Tag Archives: Sydney

Noma in Australia, Sydney

P1180482Chef: René Redzepi     Website: www.noma.dk     Cusine: Modern Nordic

Noma and the Fat Duck were two of the first fine dining experience my wife (then girlfriend) and I had experienced in Europe so I thought it would have been very fitting if I managed to miraculously score a table for both pop-ups in Australia; and I did! Admittedly, my friend Sarah was the one who actually had scored the table at Noma as I had accidentally slept through my wake up alarm whilst traveling in Spain. It does appear that lady luck is still by my side in my culinary adventures. She didn’t abandon me for elBulli and the Fat Duck down under and she certainly didn’t here. We were two of the 5,500 lucky diners… and trust me you were well aware of the 27,000 strong waiting list breathing down your neck!! Fast forward a few months and here we were, having flown from Melbourne to purely indulge ourselves for the afternoon. I had very fond memories from my last experience seven years ago in Copenhagen and the staff warmly greeted us as they had before.


After being greeted by Redzepi and his team of chefs, we found ourselves directed to our table in a cool and modern decor dining room. There wasn’t much of a view as the curtains were draped from top to bottom and we were oriented towards the service stations. This did have some advantages as it allowed us to observe the army of front of house meandering around the room as well as the reaction of each diner as their dishes were being served. This certainly worked at building up the anticipation. There was certainly a different type of dynamic here compared to the Fat Duck in Melbourne which was perhaps more discrete, not that I minded. With the meal paid upfront all we had to do was choose our beverage pairing option. I went for the matching wine option ($195) whilst my friend chose the matching juice ($95).

P1180489We opted for a glass of the Snakebite a la Noma, which was a significant departure from what I remembered from my students days. The producers from Two Metre Tall in Tasmania recreated this classic drink with an unusual barrel-aged cider-ale blend; the result being a rather crisp and refreshing drink that went down almost in one gulp perfectly quenching my thirst from the heat outside. Luckily the team here were as generous as always. Top up was plentiful at no extra cost. This was going to get messy. As the glass got topped up for the second time our friendly waitress Tamara explained that the meal today was celebrating the Australian native ingredients and produce. Intriguing. I was wondering what lengths Redzepi had gone to for authenticity. Perhaps he had wrestled a kangaroo to the ground himself (to which he assures us not this time later in the meal).P11804911st Course – Unripe macadamia and spanner crab: The first course was a broth of spanner crab from Western Australia with macadamia nut from Byron Bay, served over ice and drizzled with rose oil. I loved the marriage of the sweet and savory broth, the crunchy and sweet nut and the floral note of the rose oil (which to be honest, prior to tasting, I didn’t expect to work). The combination of the flavour reminded me of eating coconut on the beach while licking your lips wet from the salt water. P11804942nd Course – Wild seasonal berries flavoured with gubinge: A dish created from several types of native berries including muntries, riberry, kakadu plum, desert lime and lemon aspen, dressed finally with finely grated kakadu plum (gubinge) powder and olive oil. It was a rather tart dish that could have been balanced better in my opinion, making it my least favourite course of the meal. In comparison, I thought Attica’s take on the native berries was more refined.

P11804983rd Course – Porridge of golden and desert oak wattle seed with saltbush: This was a far more interesting and, most importantly, delicious course. The ‘porridge’ which was wrapped in celery oil compressed saltbush leaves, was made from two types of wattle seeds, the golden and desert oak. This playful take on Dolmades was completed by a sweet anise myrtle oil, native herbs and finger lime dressing. It was a very creative use of unconventional local produce which highlighted Redzepi’s ability to adapt in foreign environment. P11804994th Course – Seafood platter and crocodile fat: If, for some bizarre reason, you ever wondered what crocodile fat could be used for then Redzepi has the answer. A selection of five locally sourced molluscs were served over a bed of chilled pebbles, each one covered with a crispy thin wafer made from crocodile fat combined with the skin that forms on top of chicken stock. We were advised to start with the Pippi, followed by the blue mussels, strawberry clam, flame cockle and finally the oyster. My personal favourite was the flame cockle and the sweet strawberry clam.

P11805075th Course – W.A. deep sea snow crab with cured egg yolk: Undoubtedly one of my two favourite dishes of the meal. The snow crab, sourced from the deep sea south west of Western Australia (Albany), lightly steamed and extracted with as minimal interference as possible. The crab was placed over a bed of rich sauce made from…. wait for it… egg yolk from an egg that had been cured in fermented kangaroo juice (sounds worse than it was) and smoked butter, kombucha and rose. The fermented kangaroo juice required six months preparation! This was an unbelievably deliciously and rich course with its success attributed to the salty and luxuriously creamy egg yolk that surpassed even the curing techniques used in Japan (commonly in dashi and soy sauce) in my opinion. P11805086th Course – PIE: dried scallops and Lantana flowers: Another simple looking dish which could not have been more complex. The crust of the ‘pie’ was made using dried kelp to add umami into the dish. The main content of the pie was a scallop fudge made by slicing and drying a scallop before powdering it and mixing it with some bees wax. A layer of Lantana flowers were laid on the pastry before the fudge was set into the crust. We were advised to pluck the Lantana flowers and scatter it over the pie…

P1180511… which we naturally obliged. In the absence of a distinct smell, the edible flowers provided a lovely aroma to the dish and also cut through the rich slice of pie. All in all, the flavour of the pie was not too dissimilar to a very concentrated taste of scallop unlike anything I had eaten before. The crust crumbled like a sable biscuit and provided that important firm texture to the dish. It was an interesting dish although I was not quite decided as to whether I just liked it or loved it. It reminded me of a Japanese prawn cracker, and a good one for that matter.P11805137th Course – BBQ’d milk ‘dumpling’ Marron and Magpie goose: Our only meat course of the meal was something I had never tried before; a magpie goose. It is apparently a waterbird species from the wetlands in the Northern Territory. P1180514 This was another winner of a dish. Inside the palm leaf was a dumpling casing made from crisp milk skin, resembling more of a taco shell. The marron could be seen poking out, oozing with a ragu made from magpie goose. The entire dumpling appeared to have been grilled to create a smokey flavour. The magpie goose, it was explained to us, is a culled pest in NT due to their love of the farmer’s treasured mangoes. Even worse, they only eat the sweetest part of the mango!! Perhaps this explained why they had a rather sweet flavour to their meat. It didn’t take long for Sarah and I to devour this dumpling.

P11805168th Course – Sea urchin & tomato dried with pepper berries: Another surprise of the day was the source of the sea urchin. I was quick to assume this had been sourced from Tasmania but quickly corrected that it had in fact been sourced from Ulladulla, NSW. The sweetness of the sea urchin was remarkable and the tomatoes from Launceston were equally impressive. They had been cooked 30 mins on each side to get an equal amount of heat. The delicious morsels were placed in a soup of fermented tomato oil, pepperberry and elderberry.

P11805209th Course – Abalone schnitzel and bush condiments: The abalone sourced from Eden, NSW was crumbed lightly to create a crunchy texture that contrasted with the juicy and tender meat inside. We were presented an assortment of Australian bush condiments to try with the abalone, starting with mattrush, sea fennel, beach plants, native fig, neptune necklace, Kakadu plum, Atherton oak nut, sprouting kelp, yellow palm fruit, bunya nut, sea pearls and finger lime. On the side as well there was a small bowl of salty sauce made from celery oil and yeast. I wondered what had happened to the other half of my abalone. Given the number of condiments on the plate it was impossible to try each with the abalone.

That, ladies and gents, was the end of our savory dishes. Was it enough? No, I definitely wanted more!!

P118052710th Course – Marinated fresh fruits: Our first of three desserts consisted of Redzepi’s famed ingredient, ants. On this occasion we had native green ants coated around a mango sandwich although the lime-like taste we were promised was nowhere to be seen. We also had a watermelon cube soaked in Davidson plum sauce and my favourite of a pineapple cube soaked in Tasmanian Belgrove whiskey.

P1180528Some dessert plum and finger lime were also presented with a pepper berry twig as a utensil to pick it up.P118053411th Course – Rum lamington: A courageous move in my view as Australians generally prefer their lamington’s untouched but (and admittedly I am still a new Australia) I thought it was executed well. The light and airy lamington conjured from aerated Black Gate rum cake topped with shavings of dried milk on a native tangy tamarind sauce was a very well balanced dish.P118053512th Course – Peanut milk and freekeh ‘Baytime’: The finale was another homage to the Australia iconic “Golden Gaytime” ice cream which was one of the first thing my wife introduced me to when I arrived in Melbourne. They had wanted to call it a Gaytime but couldn’t (possibly for copyright reasons I assume) and instead called it a Baytime to reflect the location of the restaurant. Inside was a toasted freekeh glazed coating was a frozen peanut milk juice and a caramel centre. A twig of lemon myrtle was used as the stick of the ice cream, adding a subtle note of citrus fragrance. Impressive!

P1180540We were next provided with some dessert lime candies to go with our Ethiopian coffee which was excellent. Whilst I haven’t delved too much on the matched wine, I can share a few thoughts. Firstly, they are exclusively Australian and, in absence of a wine list, one can safely assume the choices are limited to the Sommelier’s suggestions. Secondly, there was a concentration of wine from South Australia and in particular the Adelaide Hills. I was surprised to find no Victorian or Western Australian wines. Thirdly, just as my experience in Copenhagen seven years ago, the offering is generous with at least a top up for each matching wine; so much so I was utterly intoxicated by the time we moved outside to have a digestive. Lastly, as dictated by the courses, it wasn’t surprising to find that all but one wine were white. On a completely separate note, my friend’s matching juice was in my opinion a far better match to the food as far as the compatibility factor went.

P1180541Since returning home the main question I keep getting asked was whether it lived up to its hype. To be honest this is something I’ve struggled to answer. There’s a certain intrinsic value of something that is so finite in supply, similar to our experience in the closing season of elBulli, that canvasses the sense of occasion. To that same token, comparing my meal here to the one in Copenhagen would be like comparing bananas with apples; the food was completely different. Overall there were a couple of knock out dishes and a couple less so. What excited me, however, was the opportunity to taste and celebrate Australian ingredients and produce in a way that I’d never come across before. The uniqueness in this occasion was that this was done through the perspective of a talented foreign chef. Redzepi was in a great position to present ingredients which to be honest I suspect no one would have even contemplated serving. This highlighted the diversity and abundance of ingredients found across the continent. For this reason, Noma in Australia was truly a unique and memorable experience like no other. The icing on the cake of course was the friendly service I fondly remembered from Copenhagen. So if you do get a chance, go. You may not agree with all the dishes but you will certainly have a unique and highly memorable meal.

Gastro Park, Sydney

P1180297Chef: Grant King     Website: www.gastropark.com.au    Cuisine: Molecular

It’s true, Australia IS being invaded. The Kiwi’s are taking over…. Well at least in the food world where they are certainly making a scene in the fine dining scene across the big Australian cities. My first encounter was that of Ben Shewry, who I still think is my favourite chef currently in Australia. However, I recently found out that there has similarly been another Kiwi chef making a name for himself in Sydney but in the discipline of molecular cuisine. His name is Grant King and his restaurant is Gastro Park.

P1180233King worked his way through Europe under big names such as Gary Rhodes, Bruno Loubet and Gordon Ramsey. More recently he cemented his place in Sydney’s fine dining scene at Pier under the supervision of his mentor Greg Doyle. He finally went solo in 2011 opening Gastro Park where he rapidly achieved two hats within four months. He is renown for combining molecular techniques and creative ideas with fresh seasonal ingredients. This ensures his menu continues to evolve every day, keeping him challenged; not something any ordinary chef would take.

P1180236 The perfect opportunity came up for a visit when my family and I were catching up with friends from the UK Guild of Food Writers who were in Sydney for holidays. One of the lovely things about Gastro Park is that they accept BYO. As it was a special occasion I had popped a bottle of my 2006 Greenock Creek Roenfeldt Road Shiraz in my luggage and,  for a mere $30 corkage fee, the sommelier took the bottle to decanter as we took our seat and ordered the 10 course Tasting menu. It was going to be a great afternoon.

P1180243Course 1 – Grissini wrapped with wagyu and parmesan: The first course was technically made up of a few snacks. The first was a generous portion of thin raw wagyu slice that completely covered the grissini stick. The saltiness of the parmesan drew out the flavour of the meat. Simple but clever and tasty.P1180246 2nd Course – Earth tartlets with buffalo mozzarella: This was very light and slightly cheesy in flavour. The wafer thin shell of the tartlet was a good textural element.

P1180247 3rd Course – Salmon with yuzu: The last installment of the snacks was a beautiful slither of salmon with a dab of a light yuzu sauce that cut through the oiliness of the fish.

P1180248 Some home made bread with butter prior to the first main course being served. The bread had a good texture.

P1180251 Our waiter brought us each out a set of closed shells clouded in a mist only to reveal our next course of…

P11802564th Course – Scallop & Pomegranate ceviche: A generous portion of king scallop morsels were scattered underneath slices of marinated soft onion. It was dressed with a slightly tart pomegranate juice which was well balanced against the sweet scallops.P11802575th Course – Seared lobster, coconut, apple, sorrel and kaffir: Seared lobster tail cooked perfectly with a light smokey flavour. It was a beautiful light summer dish and the flavour combination was not too dissimilar to Thai flavours. P1180260 6th Course – Liquid butternut gnocchi, mushroom consommé: This dish has featured on the menu for a long time due to its popularity. The butternut gnocchi spheres were sweet and burst in your mouth with little effort like an egg yolk. The mushroom consommé had a lovely deep flavour and the onion crumb elevated the dish, creating a perfect balance of sweetness and earthiness. Based on the press, I expected this dish to be more gimmicky but I was absolutely wrong.

P1180263 7th Course – Crispy scaled wild jewfish, salt baked celeriac, roast bone sauce: The edible fish scales idea was inspired by Spanish chef Martin Berasategui. The scales were pushed backwards so they stood up before being doused in smoking olive oil until they fried into edible crisps which crackled and popped. The richness of the roast bone sauce and the crispy fried enoki mushroom worked ever so well with the fish. A truly delicious dish. Impressive.

P11802738th Course – Roast pork belly, spanner crab, carrot, pork pebbles: Another winner of a dish with the cracking ‘pork’ pebble crackling. Who would have thought that the creamy spanner crab would work so well with pork belly? This dish was all about the texture and flavours and by god it went down so well with our bottle of 2006 Greenock Creek Roenfeldt Road Shiraz.

P1180276 9th Course – 48 Hours slow cooked Riverina short rib, smoked eggplant, pea & pods: Beautifully pink inside from the sous-vide preparation and yet with a delicious sticky glaze on the exterior with the robata grill finish. The garnishes were simple but complimented the beef, the star of the show. The smokey eggplant was my favourite garnish.

So far, I was quite impressed with the variety of techniques and styles of dishes Chef King created for his savoury courses. I hoped his desserts were equally interesting…

P118028110th Course – Sheeps milk yoghurt, strawberry and pint grapefruit icy pop: Perfect palate cleanser that was equally beautiful and playful. However, I wasn’t sure whether this should have been called a course as it disappeared in two quick bites.P118028511th Course – Robata Pineapple, yuzu ice cream, buttermilk, fennel: Why did I even bother worrying? This was a stunning dessert. The sweet caramelised pineapple and the tart yuzu ice cream was a marriage made in heaven. I even found that liquorice / aniseed flavour, created by the use of fennel, rather enjoyable. P118028812th Course – Chocolate, honeycomb & vanilla sphere, cardamom, saffron, ginger: The finale quite literally went with a bang…P1180290… after cracking the chocolate sphere. A lovely chocolate mousse, vanilla and honeycomb (which had been delicately spiced with a mixture of an cardamom, saffron and ginger) oozed out of the sphere. The spices lifted this dish from becoming a heavy and mundane dish. It divided us down the middle. Two dinners loved it and the other two were not too sure. I for one thought it was clever and delicious, although not as good as the previous dessert dish.

P1180232Gastro Park was far more than just cutting edge molecular cuisine. Chef King clearly had a great palate, creativeness and a sense of playfulness that made his food rather unique in Sydney. I expected some dishes to have more style over substance but I was wrong. For all the wizardry and playfulness, Chef King never lost sight of what was most important – good tasting food. To top it off, the service was also very good, particularly given that our party included two 1 year old babies who occasionally felt like reminding us that they were there. We were very grateful for the care and attention of the staff. We left the restaurant with a smile (and our daughter asleep in her stroller), only to realise then that we had been dining for four hours.

Marque, Sydney

Chef: Mark Best   Website: www.marquerestaurant.com   Cuisine: Modern Australian

Having managed to eat through most of the restaurants in Sydney that had been recommended by my trusted sources, I thought it was finally time in November 2013 to pay a visit to one of those elite restaurants which had continuously received praises from critics, a restaurant that, at least until recently, belonged to the exclusive club of three hats. Unlike many restaurants that had shot to fame very quickly, Mark Best’s highly acclaimed Marque had progressively gone up the ladder and retained their three hats for ten years until September 2013 when they were demoted to two. Despite the news, I expected Marque to be good or at least unique, particularly when Best portrayed himself as a man with “eternal dissatisfaction” and had been labelled as the leader in contemporary cuisine in Australia. Armed with many other accolades including a listing in S. Pellegrino’s Top 100 List, I convinced myself that nothing could go wrong.

P1150114The dining room dominated by matte and glossy black walls was surprisingly peaceful despite the high volume of traffic outside the restaurant. The lack of ambience perhaps was not helped by the fact that only a third of the tables were occupied all night but I guess it was early in the week. Having just finished from a week long stint at Margaret River, Best was visible in the background that evening though his very casual attire suggested he was not overly involved in the kitchen on that occasion. After all, he did look exhausted.P1150116As tempting as it was as I glanced over the wine menu, I decided to refrain from consuming too much alcohol that evening and focus on the food. It wasn’t long before the amuse bouche of the Sea Biscuit which consisted of local Sydney rock oysters from Camden Haven and sea urchin arrived, and we were off. I loved the intense taste of the ocean. It was as if I had been dunked in the sea itself, but I confess I did not pick up much flavour of the sea urchin. What a shame.

P1150117Our first dish of the evening was their signature dish, one that has been on the menu for at least ten years. However, the Fraser Island Spanner crab with almond gazpacho, almond jelly, sweet corn and avruga not only failed to impress me but also raised some concerns. Granted, the dish was very delicate with a meringue-like texture, but I could hardly pick up the flavour of the delicate crab and even the rich caviar was absent in light of the sweet popcorn powder. The notion of keeping a dish on a menu for ten years must surely be a juxtaposition to Bests eternal dissatisfaction? P1150120

A much better dish was the Smoked eel with parmesan gnocchi & pumpkin with some star anise and orange zest. I was surprised with how much flavour and smokiness you got from the wafer thin eel. I was however not overly keen on the forced marriage of the cheese from the gnocchi and the eel.

P1150124A surprise course of the Foie gras and Corn. This was my favourite dish of the night so I was glad it came. The kernels had been fermented in salt and subsequently roasted before leaving them in water overnight. It had an interesting texture, contrast in temperature of the cold foie gras powder to the corn, and I liked the bitter – sweet contrast in flavours.

P1150125To Best’s credit, they did churn their own butter…

P1150127… and also make their bread in the restaurant including this sourdough. It wasn’t bad but certainly not on par with Brae.

P1150128Quite bizarrely we had a meat course before the fish. Darling Downs wagyu with fermented mushrooms and ice plant. A 9+ graded wagyu from the Rangers Valley (near Tamworth) dressed in champignon sauce that had been cooked overnight. Just like the vast numbers of wagyu dishes I’ve had to date, this one wasn’t in any way shape or form memorable, although granted it was cooked well.

P1150133An odd time to present the seafood course but nevertheless we proceeded with the Moreton Bay Bug with candlelight radish & fermented blueberries. The bug was sourced locally from Coffs Harbour and handled well – moist and not rubbery at all, and the mayonnaise, made using the shell, further enhanced the flavours of this Australian arthropod. The coating itself consisted of miso and leek ash. I thought the bitter radish however did not belong on the dish with the sweet crustacean. A good but incomplete dish.P1150136NZ Bass Grouper with green tomato, verjus, potato paper, fish milk & roe. The combination of the white soy and cod stock “fish milk”, hapuka (or bass grouper) and potato paper was almost like a modern take on fish pie but I found there were too many flavours on the dish and distracted from the star ingredient of the show, the fish (though some may argue it was the fish milk).

P1150138Redgate Farm quail with asparagus, egg yolk jam & rye. Again, a very well executed dish but nothing spectacular. The best bit for me was the asparagus that still had a lovely bite, together with the egg yolk jam and crunchy rye flakes.

Thus concluded the savoury segment of the meal.P1150142The first dessert of the evening was a strange one. The Lemon aspen with cultured cream & whey caramel was a good attempt at utilising some native bushtucker into the meal. I enjoyed the combination of the incredibly tropical citrus flavour against the sweet caramel and thick whey. However, I found the additional spicy character of the lemon aspen to be odd for this dish.

P1150145The penultimate desert course of Coconut, liquorice & beetroot was not personally my cup of tea, primarily because I found the liquorice flavour dominating the palate and I could hardly taste the coconut sorbet. P1150147The finale was another signature dish of the Sauternes custard with a layer of caramel on top. The bitter layer of caramel on top worked very well against the sweet tone of sauternes from the underlying custard. It was a very clever, though some would say perhaps sacrilegious, way to use a lovely drop of wine to make this.

There’s no doubt that the rare moments of sheer brilliance like the finale reflected the glorious past of Marque. But against the backdrop of these creative dishes, it was apparent to me from my meal that evening that Best had run out of ideas, or perhaps inspiration. For a man that had been running at the forefront of contemporary cuisine in Australia, I must admit that the one thing I expected was innovation or at least novelty but sadly that was nowhere to be found.

Sixpenny, Sydney

P1140635Chef: James Parry & Daniel Puskas         Website: www.sixpenny.com.au

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.P1140638At 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.

P1140650The 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. P1140652To 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.

P1140654To 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.P1140656The 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.

P1140658Next up were Charred leeks, sweet onion. The chargrilled baby leek was coated with a sticky sweet onion glaze. I particularly enjoyed the smokiness.

P1140660A 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…

P1140663… 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…

P1140668The home made sourdough arrived at the right time to mop up the caramelised cream but it also came with…

P1140666… a creamy mascarpone. I must admit I preferred the cream emulsion but this also went well with the warm bread.

P1140669Matching the first course was a biodynamic wine of 2008 Weingut Sepp & Muster ‘Opok’ Sauvignon Blanc, Morillon, Welschriesling Styria, Austria. It had a spicy and herbal nose with lots of minerality.

P1140671The 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.

P1140675One 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!

P1140677Matching 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.

P1140680Our 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.

P1140682Our 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.

P1140687Our 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.

P1140694We 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.

P1140700A 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.

P1140703Our 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!

P1140708Some sticky Rhubarb cooked in hibiscus sauce to finish the meal before catching up with the chefs.

P1140710Suffice 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.

P1140712Just in case we had not had enough to eat, we were given a bag from the Cookie Jar to bring home with us. It didn’t last the journey home.

The Bridge Room, Sydney

P1140634Chef: Ross Lusted   Website: www.thebridgeroom.com.au  Cuisine: Modern Australian

Almost immediately after starting my new job in Melbourne I was given the opportunity to fly out to Sydney for business. I made the most of this occasion and decided to stick around after Friday for the weekend to check out the fine dining scene. I had mixed feelings about my last fine dining experience in Sydney at the highly acclaimed Quay, so my expectations weren’t astronomical. I had one booking already made for Sixpenny but naturally I wasn’t going to settle with just one meal! I did however want to avoid a second extensive degustation menu and after some enquiries with my sources I stumbled upon The Bridge Room. I was looking for something not too fussy. Something fairly casual. Somewhere that served just good food. The reviews claimed to be all that and more, so here I was.

P1140583Located on the bustling road of Bridge street in the heart of Sydney’s CBD, it’s quite easy to walk past The Bridge Room without taking too much notice it. At a quick glance from outside you could sense, from the minimalist contemporary interior design and furniture, that this place was quietly confident. An elongated dining room with a nordic theme reminiscent to Noma and its ilk, there’s no flashy statement being made here. As I stepped inside I was professionally greeted by the friendly restaurant manager Martijn De Boer who previously worked at one of my favourite restaurants, De Librije, and guided immediately to my table. I took a good look around and I couldn’t remember the last time I was surrounded by so many suited professionals at a fine dining restaurant. I guess that was expected with the location on a weekday.

P1140581The minimal Nordic theme resonated with the tableware with the noticeable asbence of table cloth. As I hovered over the à la carte menu, a glass of Clover Hill 2008, Pipers River, Tasmania appeared in front of me to whet my appetite. Shame there was no amuse bouche to go with it.

P1140603At least I had some bread to tie me over to the starter. The choice of bread was either a sourdough or rye bread which was supplied by Sonoma bakery, one of the main suppliers in Sydney to many a fine dining restaurants such as Quay, est. and Momofuku Seiobo. The bread was palatable with a decent texture and airiness but admittedly nothing special. I must admit that for a quietly confident restaurant I hoped the bread would be home made but it would be perhaps harsh to penalise them when it seems to be the norm amongst the big hitters in Sydney. Where was Mikael Jonsson when you needed him?

P1140604The choice of wine for the evening were both naturally Australian and selected by the savy sommelier. I’ve pretty much made a quiet decision that when any opportunity arises I will always try to expand my repertoire of Australian wines. The first wine to match our starter was the David Hook Pothana Vineyard Semillon 2007, Hunter Valley, New South Wales. It had a decent power on the palate with great aromas of citrus and savoury essence. Our sommelier also prompted me simultaneously to try the Good Catholic Girl, James Brazil 2010, Clare Valley, South Australia  as it would require a bit of decanter.

P1140609There were quite a few starters which looked appealing. Perhaps it was the fond memories of my childhood going down to our local robata restaurant (the Japanese equivalent of a barbecue where food is slowly grilled over hot coal) that made me choose the Raw wagyu shoulder, robata smoked enoki mushrooms, celtic sea salt, fresh horseradish, soft pickled chilli. It was an extremely light dish that suited the warmer climate of Sydney. The highlight for me was the combination of the smokey enoki mushroom and the creamy wagyu that melted in your mouth. The heat from the pickled chilli was well balanced but I found the horseradish dominated the palate when you had a mouthful of everything at once. A decent dish but not without fault.

P1140613 Unbeknownst to me at the time, our decantered red wine was a venture of Julie Barry, the daughter of the late Jim Barry who’s wine I’ve enjoyed on a couple of occasions. The shiraz was the perfect wine to accompany the Robata grilled Junee lamb, parsnips, salt grilled leek, zucchini, coriander seed. The lamb was cooked exactly the way I like it, pink. It had a good texture and the slightly fattier piece had some good flavours but I confess it paled in comparison to the lamb from the Sportsman in Kent, outside London UK. I knew that Kentish lamb would come to haunt me in the future. I also wasn’t too sure about the garnishes and decorations as I felt they detracted from the flavour of the meat.

P1140617I also ordered a side of Dutch cream potatoes, puréed with Joseph olive oil. I really enjoyed the side dish surprisingly. It was nicely seasoned and had a lovely texture resembling the aligot I had in Michel Bras. I had no issue mopping this up at all!

P1140626Fortunately the dessert dish of the Aerated passionfruit, roasted nougatine, passionfruit ice cream, passionfruit seed powder, glass biscuit saved the meal from being a completely mediocre one. It was well balanced in sweetness against the slight tartness from the passionfruit and had an interesting variety of textural contrast from the brittle sugar work and crunchy nougatine to the soft meringue and ice cream. What’s more, each component was right in proportion.

P1140594The honest truth is that my dinner at The Bridge Room didn’t redeem my faith in the fine dining scene in Sydney. Perhaps I had an off day but I honestly couldn’t rate this place in the same league as some of the other fine dining establishments I have tried in Australia. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t after flashy dishes with look-at-me wizardries and gimmicks. I was just after good honest food and that’s what I was promised, at least on paper. But what I got instead were a couple of dishes that had moments of brilliance, yet let down by imperfections and overshadowed by other personal experiences. The highlight of the dessert and the service from the front of house were however redeeming features and the wine impeccably chosen. I’d certainly recommend this place for a casual meal but nothing more.