Cuisine: Modern Australian
Watch out Sydney! There’s a little restaurant in the inner-western suburb of Stanmore. It only serves degustation menus. It’s new, it’s young and it’s exciting. The name is Sixpenny and it may possibly be the best thing that’s happened to Australia since Attica. For starters, head chefs James Parry and Daniels Puskas are of pedigree having trained at some of the world’s finest restaurants including big hitters like Mugaritz, Alinea and Noma. Having opened their new restaurant only a year ago in 2012 after a stint together at Oscillate Wildly, these two talented chefs have not wasted any time in making their mark in the fine dining scene in Sydney. This restaurant alone has redeemed Sydney from all my disappointing meals to date.At Sixpenny there were no jaw dropping views or architectural marvel to feast your eyes over. The decoration here was rather quietly confident and elegant, and the main focus was around the service and good food – a simple equation to achieve gastronomic pleasure which appears to elude many chefs. And when you have fresh home grown vegetable sourced from your very own back garden and a plot of land in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, what more do you need? Well, perhaps there was one tiny complaint: the acoustic of the main dining room. It can get quite noisy when operating at full capacity but it certainly didn’t dent my experience.
The menu here was simple. There was a choice of a six-course or eight-course menu with the familiar matching wine option. I was particularly impressed by our sommelier who managed to match each course for my non wine drinking companion with a variety of rare ales. Before getting stuck into our meal we had an opportunity to visit the kitchen and catch up with Chef Parry in the back garden over a glass of champagne. From our lengthy discussion around sourcing, locality and sustainability, I could sense that our meal here was going to be quite different to any other place in Sydney I’d been to. To kick off our meal we had a thin and brittle sheet of Kipfler potato chips. They had been seasoned with a perfect balance of salt and vinegar and certainly whet my appetite.
To go with the array of amuse bouches was a glass of Jacques Puffeney, Cuvée Sacha, 2009, Arbois, Jura, France. It had a beautiful waxy nose of lemon and a smooth citrus palate with an earthy mushroom finish. A very interesting and unusual wine but worked well.The array of amuse bouches started with a warm English Muffin, green tomato, ricotta. The sweetness from the homemade ricotta married well with the slightly tart green tomato chutney. It had a clean aftertaste yet a lingering creamy texture.
A bowl containing a beautiful arrangement of Australia’s flower emblem, the Golden Wattle, was brought to out table containing Wattle baked golden beetroot. The golden beets had been baked with wattle seed in a salt crust to retain its moisture and came with…
… Caramelised cream that was perfect with the tart beetroot. The buttery cream emulsion was so good I kept it to go with some bread. This was definitely the best of the amuse bouche we had. Things were looking very promising indeed…
The first course of the evening was Green strawberry & celtuse salad, sour cream, bergamot. I had never heard of celtuse but our waiter explained it was basically a cross between a celery and lettuce, and it was extremely popular in China. I wasn’t quite sure on what to expect from this dish but was pleasantly surprised by how well the tangy thick sour cream, savoury celtuse and tart strawberry interplayed. Bergamot, which is not typically my preferred choice of ingredient, brought the dish to life with an aroma that was not overpowering. Brilliant.
One of the highlights of the evening was Sixpenny’s beautiful signature dish of the Crab, silky macadamia and camomile. The steamed mud crab from Queensland and macadamia milk was hiding under the mountain of macadamia nut curls. The earthy nuttiness from the macadamia complemented the sweet crab meat and the occasional fragments of macadamia you bit into added that textural contrast. This dish would have been perfect other than a slight faux pas, bits of crab shell!! What a shame!
Matching the next course was a glass of 2009 Yarra Yarra ‘The phoenix’ Semillon/Sauvignon blanc, Yarra Valley, Victoria. This was poignant reminder of the bushfires that destroyed Yarra Yarra’s vineyards and surrounding. The wine was made by a generous donation of the semillon from De Bortoli and sauvignon blanc which was purchased from the vicinity.
Our third course of the day was Carrot, mascarpone, toasted cheese curds and bitter leaves that had been dressed in toasted hazelnuts. The heirloom carrots that had been cooked in mascarpone butter was sweet, soft and absolutely divine. I did find it slightly one-dimensional in flavour but the micro herbs and bitter leaves added some pepperiness to make it a bit more interesting. I’d probably say one carrot as an amuse bouche would have worked better.
Our fish of the day was a Lightly steamed bass groper & stinging nettles. The stinging nettle was served two ways – as a sauce and also as crisped leaves. They were subtle but imparted a rich and earthy flavour to the fish caught off the South Island in New Zealand. I enjoyed the addition of the burnt taste of the rye butter which I was initially afraid would ruin the course. It was evident from all the dishes thus far that all their produce were never obscured or distracted by heavy flavours but equally never left bare. There was a lot of thought and respect to the produce and ingredients here. It reminded me of Ben’s cooking in Attica.
Our final savoury course of the day was the Malted veal, cabbage, fermented anchovies. Underneath this dark coating was a succulent and pink cut of veal, sourced from the Hunter Valley, that had been marinated and glazed in germinated malt, served with roasted cabbage dressed with anchovy essence. This dish was quite interesting in that the sweetness from the meat contrasted against the salty anchovy seasoning on the buttery cabbage. The small portion was spot on as it was quite rich and I found the flavours to be quite complex.
We were finally on to our first dessert of the meal with the Milk sorbet, rangpur lime, mandarin cooked in its juice. The milk sorbet was smooth and beautiful on its own. Whilst I could see the logic in adding a contrasting citric element, I must confess, I found the combination of the rangpur lime and mandarin overwhelmingly tart.
A much better course followed with the Vanilla brined pear, toasted milk, chocolate. Sixpenny’s take on the classic combination of pear, chocolate and vanilla was possibly my favourite course of the day. The pear worked really well in balancing the sweetness from the chocolate ganache and vanilla ice cream. There was something comforting about this rustic looking dish.
Our final course of the day was the Roasted pumpkin, mead & white rice ice cream. The star of the dish was the Queensland Blue pumpkin that was cooked in mead and served over a bed of caramelised white chocolate with a scoop of white rice ice cream. Dessert is usually a disappointment for me because the dish typically gets overly complicated or neglected. The last two dessert courses here may have lacked the visual impact but I assure you they were very good and perfect to be served on a winter’s day. I’d love to see what kind of dessert they have on their menu in summer!
Suffice to say, I was impressed by the cooking here. Chef Parry and Puskas showed a very promising future in their cooking and took me back to my experience at Attica five years ago. Sure, there were some silly mistakes like the crab shell being left in the dish or the slightly overwhelming tartness from the rangpur lime, but those are small adjustments and issues that can be ironed out. However, the creative mind needed to produce such original dishes, all whilst respecting the produce, is not something anyone can replicate. The cooking here was elegant and an absolute pleasure to the senses. I left the restaurant with goose bumps thinking about what other great dishes these two chefs will be producing in the future and could not wait to plan my next meal there.