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

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Atlas Dining – South Yarra – Friday 11 November 2016 – Dinner

Octopus, sweet potato,, pomelo

Octopus, sweet potato, pomelo

Is there a secret formula to obtaining buzz about a restaurant opening? I couldn’t be sure, but I would bet that marketing / restaurant consultants swear by it. How ever it might come about, there is a definite buzz around Atlas Dining.

I’ve seen it in The Age’s Epicure liftout on a Tuesday; I’ve heard friends randomly mention it; and I’ve seen it come up on Instagram. One of those friends said his mate had been once a month since opening! Little to question on that score when purely studying the prices, which allow you to get out of the restaurant at less than $100 per person for 4 courses, matching wines, some unlimited sparkling and a tea or coffee!

Short story is that the head chef and owner has worked everywhere, spanning several countries, and somehow has a restaurant on Commercial Road in South Yarra at the age of 22! The question is has he jumped in the deep end too early? Having chosen the 6 course option with matching wines, we sip our champagne while enjoying the combined bread and amuse which is served charred with a duck parfait drizzled with honey that is delicious. First course in the form of octopus is confirmation that Charlie Carrington and his chefs can cook.

Asparagus, egg, iceberg

Asparagus, egg, iceberg

Actually, while all the dishes are great, the octopus dish is my favourite. It is beautifully charred, and the accompaniments lift it even further. The vinegar from the pickled diakon and the acid of the pomelo, is softened by the slightly spicy and deeply flavoured puree of sweet potato. All together it is an inspired dish, and the first of six that pay homage to Vietnam. Did I mention that every four months, Atlas Dining, will change its cultural theme, the next instalment being from the Middle East.

Mackerel, pickled vegetables, Vietnamese mint

Mackerel, pickled vegetables, Vietnamese mint

The next dish, features chopped asparagus, a warm slow cooked egg, iceberg lettuce, and a delightful butter sauce. Again the combination is terrific, with some classic flavours combining through excellent technique. Our third course is mackerel, the strength of this fish being exhibited in all its glory; but it is not for everyone. It is a generous serve, sleekly presented, and I enjoy it with the pickled diakon and carrot, but it doesn’t have the punch of the previous dishes.

Wagyu beef pho tartare

Wagyu beef pho tartare

We are back on a winner with the wagyu tartare which is more deconstructed than traditional tartare which normally combines the ingredients until they are almost indistinguishable. Here you have just slightly cooked wagyu, the slow cooked egg similar to the second course, spicy crackers, onion, herbs and spices, coming together with a reduced pho as the sauce. Again the presentation met the flavour, with the cracker shavings over the black plate having a great visual impact.

There is an easy flow to service, which is excellent across the board. There is a consistency in the feel which is casual and approachable; there is belief. Our waitperson in particular, and the sommelier, do a fine job, and some dishes being brought out by the chefs is a nice touch.

The wine list is on point with the theme, offering diverse and interesting options. While we could have happily had the Geoff Weaver Chardonnay, we decided to do the matching, and we were pleased we did. There were some interesting (and delicious) wines early in the night. The best was a subtle German wine from Baden in a White Burgundy style, that opened up beautifully with the octopus. However, my favourite glass was a Chilean pinot noir by Montsecano that really hit it off with the wagyu tartare.

Lychee, grilled cucumber

Lychee, grilled cucumber

Our first dessert was a refreshing grilled cucumber and cucumber and lychee granita. Nicely presented, it was really more an entree into our second dessert, which showed the restraint you often associate with Asian sweets, but with wonderful balance. White peach served both grilled, and julienne, with a buffalo curd infused with coriander. Again, a few ingredients, in a combination that seems simple but is actually deceiving, showing that the chefs know how to use technique without demonstrating the complications to the customer.

Peach, smoked buffalo curd, coriander

Peach, smoked buffalo curd, coriander

Even without knowing the back story it is hard not to get swept up by Atlas Dining. The challenge of the restaurant business is being met by a young chef and a professional outfit head on. It is a business though, and the test only becomes more challenging (but also rewarding) over time. The ingredients are certainly there for our fantastic experience to be repeated over a lengthy period, and I’m looking forward to seeing Charlie’s take on the Middle East.

Atlas Dining Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Attica – Ripponlea – Thursday 28 July 2016 – Dinner

Emu's Egg

Emu’s Egg

Expectations are one of the most important ingredients in any restaurant experience. Try as we might to lower them to a reasonable level, the more hype, and the longer the wait between booking and dining, the more difficult it is to not over inflate. For me, tonight’s dinner at Attica is the most prone to setting expectations to unreasonable levels, so I jotted them down in the hope of being objective.

Cook's Leaves

Cook’s Leaves

There are many obvious, and a few less obvious reasons, why I expect to have one of the best restaurant experiences of my life here. Of course, Attica is Melbourne’s highest ranked restaurant on any number of guides, over a number of years. The less obvious reason is that I already rank Ben Shewry’s temple as one of the top experiences I’ve had in Australia, and around the world. But that was five years ago. Now that it is mentioned in the same breath as some of the world’s greatest restaurants, you hope for the small (but important) improvements you’ve read a little about to take it to the next level.

Chicken Carrot

Chicken Carrot

As we walk out the back to the restaurant garden, to be greeted by one of the pastry chefs, and are offered tea and a home made mint slice biscuit (that is delicious), we get a chance to reflect on one of our great meals in the cold winter air. So far, in the lead up to dessert, we have tried twelve snacks, and four courses of savoury dishes. There are highlights; but there are no lowlights. It is hard to imagine being happier with a meal. Attica is putting an emphasis on native Australian ingredients, in a completely approachable manner, with hardly an ounce of pomp.

Catherine with her Cuppa Tea (post mint slice!)

Catherine with her Cuppa Tea (post mint slice!)

Personally I like challenging food that makes you think and take notice, and there are different ways to achieve wonder and awe. At Orana, which also has an Australiana focus, you are presented with ingredients like green ants that do taste great, but are challenging to approach. I think Attica is making you take notice in a different way, with more subtlety, and some familiarity in the flavour combinations.

Gazza's Vegemite Pie

Gazza’s Vegemite Pie

An example that has stuck in my mind for this past week is the saltbush fed lamb pie. Classical Australian presentation (resting on a brown paper bag), the pie has some manchego grated over it, and there is vegemite in the filling with the saltbush lamb. It is brilliant, absolutely brilliant, and I can’t stop thinking about it. There is some challenge in a few ingredients though.

Aged Santa Claus Melon

Aged Santa Claus Melon

To preface, I haven’t mentioned service yet, but our waitpersons use the perfect balance of professionalism and friendliness, along with genuine care. Towards the beginning we have a conversation about the meal ahead. It is the type of discussion that puts you at ease because you realise that your waitpersons are there to guide and improve your experience, and there doesn’t seem to be this overarching will of the chefs being pushed upon you, like some other fine dining establishments.

Salted Red Kangaroo and Bunya Bunya

Salted Red Kangaroo and Bunya Bunya

Our waitperson explains that one thing they need to confirm we are comfortable eating is the kangaroo tartare. Here we are talking about raw meat, and a particular meat that isn’t eaten often by most people. We are happy to try it as we trust the ability of the chefs and the quality of the ingredients. Catherine did hesitate though. As it turns out, our first savoury course is one that you really do not want to miss. Cleverly the raw roo is hidden under a beautifully presented collage of thinly sliced red carrots. Not only does the carrot work for presentation, it adds texture to the dish. The roo is beautifully seasoned and it seems this is a terrific way to eat this meat, which is always a difficult one to cook.

Smashed Avo on Toast

Smashed Avo on Toast

An ode to our breakfast culture comes in the form of “smashed avo on toast” with minced avocado, tiny mint, finger lime, and apple, on a crisp cracker. It evokes memories of the first time you tried this now staple café dish, and the intricacy pushes the boundaries of what is already a wonderful classic combination.

Marron, Lilly Pilly and Pearl

Marron, Lilly Pilly and Pearl

Alongside the playful, and the intriguing, is the classical. Glorious marron from my home state of Western Australia, is perfectly cooked, and comes with a lemon myrtle sauce, which is a feature ingredient of several dishes, including the equally sublime scallop snack. We were having wine by the glass off a reasonably priced and diverse list, and with this dish the elegant Domenica Roussanne Marsanne 2013 from Beechworth, worked beautifully.

Hand Dived Scallop

Hand Dived Scallop

There were some other wine highlights, starting with the 2008 Lark Hill Sparkling from Canberra, which had the versatility you need with several courses of snacks. The Pinot Meunier Pinot Noir 2011 from Iron Bay Pot in Tasmania was also particularly good with the kangaroo tartare.

Stemware by Zalto

Stemware by Zalto

The famous potato cooked in its own soil has been replaced by an equally gorgeous “all parts of the pumpkin” dish that is a familiar concept having seen a similar focus at O.My recently. Texture from the seeds; richness from the flesh; and complexity from the sour beer cream infused with juice from the skin. It comes together in a dish that makes you feel like Shewry could turn his restaurant vegetarian tomorrow, and it would still be just as good.

All Part of the Pumpkin

All Parts of the Pumpkin

There is little theatrics, but a lot of novelty done in an intelligent way. The wallaby blood pikelet sits atop a playful recipe that is not so much a recipe, but a larrikin’s tale. The crumbed mussels have some extra crunch from the pig face succulent topping, but are not as intriguing as the painted mussel shell. The carrot, which curls when put in freezing water, is presented in a hollow rooster dish, but the flavour of the chicken minced with sorrel, kale and tarragon, is impeccable, far outshadowing any of the fun presentation.

Wallaby Blood Pikelet

Wallaby Blood Pikelet

The other dish that stands out from earlier is the plainly presented pork neck. This is meat that sings. Astounded by the flavour I have to ask how it is done and learn that there is a combination of different cooking techniques over a 24 hour period, including smoking and grilling, to get to the depth of flavour that you only get a small but memorable taste of. We finish our chat outside, cut a tulip for our first dessert course, hand it to the chef, and resume our seats.

Smoked Pork

Smoked Pork

We are at the back of the restaurant in a smaller slightly separated room, laden with black curtains that do a good job to reduce noise levels. You feel a world away from Glen Eira Road outside, and it is a good looking restaurant, without that aspect being a particularly topical feature. It is more about minimising distraction from the food, and the good lighting is an example of the focus.

Tulips DIY

Tulips DIY

Our Tulips DIY comes out as our first dessert. We have just been told that there are only five edible tulip varieties in the world and the rest are very poisonous! Luckily these are edible and the fruit and cream cheese inside is delicious. If we thought that was a pretty dish, the next was almost as pretty, and definitely intricate.

Byron Sunrise and Fresh Coconut Cream

Byron Sunrise and Fresh Coconut Cream

Three thimbles of apple, sitting in coconut cream, make for a more savoury dessert, but one that is still very nice. Crying out for something a bit sweeter, our prayers were answered with a decadent chocolate sponge, soaked in chocolate sauce with a yoghurt ice cream to soften the richness.

Cheftales

Cheftales

Finishing with another playful, and delicious taste, our “cheftales” are another ode to an Aussie classic, but again the take by Attica is better than the original, and comes with a “Who am I?” related to one of Australia’s numerous great chefs. There really has been absolutely nothing that didn’t work tonight. Quality through and through.

Lance Wiffin's Mussel

Lance Wiffin’s Mussel

We go to restaurants for many reasons and we bring our expectations with us. All of my lofty expectations were realised, or even exceeded tonight, and that is no mean feat when you are off to one of the world’s great restaurants. With some good measuring sticks to compare some of the native Australian ingredients and their use (namely Orana and Igni) I can see the subtle reasons why Attica is rated at the top of the pile.
Attica Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

O.MY – Beaconsfield – Sunday 12 June 2016 – Dinner

Pumpkin gnocchi

Pumpkin gnocchi

Exceptional meals are inspirational occasions where your imagination stays transported long after you’ve put your knife and fork in the position of your choosing. That blissful feeling of complete satisfaction is not achieved at many restaurants and usually there is an X factor that is responsible for the elation.

Travel, and celebration, are two extraneous circumstances that add to many dining experiences to make them memorable. Closer to home, on a chilly evening with no particular celebration (except for the Queen’s Birthday!), in the outskirts of this great city, is a shining epicurean example of how the ordinary can become extraordinary.

O.MY was not my idea. In fact, for some reason I thought it was out near the airport? Catherine had been keeping an eye on the growing enthusiasm for the offerings of three brothers out in the sticks. Having travelled home from Brisbane this morning on less than four hours of sleep, I still maintained a good level of excitement knowing that this place was at the top of her list.

Contrasting the seasons with fresh leaves and pickled vegetables, emulsion and pork broth

Contrasting the seasons with fresh leaves and pickled vegetables, emulsion and pork broth

By the time we were in the foothills it could have only been five or six degrees, making the walk across the road from the car seem like going from a heated spa to a cold swimming pool. The saving grace of this small restaurant was that it holds few tables, meaning the door would be permanently closed for a few hours, allowing the room to grow warm quickly. Tables are quite close together meaning our initial conversation was hushed, but this changed quickly as one of the brothers, and Sommelier extraordinaire, Chayse, liquored up several enthusiastic guests.

There is no menu so you choose between four, six and eight courses. The prices for this type of restaurant are very reasonable, so we felt compelled to try the eight courses ($110), and on reflection we would not liked to have missed the two extra dishes. Though on our next visit we would consider having four, given you have a complimentary starter, and dessert (counted as one course) is more like three smaller courses.

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut

We found the menu gathers momentum as time passes by. The starter is playful with a contrast of the current season (fresh leaves from the farm) and earlier seasons (pickled vegetables). You grab a pickle with your leaf and dip in the emulsion, taste, and then refresh with a delicious and deep flavoured pork broth. Next comes the first official course of pumpkin gnocchi with a rich barbecue style sauce. When you hear the other aspects of the pumpkin (including the “drippings”) are themes in other dishes, you realise the care, effort, and interest that the other brothers, Blayne and Tyson (both chefs), put in their produce. All three of them working much of their “free” hours in the farm.

At this stage Catherine and I are still on our first glass of chardonnay, which has a great mouthfeel and elegance, made by Payten & Jones in the Yarra Valley. Our first glass because Catherine is driving and I am still recovering. The next dish is the weakest of the evening, with lettuce leaves covering sauerkraut, with a chicken sauce bringing the dish together. I could see some of the idea behind it, but the combination didn’t work for me with the three components not mingling. The next dish left the prior in its wake, with a beautifully presented ode to Jerusalem artichokes.

Jerusalem artichoke

Jerusalem artichoke

We hadn’t finished our chardonnay, but our Sommelier insisted on a splash of another wine (on the house) to better match the potentially clashing chemicals in the artichoke. Such an intricate dish is difficult to describe, but there were several cooking methods employed to combine different tastes and textures of the artichoke including roasting, pureeing, and simply slicing raw. At this stage some of the themes, plating, crockery, and later on some of the seemingly stripped back (but extremely detailed) desserts, had me thinking back to an amazing meal at Momofuku Seiobo. The intricacy and complexity continued throughout the night, this time with a thick wedge of perfectly cooked mackerel, sitting in a squid sauce full of flavour.

Kangaroo

Kangaroo

The two extra dishes we received as part of the eight courses came next, and both were unforgettable. First, kangaroo loin with beetroot, and honey, was stunning. Using a well known combination, but putting their mark on the dish, the chefs show their ability. Next was my favourite dish of the night, with a centrepiece of smoked lamb. Every taste was incredible; perfect lamb in a divine sauce, with simple accompaniments. The Farr Rising Gamay, from the son of one of my favourite winemakers of all time, is a terrific expression of this variety made famous by Beaujolais, and a tremendous match for both dishes.

Smoked lamb

Smoked lamb

We finish our savoury dishes on a high with beef that has been dry aged for 40 days, which comes with a restrained amount of fermented potato scattered with young carrots, and a powerful beef ragu that is best to have in small doses. This dish acts as a filler, without lacking any of the presentation or flavour of the previous dishes. Again I had our sommelier come to my aid with a thoughtful half glass to match.

Lemon tarts, orange cake, and beignets

Lemon tarts, orange cake, and beignets

We had realised by now on adjacent tables that dessert held more than the usual excitement as several courses were being served instead of the promised single course. To start we tried a petit four style collection of lemon tarts, orange cakes, and beignets. They were all good ways to begin, but the lemon tart with its terrifically balanced acidity from a natural yoghurt, won the day.

Smoked pumpkin ice cream, chestnut puree and toasted buckwheat

Smoked pumpkin ice cream, chestnut puree and toasted buckwheat

Next was a revelation in the form of smoked pumpkin ice cream, chestnut purée, and toasted buckwheat. While the attractiveness of the colour could be questioned, this was one of the most memorable, full flavoured, sweet but savoury, desserts that I’ve encountered. The thought needed to get all of the elements perfect, both separate and combined, is an art. But really, as impossible as it seems, the next dessert was just as brilliant. Enter a combination of chocolate (of brownie texture, and sauce), kaffir lime sorbet, and a determined chilli gel, and you have another dessert that broke some of the rules without being found out. The chilli gel in particular was knock your head back hot if you just have a touch at the end of your spoon, but combined into each bite it softened in itself, and extended the taste profile.

Kaffir lime sorbet, chocolate

Kaffir lime sorbet, chocolate

As we shared a peppermint tea, and our final taste of salted caramel, we spoke in awe of some of the dishes, struggling to rank some of them against each other. All the way through all the waitstaff had been fantastic. No doubt they are aided by a smaller room and a close to one for five floor to customer ratio, but there was never a time we needed anything. So much so that I hadn’t turned my head to look at the room until it had started clearing out as other tables finished. My Negro vermouth during dessert, and the mocktail made for Catherine of plum, ginger and pepper, were again expressions of the attention to detail, and careful experimentation that is part and parcel of the experience.

It’s an unusual name, in an unusual area, but O.MY exudes a tremendously bright light that is enough to get the attention of the big city and beyond. A visit out here and there’s no doubt you’ll be sold on the execution of some cutting edge ideas, and the enthusiasm with which they are presented.

O.My Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Rockpool – Sydney, City – Friday 1 April 2016 – Dinner

Valhrona chocolate with macadamia, glazed fig, malt and peach leaf ice cream

Valhrona chocolate with macadamia, glazed fig, malt and peach leaf ice cream

Fifteen years is a very long time by any measure. Restaurants do not enjoy anywhere near the average life span that most of its customers do. So coming back to a restaurant after fifteen years between meals is rare.

Early in this millennium I ventured to the Rocks in Sydney to enjoy, at the time, one of the very best meals of my life. Incredibly new to this echelon of fine dining in Sydney, I didn’t even realise the table next door featured the man himself, Neil Perry, until I was reading the Qantas magazine on the way home to Perth. Not many men have a ponytail like Neil’s and I was a fan having only recently cut my own long hair off! It was unmistakably him.

Rockpool is no longer in the Rocks, but is close by on Bridge Street, a few streets behind Circular Quay, in an old building that is quite breathtaking. While my last visit was long ago, Rockpool has actually been going since 1989 (which has been added to the name to ease the confusion from the similarly named Bar & Grill). That is unique for any restaurant, but this isn’t a family restaurant in the suburbs, this is one of Australia’s consistently best, and most expensive.

Coorong yellow eye Mullet, cooked in turmeric leaf, sauce amandine

Coorong yellow eye Mullet, cooked in turmeric leaf, sauce amandine

Reinventing and changing is required for any going concern to continue with the enthusiasm of youth. While Rockpool matures in experience, I’m fascinated by the creativity on the plate, and the energy of a relatively new location. The reverence to the food is now matched by the splendor of the room, dominated with magnificent arch windows, not needing any dressing up to reveal their beauty. We are dining upstairs and there is cast iron, dark wood, and excellent lighting on the tables, revealing the food, but still keeping a high level of intimacy.

It needs to be a big night out as there simply isn’t the access to funds for most of us to come here as much as we’d like. Eight courses (plus the usual surprise extras) costs $185 and then wine, whether matched, or by the glass (like we chose) is not cheap either.

Roasted Goose from Llangothlin with hot, sweet and sour sauce

Roasted Goose from Llangothlin with hot, sweet and sour sauce

I remember some of the flavours and ingredients from my first visit many years ago, but the refinement of how some of those same ingredients are used is stunning. One of our favourite dishes during the night was mullet wrapped in a turmeric leaf, with a burnt butter, curry leaf, and almond sauce. Part of the taste was familiar like burnt butter and sage on gnocchi; and part of the taste was surprising as if you had discovered a secret combination. How could this perfectly cooked fish go so well with this sauce?

Blue Mountains Wagyu softly grilled, served with oxtail sauce, wasabi and fresh lime

Blue Mountains Wagyu softly grilled, served with oxtail sauce, wasabi and fresh lime

There is a beef dish using nine score wagyu that is as good as beef can possibly taste, combined with another sauce using oxtail that is reminiscent of teriyaki, but different in a way that makes you pine for this sauce the next time you go back to usual, tried and tested.

Kingfish sashimi on enriched Koshihikari rice with Japanese peach and mirin dressing

Kingfish sashimi on enriched Koshihikari rice with Japanese peach and mirin dressing

Mirin and Japanese peach dressing surround generous pieces of kingfish sashimi, the effect of the oily sauce perfect both in presentation, and then to flavour each taste. The familiar texture of Chinese dumplings are captured in a ball of prawn pieces, and eggy prawn mousse, wrapped in delicious crumb, sitting on a squid ink sauce. These are magnificent dishes.

King prawn mousse, rolled in pangrattato, on squid ink sauce

King prawn mousse, rolled in pangrattato, on squid ink sauce

There are some dishes that don’t hit the same heights but are certainly well above average. The first was the smaller size dish of scampi and gooseberries which is sitting in a herb sauce that is a touch too strong for me. The other one was the goose which is beautifully cooked, and rolled in Asian spices, but just doesn’t have the same impact as other game could. I did enjoy the hot, sweet and sour sauce though.

Scampi with grilled cucumber and sherry dressing

Scampi with grilled cucumber and sherry dressing

Besides the excellence in the food, two aspects stood out during the savoury courses. Each waitperson provided professional and friendly service, but the performance was disjointed as a team effort. There were some amusing issues such as getting the hot towel at the beginning of the meal twice from two different floorstaffers. There was also a lightbulb that needed changing on another table which was a little awkward considering all the lights were connected by the same wire, meaning for a few minutes it was more like a disco! Nothing that occurred took away from the evening, but it would probably cause management and Perry to cringe a little. The other aspect to note was the brilliant wines on offer by the glass.

Having started off with a West Winds Sabre G&T we were then recommended a Grüner Veltliner from Canberra which was a good match and something interesting to try. The wine then got to a very high level of quality with Catherine’s Cobaw Ridge Chardonnay from Macedon and my Marsanne/Roussanne blend by Yeringberg which had some age to really lift its impact with the mullet.

With wine service so prompt on each occasion, we decided to order a glass of the Nebbiolo as our goose hit the table. After waiting, and then slowly enjoying each bite, we finished the dish before the staff found the wine (we could see several looking around the upstairs bar). While it left the sommelier less than impressed having finally found the wine, we decided to change our order to a Garnacha/Mataro/Tempranillo from the Great Southern region of Western Australia. It was amazing with the wagyu and we did the right thing stepping up from the lighter red.

Vacherin of Pandan custard with lime granita and mango sorbet

Vacherin of Pandan custard with lime granita and mango sorbet

It was time for dessert and they could not have been more impressive. To begin, mango sorbet sits atop a stunningly presented meringue wrapped around lime granita, coconut, peanuts and pandan custard. In an age of less sweetness in desserts, finally we were eating a dessert with a savoury edge, but still with a level of sweetness that you need after a great number of savoury courses. The combination was absolutely delicious with all flavours having their time in the sun.

Presentation doesn’t get much better than the Valrohna chocolate dessert. With so many technically challenging elements coming together, this dessert was photogenic like no other dish of the night, the glass shard glistening next to the malt and peach leaf ice cream. We were not done with, ending the night with petit fours in the form of a delectable date tart that is apparently a signature of years gone by at Rockpool, and a macaroon with white chocolate.

There were some astounding moments tonight. The precision in technique and execution shown in many of the dishes we tried must be put down to years of refinement, and an obsession with perfection. While that same attention to detail was not exhibited in all aspects of the experience, it is plain to see why Rockpool is spoken about in terms of the best Australia has to offer.

Rockpool Est. 1989 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Guillaume – Paddington – Sunday 3 April 2016 – Lunch

Passionfruit

Passionfruit

What better way to plan our next trip to Europe than in a beautiful dining room in Paddington, with the charm of provincial France? French food in Australia was once so cliched to the point of being stale, but modern expressions are anything but dull.

For many years, Guillaume Brahimi has been elevating the cause of French dining in Australia. The wow factor you have from dining in the Opera House is gone, left in the wake of a luxurious part-French, part-Hamptons house. I only tried the Opera House version once; an experience that provided enough great moments to merit today’s Sunday lunch.

Amuse

Amuse

Sunday lunch is only offered at Guillaume on the first Sunday of each month. There is a five course set menu with a choice of two desserts for $150 a person. The diners here have come for more than just the food, it is a glamorous feeling and there is an atmosphere of excitement.

Kingfish

Kingfish

This feeling in the dining room requires a start of Champagne and Perrier Jouet seems just right. Luckily it goes beautifully with the amuse bouche, which is a delicious diced tuna concoction complete with foam for a bit of pizzazz. Next up is our first course of Kingfish from Bateau Bay with smoked eel, shiso, walnuts and apple. Guillaume spells out where each star ingredient is from, and it shows the care and pride taken in his approach to sourcing. Looking at the size of this dish we take a deep breath knowing we probably should not have eaten breakfast, and a bircher muesli at that! In any case, each bite of the generous portion of kingfish is delicious and the combination with smoked eel works along with the classic apple and walnut flavours, and a gorgeous lemon sauce. If nothing else, a touch more apple for each bite would be good, but this is a fantastic start to the meal.

Hens of the Woods

Hens of the Woods

With that positive start behind us we go on to the “Hens of the Woods” dish of intrigue. Catherine and I had been talking about how we don’t miss the proliferation of egg based dishes during degustation menus on the Friday night. So initially the egg “oeuf mollet” from Bulla in Victoria was not overly exciting. But if any culture can prepare the perfect egg, it is the French, and when adorned with gorgeous mushrooms, truffle, and the crisp layered potato, you have a terrific dish.

KIng George Whiting

KIng George Whiting

By this stage we had moved on to the Paringa chardonnay, which naturally suits the next course. From Port Lincoln in South Australia, the King George Whiting is extremely exciting. This is one of my favourite fishes, but it needs accompaniments that lift it given its subtle flavour. The whiting itself is perfectly cooked, but the accompaniments of celeriac puree, and the sauce, whilst good, was not the quality of the previous dishes. The dish needed texture, but it was a bit fiddly with the crisp bread. There is some work to do.

Beef

Beef

The next dish was something else though. The wagyu beef from New England in New South Wales is stunning. Paris mash is served at the table from the fancy saucepan. This mash and the turnip puree are outstanding accompaniments, and the jus is delightful too. Adding to the finesse of the dish is a glorious wine from Saint-Emilion combining merlot and cabernet franc in the best possible way, with just the right age to work with the beef.

Valrhona chocolate

Valrhona chocolate

We had to try each of the desserts, so Catherine ordered the passionfruit souffle, and I chose the Valrhona chocolate. The souffle sources passionfruit from Gympie, but the star of any amazing souffle is the technique of the pastry chef. This is no exception. Add some theatre from the pouring of creme anglaise at the table and you have an exemplary performance. The banana and passionfruit sorbet is perfect too, adding refreshment and balance to each taste.

Petit fours

Petit fours

They are both different, but the Valrhona chocolate is the equal of the other dessert. The components of chocolate shards, biscuit, hazelnut cream, and textural chocolate crumb, all combine into a complete and delicious dessert. It doesn’t get more French than some souffle and chocolate for dessert, and we are perfectly fine with that! On top of this the pre-dessert was also beautiful (lychee, mango, coconut featured) and the petit fours we tried of the several offered were all fantastic!

The service is performed by a mainly French staff, adding to the feel of the restaurant. On the whole the operation is seamless, but there are some minor misses, mainly with my Aussie accent, that mean there is still the opportunity to improve. However, on one particular front the staff went above and beyond, meaning small misses can easily be overlooked.

To say this is a pleasant way to spend Sunday afternoon is a dramatic understatement. The servings are generous, the ingredients in the dishes are indulgent, and more importantly, work together in mostly classical ways, but with the right touches to enhance the flavour. Add some elegant wines to the mix, professional service and a dining room to remember, and you have all the hallmarks of what I love in a restaurant.

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

Gladioli – Inverleigh – Wednesday 23 March 2016 – Dinner

Potato, eel, wild roquette

Potato, eel, wild roquette

There are only a few rooms available in Inverleigh to stay in at a local bed and breakfast. This charming town is becoming a destination for food lovers due to the rise of Gladioli and there is no doubt in years to come there will be more rooms becoming available to stay.

It is a thirty minute drive from Geelong where we are staying and with the benefit of hindsight on the wine matching, we are glad to have taken a reasonably expensive taxi to and from the restaurant. The charming little town translates into the restaurant. Set in an old house, it has been lovingly transformed into a small fine dining operation.
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Wednesday night before Easter was never going to be busy and three tables are booked, all for anniversary celebrations. This means we have a situation where we have at least one-third of the attention of the lone waitperson. Unsurprisingly he does an excellent job. However, it is his intense interest in fine dining that sets him apart from many others just happening to work in great establishments. It seems the whole Gladioli staff have been to some top Michelin restaurants across the US and Europe.

Radish, and trout skin with daikon

Radish, and trout skin with daikon

We have the choice of a la carte, and five or eight course tasting menus. We go for the latter along with matching wines. While there were plenty of highlights, the standout dish of my night was the ‘potato, eel, wild roquette’. Saying the potatoes were perfect is a dramatic understatement for this versatile and much loved vegetable. Combined with the sauce, and the strong flavour of the eel (akin to using bacon in a potato salad), you have a familiar combination, with outstanding taste and texture, focussing on the sous vide potatoes. Matched with the 2014 Austin’s Chardonnay, there is balance between the earthiness of the dish, and this elegant wine that spends less time in new French Oak (6 months) than many of its peers.

Zucchini, snow peas, ricotta

Zucchini, snow pea, ricotta

While the meatier mains were my next favoured dishes, the completely vegetarian first course showed off some great ingredients. Grilled zucchini is lightly cooked, and when combined with fresh ricotta you have an absolutely gorgeous starter. This had closely followed some amuses that included a beef cracker (the tendon), trout skin with julienne daikon, and best of all, a delicious raw fresh radish. The local olives from down the road were a nice touch to begin with as well.

Duck, blackberries, rose

Duck, blackberries, rose

Back to the favourites, and the final main course could not have been better prepared. Incredibly beautiful duck is combined with a blackberry sauce, and stunningly touched beetroot, and the presentation matches the taste. There is a lot of interest here, but it also fits the brief of providing a more wholesome finish to the savoury courses. Just prior came a delicious disk of pork mainly from the cheek but also including jowl. Put next to bitter greens it is a familiar combination, perfectly seasoned, with an elevated taste.

Strawberries, almond, fig leaf

Strawberries, fig leaf, almond

The desserts are quality. The first was the sweeter of the two with macerated strawberries, alongside almond ice cream. There is a lot of technique here, but most important is the balance of sweetness between both elements. The crumble, which provides sweetness with that crunchy texture, will live in Catherine’s memory for a long time to come. Even more complicated, but far more on the savoury dessert front, is the last course of layered apple, chestnut cream, and rosemary. Here it is all about a terrific and inventive combination of tastes and textures, and it is somewhat addictive, especially when washed down with the dessert style sauvignon blanc by Mitchell Harris. Every bite is brilliant. The previous dessert was with pedro and that can never be bad at dessert time!

Apple, chestnut, rosemary

Apple, chestnut, rosemary

There were no average dishes but two in particular could have been improved. The kingfish itself was immaculate; easily the best seared kingfish I have eaten, but the plum was inconsistent with some firm and some soft. Similarly, the prawns were perfectly cooked, but had their tract intact, which particularly put Catherine off. It was a pity because the dish is beautifully presented.

Prawns, kohlrabi,

Prawns, kohlrabi, seawater

The wine matching is magnificent, balancing between intrigue and familiarity, and leveraging on the locals, which are known Australia wide. As an example, the use of the 2008 Bannockburn Vineyards ‘Gladioli’ Shiraz which is grown close by is intelligent. Bannockburn is a stunning winery, and Gladioli must reduce cost by having a portion grown just for them.

There are a couple of wines that don’t hit those same heights, such as the Best’s House Block Riesling with residual sugar, but they still work well enough, in this case with the kingfish. One slant that I enjoy is the use of some Italian varieties in local wines (vermentino by Bellwether from Heathcote with the zucchini), or even Italian wines produced by Australian nationals (Fletcher Langhe Rosso with the pork). Naturally many of these varieties are good with food. It was the most I’ve enjoyed the wine matching for some time.

Kingfish, plum

Kingfish, beach mustard, plum

Gladioli has real heart. It took me back to past experiences, even reminding me of Poland when the potato and eel was served (which was a lot like their bacon and cubed potatoes, only much better quality!). The service was informed and conversational, and the food and wine glorious. There is not much further to go, but I’m keen to follow the journey, knowing how amazing the last step could be.
Gladioli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato