Lunch at Quay Restaurant, Sydney
I have been waiting a very long time for this day. Dinner at Quay Restaurant has been a must do for the last few years, so I chose a suitably fitting occasion (11th wedding anniversary) to try my luck for a table. It is getting increasingly difficult to book a table for two on a Friday or Saturday night at Quay, especially since it climbed the S. Pellegrino top 100 restaurant list and was crowned Australia’s best restaurant in 2011. I thought booking 3 months in advanced would be sufficient, but they were already fully booked until 2011! So rather than dine on a weeknight that was near to our anniversary, we decided to indulge in a day off work and a long lazy lunch on a Friday. This actually turned out to be the perfect solution as the degustation took 4 hours to eat, and on a Friday night I’m usually asleep by 9pm which would only have got me half way!
Lunch or dinner at Quay Restaurant is not just about the food, it is also about location, location, location. It occupies the prime spot at the end of the Overseas Passenger Terminal, with floor to ceiling glass windows highlighting the Opera House on one side and the Harbour Bridge on the other side. Lunch time eating not only means that I can stay awake for the duration of the meal, but it also means that I can enjoy the view on this fine Winter’s day.
Back to the star of the show. Our friendly waitress bought us the menu and described the three options for lunch, either three courses, four courses or of course the eight course degustation. We let the waitress say her piece, but we already knew we were going for the tasting menu with the matching wines. Let the tasting begin!
Every good degustation begins with an amuse bouche – usually not written on the menu, it is served prior to the meal to start you off and is usually selected by the chef. As I looked around the dining room I noticed the chef was serving two amuse bouches, depending on which menu you had selected. Ours was a sea pearl of eel brandade with a daikon flour and some kind of puree. It was small enough to go down in one, and incredibly tasty. I could have eaten many more than one.
The key to an eight course meal is to pace yourself, so I resisted the temptation of requesting a second amuse bouche and waited patiently for the first course. Southern tuna toro, pink turnips, jamon de bellota, juniper, wasabi flower. This was matched with a glass of Riesling from Mudgee. It’s going to be difficult to write this blog and not sound repetitive. The first course didn’t disappoint and tasted as good as you would expect eating in Australia’s number 1 restaurant.
Onto the vegetable course. It is fair to say, and I have to confess, this is probably the course I overlook because meat is definitely my preference, but this course demonstrates perfectly why I should always eat set menus and never be allowed to choose my own menu. I would not have picked the salad of pickled rhubarb, endive, beetroot, purple carrot, rosa radish, kohlrabi, sheep’s milk curd, pomegranate molasses, violet, but it turned out to be one of the stand out dishes. This dish was the perfect balance of texture and flavour – there was soft and creamy, crunchy and sweet, al dente and sour. What more can I say? Give vegetables a go? Don’t judge a book by it’s cover? All the clichés hold true but I’m just glad I got to try it.
I also hold pre-conceived ideas about rose wine. I just don’t like it. And unfortunately even this dish could not persuade me otherwise. The Hunter Valley rose was preferable with the food than without the food, but I still didn’t finish the glass (the only one I didn’t finish!)
Next is the fish course. If I’m being brutally honest, this was probably my least favourite course. There was nothing specific about it that I didn’t like, and if I had eaten it in isolation I would have really enjoyed it, but in comparison to the other courses the gently poached southern rock lobster, golden tapioca, squid noodles, lobster velvet, pea shoots didn’t quite cut it for me. This dish didn’t have the textural comparisons that the dishes had; it was all equally soft and I couldn’t get the flavour distinction between the three seafood elements, leaving them feeling all a bit soft and fishy with some tapioca. The tapioca did have a distinct flavour and it tasted like it had been poached in very good chicken stock, but they were the only two flavours that stood out. This was matched with a Viognier from Canberra, not a grape variety or wine region I regularly drink but there were no complaints.
Time for the interlude, after that many glasses of wine, and they are fairly generous with the serving sizes, it was time to check out the facilities. I’m not sure I should share this kind of information on my blog, but food memories are very important to me, and one thing that always makes me of think of my dad is the quality of the restroom. He is a firm believer in the whole package, so if you are going to spend that much on the food the facilities have to match. On this occasion they didn’t disappoint and I couldn’t resist a sneaky shot – Dad I’ll take you there one day!
With the mind back on the job out came the first meat course: slow cooked coturnix quail breast, pumpernickel, walnuts, quinoa, truffle, chestnuts, milk skin. I have an allergy to walnuts, but this was not a problem for the chef, I had mine without and I’m glad I got to try it as they did suggest a swap for another dish, but I am a little partial to quail. This was another amazing dish. With this one returned the balance of textures and that extra touch of luxury with the truffle shavings. It wasn’t the prettiest dish of the day but what it lack in eye candy, it made up for in flavour. It was also matched with a Pinot Noir to die for, I would have happily finished the bottle with this course.
The second meat course was slow braised Berkshire pig jowl, maltose crackling, prunes, cauliflower puree, perfumed with prune kernel oil. This is probably the course, out of all of them, that would have been my pick, but again my expectations didn’t match the dish. The pork jowl was meltingly tender, and the maltose added the crunch, but the maltose also added extra sweet, which was possibly a little too sweet for me. With the added sweetness of the Reisling I could have been forgiven for thinking we had skipped straight to dessert.
But before we get to dessert there was a third meat course. Yes, that’s right, three meat courses, not a dinner for the feint hearted and certainly not the vegetarian choice. For me, the meat lover, I was loving it. This was probably the most ‘normal’ course, but spectacular none the less. Poached Wagyu beef, oxtail, morel, black pudding, farro, buckwheat, hazelnut, ezekiel. The beef was cooked to perfection and again the texture combination of soft and crunchy all on the same place was exceptional. My only disappointment, and it probably is only me that would say this, but I was looking for slices of black pudding and I think it was combined into the puree; probably becasue the majority of the population turns their nose up at black pudding but if I see it on a menu a want it. This was matched with a McLaren Vale Tempranillo, which was unusual, but tasty.
And finally we get to dessert, well the first dessert of jewels. For anyone who doesn’t know anything about Quay, the signature dish for a long time was, and probably still is the snow egg. This was famously presented as one of Masterchef Australia’s most challenging tests and I was secretly hoping to get to taste it. The snow egg is no longer on the tasting menu, but you can order it a la carte. In it’s place on the tasting menu are the jewels. Obviously, I haven’t tasted the snow egg, but the jewels tasted exactly how I imagined the snow egg would. It still has the ‘snow’ but in amongst the snow is buried a variety of different sized, shaped and flavoured ‘jewels’. There are the tiniest meringue drops I have ever seen paired with different flavoured jellies, and the contrast of flavours and textures makes it a heavenly experience that dances in your mouth (I stole that line from the sommelier; you have to say it in a strong French accent and it originally related to a wine, but sadly I cannot remember which one).
The second dessert was warm vanilla and palm blossom brioche, caramelised white chocolate, amaretto cream, walnuts, prune sorbet. I can not comment on this one. The waitress advised me that the chef recommended substituting this dessert, as it would not be the same without the walnuts.
I had wild cherry compote, coconut cream, chuao chocolate crumble, cherry juice and chocolate sorbet. This was also delicious but I was getting to the point where I was struggling to eat any more, so I probably should have stopped at the jewels.
And when I thought it would never end we were offered tea or coffee. We wanted neither, but we still got to sample the petite fours. I’m feeling full again just thinking about the meal, but I just couldn’t say no to the petite fours, could you?
The verdict? Sensational. I was worried it wouldn’t live up to my high expectations, but it did, and more. The food was exceptional, but it was combined with attention to detail with staff and service that is expected when you get to this level. I have been to other fine dining establishments and enjoyed the experience but have been left feeling that I’ve been there and done that. With Quay I was left wanting more, and I hope I get it some day soon.
The damage? $220 for the eight course tasting menu plus $95 for the classic wine match or $175 for the premium wine match. If you don’t have four hours to spare there is also the option of a three course ($125) or four course ($145) lunch.
Posted: August 11th, 2011 under restaurants.