Quay Restaurant, Sydney

March 10, 2014

I love going to uni. Correction, I love using “going to uni” as an excuse to go to Sydney and splurge on a mid week lunch at Sydney’s top restaurant! I had been saving Quay for a special occasion, as one probably should. But then, I was due to have lunch with two friends who have the same affinity for fine dining as me and a decision was made that we deserved to treat ourselves to lunch at Quay after a hard day’s work at uni. And I had been dreaming about a certain snow egg for far too long so it was just the excuse I had been looking for….

More on this life changing moment a little later 

So off we went for our mid week treat and expectations were at an all time high given the credentials of the restaurant; crowned 2013 Restaurant of the Year by The Australian Gourmet Traveller, Restaurant of the Year by SMH for the fifth year in a row, much coveted three hats for twelve consecutive years…. you get the idea, one has every right to expect big things from a dining experience here! 

 

For lunch your options are 3 courses for $135 per person, 4 courses for $155 or an 8 course tasting menu for $225. If you are going to splurge you might as well go all out so we decided on the 8 course tasting menu and sat back to admire the view. Oh yeah, there wasn’t one. Unless you count a giant cruise ship as a view worth your while. But we were told of this at the time of booking and heck all three of us had lived in Sydney for many years and we had seen the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge from every possible angle so this didn’t bother us; we were here for the food and the food only… oh and the company of course. 

With 8 courses, an amuse-bouche and Petits Fours this has the potential to turn into an epic post so I will keep my comments to an absolute minimum. To be honest, no amount of praises I can sing will do this meal justice anyway. So let’s just say Peter Gilmore is a true genius, this meal blew me away and let the photos do the talking. 

Amuse-bouche: Muntreis (a native berry), pistachios, crème fraîche and succulents. The berries had an interesting crunch and worked beautifully with the crème fraîche. A very subtle yet intriguing little amuse-bouche which set the scene for the meal with interesting and intriguing being the themes through out.

First course: Raw smoked Blackmore wagyu, dory roe, horseradish, soured cream, salty icy plant. The wagyu quite literally melted in my mouth. So much delicateness in this dish from the dory roe to the edible plants yet a flavour sensation at the same time.

Second course: Congee of northern Australian mud crab, fresh palm heart, egg yolk emulsion. An unassuming looking dish yet incredible flavours and textures with very generous amounts of beautifully fresh mud crab.

Third course: XO sea – five sea textures. We figured out four of the five sea textures; prawn, octopus, shaved scallop and seaweed all swimming in a delicious pool of XO sauce and garnished with generous amounts of heavenly crispy Jamón Ibérico.

After the seafood courses warm slices of plain or sesame seed crusted sourdough bread was served with a perfect glistening quenelle of butter. Makes complete sense, palate wise, to serve bread after the seafood courses!

Oh look! It’s Peter Gilmore!!! More on that later…
  

Fourth course: Pork bellly cooked slowly in salted cultured butter, milk curd, roasted koji, kombu, sesame, smoked pork rib broth. The dish arrived at the table without the smoked pork rib broth.

Then the broth was ceremoniously poured into the dish. The final product was intense in it’s smokiness in all the right ways. The sesame flavour was a standout and the pork belly was love at first bite.

Fifth course: Duck poached in a fermented green plum master stock, scorched amaranth leaves, forbidden rice, umeboshi. Plum and duck is a beautiful marriage of flavours and add to that the saltiness of the umeboshi and the crunch of the “forbidden rice”, which had the texture of rice crisps, this was heaven on a plate. 

Sixth course: Roasted grass fed pure Angus, mushrooms, grains, miso, eggplant. A generous serving of Angus that you didn’t even have to use the knife to cut! Just a touch of the knife was enough for the meat to fall apart revealing the perfectly pink middle. No other beef dish will ever compare after this.

Seventh course: Ermeghardddd it’s the Snow Egg!!! Raspberry and vanilla snow egg was like a dream come true. Did it live up to all my expectations? YES! 

A little tap to the perfect meringue shell of the egg revealed an oozy creamy “yolk” of vanilla bean custard. When mixed with the raspberry granita this made my life complete.

Eighth course: Jersey cream, salted caramel, prune, milk and sugar crystals. This was like a deconstructed creme caramel taken to another level; creamy, sugary and delicious.


Petits Fours; a delicate and beautiful end to a truly amazing meal. 

So, to the all important question of how this meal rates in my fine dining experiences to date…. straight to the top nudging out the amazing meal had at Tetsuya’s three years ago (pre-blogging days)! While I still rate the meal at Tetsuya’s extremely highly, Peter Gilmore’s menu was innovative, intriguing and challenging and hence deserves the top spot and all the accolades Quay has had and maintained over the years.

However, my dining companion and a fine dining champion, rates her degustation dinner at Vue De Monde a notch higher than Quay so a reservation has been made for May to put the Quay vs Vue De Monde debate to the test… watch this space…

A few observations from my experience at Quay that are worthy of a mention:

  • The service, as expected, was faultless and impeccable without being too stuffy throughout the four hour dining experience (yes, we really were there for four hours and could’ve easily dragged it out for even longer had we not had a flight to catch!).
  • Although we were approaching food coma territory by the end of this meal, I found it curious that other than the amuse-bouche, there were no other palate cleansers in the tasting menu. Unusual, considering at every single other fine dining experience of my life to date, there has always been at least one palate cleanser during the meal, if not several. 
  • While I thoroughly enjoyed this dining experience, my advice is if you plan to go all out with an eight course tasting menu, opt for a dinner booking over lunch. Bright daylight (which was almost too glaring at times due to floor to ceiling windows) vs soft mood lights with lights twinkling in the harbour would be two entirely different dining experiences.
  • The fact that there was a giant cruise ship right infront of us meant one of us in the group of three had a view of the cruise ship’s loading dock for four hours. Not at all pleasant but it’s the price we were willing to pay for the food (and it was worth it).
  • Peter Gilmore made an appearance and we got manicly excited thinking he would come around to all the tables (this happened with the ever so lovely and humble Tetsuya Wakadu when I dined at his restaurant). However, Peter was obviously shmoozing a VIP guest and after a lengthy conversation with the said guest, he dissappeared without even a nod or a glance at any of the other tables. We may have been sightly heart broken at this point but we got over it as soon the next course appeared in front of us. Having said that, a little nod and a smile by a world renowned chef could’ve gone a very long way to take this dining experience few notches up in the amazing scale.
  • The said VIP client and her guests made a complete raucous (loud and inappropriate laughing, talking and swearing) from the minute they arrived to the minute they left, which unfortunately for us, coincided with three out of the four hours that we were there. It ruined the intimate fine dining ambiance for us and all the tables around us but of course that is not the fault of the restaurant but rather the behaviours of selfish individuals.
  • At the end of their meal all the guests at tables around us received what appeared to be boxes of chocolates, which we did not receive. Upon questioning we were told that bookings made by people for special occasions received these gifts. This explanation bothered me as I think it’s hardly fair that those of us who indulge in fine dining regularly should be treated any less than those who partake in it occasionally; but that is my own selfish opinion.

So the verdict: Quay has been on my fine dining wish list for some time and I was mesmerized and blown away by the entire tasting menu. Each of the dishes was a parade of faultless, innovative, intriguing and memorable dishes that will be talked about for years to come. Hats don’t lie, specially when they have been maintained for as long as Quay has!


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