Friday, November 27, 2009


Overseas Passenger Terminal,
The Rocks, NSW, Australia

As a Melburnian, you grow up conditioned on many things in life, we are the best city, we have the best coffee and for that matter the best food in Australia.

Recently opinion has shifted on the last two and if the Melbourne public transport system stays the same put us at risk on the first place too, but I digress.

Melbourne certainly has a great range of diverse food and across the board offers possibly the best "value for money" dining in the country, but what about the really pointy end?

Well in that department Sydney has certainly moved ahead, Tetsuya's has been voted amongst the top 10 in the world for several years and more recently Quay has leapt in to the San Pelligrino top 50 Restaurants in the world. What is interesting it is sitting in position 46, one behind Iggy's which I gushed about here. By comparison Melbourne has no entries in the top 100 and over the years has only had fleeting appearences by Flower Drum & Vue de Monde.

So given the opportunity to travel to Sydney the battle was on to get a table at either of these restaurants, Tetsuya's was first choice and was booked solid for our stay and despite going on a waiting list we struck out. Fortunately we were lucky enough get in to Quay which has been on a roll picking up every award in the country.

So on a 34° Sydney day we made our way to the restaurant that is spectacularly placed looking over the Sydney harbour with bridge and opera house views. The dining room has been designed to maximise the view so no one has their back windows and is well laid out with plenty of space and the right balance of noise to make for comfortable conversation.

Upon seating we were greeted by our waiter for the evening and informed of our menu options, either degustation or a four course menu with choices per course. We were VERY surprised to be told that there would be no variations to the degustation, in fact my blood pressure was starting to rise as I was trying to come to terms with being told that there was no room to move on this. Any other restaurant I have been to at this level would not flinch at a small request like this and in no way did we want to change the whole menu, just substitute a single course. After some negotiation we eventually had the change approved, but required way too much effort.

Thankfully though it was resolved without too much bloodshed so we could get back to enjoying our Bollinger and amuse bouche of smoked eel, tapioca and horseradish cream. This was a nice light palate appetiser for the courses that lay ahead.

L: Sea Pearls - Sashimi tuna, aquaculture caviar, sea scallop, smoked eel, octopus, mud crab, abalone
R: Mud crab congee - Hand shelled mud crab, Chinese inspired split rice porridge

The first course is Quay's signature dish "Sea Pearls" which is served as five spheres of ocean goodness. Sashimi tuna with caviar, abalone in a rich dashi jelly, a lightly marinated yuzu scallop were the highlights in this dish.

The next dish was a bit of a surprise hit with my wife, congee of mud crab with split rice. This was a delicate broth of crab with a nice waxy texture coming from the split rice and perhaps the nicest crab I have ever had.

Crisp confit of pig belly, braise of abalone, silken tofu, Japanese mushrooms, chive flowers

The surprise hit for me was the next course of crispy pork belly confit with tofu, abalone & japanese mushrooms. This was simply a brilliant dish, the tofu is hand made locally by a Korean and was so smooth and texturally perfect to compare it to normal grocery store tofu would be an insult. The soy flavours were a perfect match for the pork which had a great crackle to it making every mouthful a treat.

L: Five textures of Southern rock lobster
R:Sous vide pure bred Suffolk lamb loin,spring vegetables, comté-infused fresh milk curd, roasted quinoa, sunflower seeds,
pine nuts, hazelnuts

The lobster dish we had to fight for, the five textures of rock lobster came out in a split cup arrangement consisting of a Chawanmushi style lobster custard covered with lobster consomme next to a layering of lobster tapioca dumpling, lobster meat covered with a lobster foam. This was a real yin and yang affair, the lobster consomme half was a brutal in your face consomme that sat next to the delicate light flavours of the lobster tail meat and foam. Certainly a winner for lobster fans and is creative but not too clever.

After this dish though we were beginning to struggle, the richness and saltiness of the lobster meant we had to dig deep for the remaining courses. The sous vide suffolk lamb could be summed up as spring on a plate, the lamb was small but well cooked with a delicate lamb flavour coming through. The match of spring vegetables were all spot on and a great way for finish the savoury courses.

L: White peach snow egg
R: Raspberries, violet, almond, vanilla cream

Desserts were next and one of the signature desserts which rotate around seasonality of fruit was first. The peach snow egg is a peach cream encased in meringue and then encased in a thin toffee shell on a peach granita. Simply put it is a perfect light refreshing desert and the mix of textures was brilliant. The thin crispy shell yields like a crème brulee in to the soft centre, the more I ate it, the more impressed I was with the creativity of this desert that is not a show off desert but it incredibly technical. I would really not like to try and replicate this myself.

The final course was an assortment of berries, again light, delicious and refreshing and with lots of technique in there. One should also note the violet garnish, one of the tricks the head chef Peter Gilmore likes to employ is the use of edible flowering herbs, it takes a bit of getting used to, but by the end was enjoyable.

So how would I sum up Quay? Well, it is has great food in a great environment with a magnificent view. I would probably say it is the most refined dining experience I have had in Australia. However, when you get to this level you can go down one of two paths, refinement or excitement as your go to market. I would say Quay goes down the refinement path which isn’t wrong, but there are never the “wow” or “very clever” moments that you get at some other restaurants. There was never the wow I got at Arzak, Iggy’s or even Vue de Monde here, but there were never the “what were they thinking???” moments either which I have had at Vue de Monde and several times in the one sitting at Attica. If anything, this is reminiscent of the two michelin star experiences at Gordon Ramsay at The London and Les Creyere.


So my conclusion would be a definite thumbs up and recommendation to go to Quay, enjoy with the matching wines and a view that is as grand as the food and above all demand a degustation to suit your tastes (but be prepared for some push back)

Quay restaurant – 17.5/20, if it were not for irritation over the change of degustation it quite possibly would get 18/20.

Quay on Urbanspoon

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