, and to taste.

Spanner crab omelette – served with shiitake relish, chicken dashi

No less fancily presented, my spanner crab omelette is served with shiitake relish and chicken dashi (but curiously no toast). The omelette is perfectly constructed, and the spanner crab is gorgeously generous, making for a highly indulgent breakfast. Funnily enough this dish would not be out of place on the dinner tasting menu such is its quality.

It is wonderful that a hotel can do this menu at breakfast. It is not an out-of-this-world concept, but it is so rarely done that it is extraordinary. As we wander around the grounds of the hotel, walking off the omelette and waffles, it reveals that there is nothing ordinary about any of this experience. Simply stunning!

Doot Doot Doot Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Impressions from the AGT Restaurant Guide for 2018

Orana – Crab & yoghurt sorbet, codium & sea purslane

My favourite restaurant guide has been released for yet another year. When you narrow down the thousands of restaurants in Australia to a top 100, there are naturally some surprises, but in the end, every single one of those restaurants is a terrific place to have a day or night out.

Getting down to the pointy end is exciting. There are only eight restaurants in the whole of Australia that get three stars. They set themselves apart by doing the basics perfectly, and innovating in a way that is remarkable. They are not always the obvious, but equally, they are certainly not places you stumble over by accident.

Attica – Marron, Lilly Pilly and Pearl

Take Orana in Adelaide. If you were to turn up unannounced one evening and somehow get a table, you would initially be skeptical of the price tag, and then be wondering whether you are on “candid camera” as you open your mouth to allow a spoon of green ants to greet your tastebuds. What about Brae in Birregurra, near Geelong. If you were dropped off outside this homestead and farm, you might be searching for the nearest uber to take you back to civilization.

Cutler & Co – Roast chicken, house ground polenta, baby corn & miso

These are not ordinary, everyday experiences. There is a touch of discomfort. It might be the cost, the reverence, the soft gasps, or the sheer oddity of three star dining. But like most experiences, when you are out of your comfort zone, or at least on the edge of it, the memories are bigger than the moment.

Vue De Monde

When Shannon Bennett says that he wants his customers to have a comforting experience, he doesn’t mean eating meat and three veg in your tracksuit in front of the television. He means he wants the experience to be memorable for different reasons, and for his staff to do everything to make such a potentially awkward meal something to aspire to do again, and to relive in stories for the meantime.

Momofuku – beef, radish, fermented black bean

There are the unassuming places. Momofuku Seiobo looks a bit oddly placed in The Star casino and entertainment complex. The Bridge Room is almost quaint. Attica is in the suburbs. Cutler & Co sounds like a ye olde medicinal shop, placed in one of the quieter parts of Fitzroy. They were not dining destinations before the owners set up shop and created something special.

The Bridge Room – Aerated passionfruit, roasted nougatine, passionfruit ice cream, passionfruit seed powder, glass biscuit

Then there’s Quay. That is the one that stands out because it is entirely appropriate. A restaurant overlooking the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House serving food with Ferrari price tags. The achievement of Peter Gilmore keeping this restaurant at the top of its game is surely not lost when you eat at some of its neighbours.

Brae – Egg yolk, potato and jerusalem artichoke, sauce of comte and vin jaune

It is the first time I’ve been to all eight of the three star restaurants. I believe they all deserve a spot for what they have achieved, and what they are currently doing. I love the fact that really none of the top five have a view (sorry Brae, the farm is actually very serene), and I love the fact that with all of these restaurants while the basics are done very, very well; it is the food that is the reason they are so brilliant.

Well done to Australian Gourmet Traveller on a sensational list. A real statement has been made by putting Orana as number one whether the Sydney and Melbourne dominant audience likes it or not. I have never had a meal like it, and that is what separating yourself is all about.

Sepia – Sydney – Friday 31 March 2017 – Dinner

Autumn Chocolate Forest – soft chocolate, hazelnut and almond, rose petal cream, blackberry sorbet, Black Genoa fig jellies, green tea, licorice, chocolate twigs, crystallised bronze fennel, native voilets

The full circle. One thing is constant though, I have always wanted to dine here. Originally when it opened it was above the Sydney office of the accounting firm I was working for, and I wasn’t sure the feeling I would have dining below work. Last year I heard rumours it was to close, and I wasn’t sure it would be on its A game.

Green tea, tarragon, yuzu “chiffon”

This year I was more than enticed and booked early, as you need to do. We were staying a block away, and it just made sense. Earlier in the day of the encounter I heard that it was to open in Melbourne, and not long after we finished our meal, I realised that the restaurant was actually closing in December and moving to Melbourne!

Snacks from left – Tempura Oba Leaf; Hiramasa Kingfish; Saikou (best) Salmon; Bonito and purple yam

I’m ecstatic for two reasons. I live in Melbourne, and there is something special about this experience that is bigger than the city it resides in. Sepia is a big night out, a special occasion, a celebration, and an event in itself. It has built an envied reputation for a very good reason.

Somehow, on a non-descript, almost ugly corner of the Sydney CBD, the inside of the restaurant and wine bar, is a world away. It is dark and sexy, open yet intimate, with some fine dining features, and bistro style flourishes. The banquettes are comfortable, and the dark wooded tables nice and large, giving an air of luxury.

Service, especially from our sommelier, is exceptional – equal parts professional, comfortable and approachable. There is one draw back though of a very dedicated and diverse floorstaff. Some of the descriptions of the food are difficult to decipher whether by accent, noise or a combination of the two. This means that without a menu you have only a partial understanding of what you are eating. Purposely I have written this review without looking at the menu as I think that is a better way of describing my personal take on the incredible dishes we ate during the evening. However, the captions on the photos are the chef’s descriptions you receive later as you leave (unless you request earlier).

The other potential drawback with not having a menu is you are either at the mercy of the matched tastings (which we rarely do) or the sommelier. Luckily we all worked together, Catherine and I suggesting what we would like to drink, and our sommelier confirming which styles would suit multiple courses during the evening. She was spot on.

Tuna, egg yolk, fromage blanc, unpasteurised soy sauce, wasabi

After our Melbourne Gin Company and tonic aperitif, we started with a glass of the Thalassitis Assyrtiko from Santorini by Gaia. It was indeed versatile with light fruit and great balance, something which was needed with our four snacks to begin. Those snacks included some delightful minced kingfish surrounded by a crispy seaweed (which turned out to be tatami iwashi – a dried flat sheet of sardine), that was a strong accompaniment. There was a leaf above a prawn cracker like wafer with a version of seafood sauce atop. It was a nice beginning.

Next we had a glorious folded piece of tuna, with some dollops of egg yolk and a puree that tasted like creamy artichoke. When you cut into the tuna out splashed some soy sauce, not unlike what happened to my wallet a little later at the end of a great meal.

Spanner crab, heirloom tomato, brown butter emulsion, sake vinegar jelly, pea and horseradish

Our next course was a more substantial parcel of generously portioned spanner crab, which was probably the highlight of my savoury courses, but not by any great margin given the excellence shown by the kitchen. The presentation included some dusting at the table which struck the thin vegetable layer topping the crab with a cool punch, providing contrast and interest between hot and cold, soft gorgeous crab, and the slightly firmer vegetable (which was actually heirloom tomato).

Butter poached black cod, pink and white turnips, finger lime, ice plant, smoked soy dashi

We had what looked like a small piece of fish served with a broth in a little bowl, but turned out to be densely packed and huge on flavour, the portion just right given the richness. The dashi was addictive and I almost finished the last drop. The fish was firm, but delicate, with a pronounced flavour, reminiscent of cod. Some of the vegetable additions in the broth didn’t add to the flavour, but did create some textural balance. By now we were on to a superb chardonnay by Benjamin Laroux from Bourgogne and it delivered an exceptional match, but was expensive.

Chargrilled lamb breast, roasted garlic emulsion, Mexican sour cucumbers, sweet bamboo, daikon

One of the dishes I found a little weaker, but still of a high standard anywhere else, was the torn lamb. One of my pieces was a little chewy, and while the flavour was actually quite intense, the accompaniments just didn’t work for me as well as the other dishes. The second meat dish however ticked all the boxes. Wagyu needs skilled cooking and it received it. The pine mushroom and cream also intensely flavoured, but pairing perfectly. With these courses I tried a wine called Meandro from the Douro in Portugal that had a good lick of alcohol, leading to some slightly jammy fruit on the palate. Catherine went with the Nero d’Avola and I was a little jealous, the savouriness exhibited perfect for finely tuned wagyu.

David Blackmore wagyu sirloin, pine mushroom, kombu, mushroom cream, grilled baby kale leaf

We love dessert, and it appears the team behind Sepia do too. You could hardly call either of our two pre-desserts inferior to the main dessert, in fact, we both were left wondering how it could get any better. The first was a version of strawberries and cream, using alpine strawberries. Just amazing. Then Catherine’s favourite of Sepia’s version of chiffon cake arrived, and as well as being beautifully presented, it was divine.

Alpine strawberries, salted white chocolate chantilly, frozen strawberry and yoghurt

For the main dessert we had a choice and we both chose differently to get a taste of each offering. Catherine had the “apple”, and I had the “chocolate”. It was a bit of trickery, with the apple coming out in a half shell of chocolate, with apple ice cream topped by a medley of tastes and textures. Mine came out looking like a pear in the woods, but was actually a quenelle of chocolate, on a bed of dried fruits, crumbs, and more chocolate. It is a signature dish, and for obvious reason. There is a confidence exuded from the presentation, and the incredible technique used to execute the flavours and textures cannot be easily expressed in words.

Chocolate, caramelised apple cream, artichoke, blackcurrant, cocoa nib, pecan brittle

As I sipped the last few drops from my ten year old Madeira by Henriques and Henriques it became quite apparent that this was one of the top meals I’ve enjoyed in my lifetime. While the memory is obviously vivid, I expect on further reflection in coming months and years that this should easily make my top 10 experiences. Not to mention it is moving to Melbourne, just like I did almost ten years ago. While loving where it has come from, I’m sure it too, will never look back.

Sepia Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato