Upper level, Overseas Passenger Terminal
5 Hickson Road
The Rocks NSW 2000
+61 2 9251 5600
So Marty’s been pestering me to hurry up and write my review of our one year anniversary dinner at Quay. As much as I love blogging, I must admit that it’s been a bit difficult getting started on this post so I’ve been putting it off. Why? Well, it was going to be an epic post, for starters. And epic posts take more time and more effort to write. And people expect more from them than say, a review of a Vietnamese bakery in Footscray – which is fair enough. But Quay was different. It was more epic than epic, and had as much WAH factor as the Prince concert Marty and I attended the following night (oh yes, there WILL be Prince references throughout this review! You have been warned).
How does one go about writing an account of a dinner experience at Quay, which not only gets awarded three hats year after year but is also a restaurant that is supposedly ranked #1 and #29 in Australia and the world, respectively? How does come up with non-chumpy-sounding sentences that do Peter Gilmore’s beautiful dishes some sort of justice, but without sounding TOO try-hard-y? You just do it. Just like the way I walked to Quay from my hotel room, with Marty by my side, in little red stilettos. Yep, a mere 1.5km walk – each way. It wasn’t easy, but I did it.
Mind you, getting a booking for a Friday night wasn’t easy either. At first, I was put on the waiting list. Then – and this was after some (possibly) undignified begging – I got given a 9:30pm sitting. Then a few days prior to our booking, I got called up asking if I wanted to change my booking to an earlier one. Since Marty’s plane wasn’t landing until 7:30pm that evening, agreeing to a much earlier timeslot was pointless. In the end, though, we agreed to rock up at 9pm.
And so at 9pm we did. Upon arrival, we were told that our tables weren’t ready (so what’s the point of asking us if we wanted to come earlier?) so we sat at the bar. We were extremely hungry (I only had two mediocre sushi rolls from a Japanese café on Hunter Street) so we were disappointed to be told that Quay didn’t have a bar menu. We were, however, more than welcome to order drinks. Marty ordered a glass of cognac, a 1976 Normandin Mercier ($32 for 30mls) while I had a glass of Thistle Hill Riesling, a biodynamic white from Mudgee, NSW ($18).
It was late on Friday night so we weren’t surprised to see pretty much all the tables full. From what we saw, Quay’s demographics included trendy young couples and groups of Asian food-bloggers. There was even a Mossman society granny enjoying a four-course meal and a G&T alone like a boss. Either way, everything was so classy, so chic. Believe it or not, Marty started to worry – he wondered if he had enough class. He shouldn’t have felt that way though, for if the waiters were disgusted by his idiotic remarks and bad hygiene*, they didn’t show it.
Finally, our table was ready. We were seated right next to the window, with an wonderful view of the water and the Opera House in the background. Although the view would have been spectacular during the day, it was nevertheless still amazing. Too bad I stupidly forgot to bring appropriate lenses to Sydney which meant that I struggled to take good photos of the Opera House as well as Sydney streetscape and food that weekend *sad face* With regards to the menu, we were given two options. One was a tasting menu which covered eight courses and burnt a $220 hole in each of our wallets. The other option was to do a four-course dinner, selecting a dish from a list of five options for each course. That was $165. While Money [Didn’t] Matter 2 Night, time and sleep did. Marty may have been keen on the tasting menu but I didn’t have the patience to sit through eight courses this late at night so we settled on the four-course menu.
After giving our orders to the waitress, we were left with our drinks. Marty’s Normandin Mercier, originating from the Petite Champagne region of Cognac, was a tad lighter than say, a Remy Martin or a VSOP. His cognac may have been produced the same year his high schoolteacher/ex-girlfriend (don’t ask) was born but unlike the woman in question, the cognac actually aged well and was also potently smooth, sexy and refined. Meanwhile, my Thistle Hill Riesling had nothing in common with any of my exes (they certainly weren’t dynamic, let alone biodynamic). My drop was beautifully pristine all over, with floral and citrus notes shining through. One of the best rieslings I’ve had (and if you’ve read my blog for quite some time, you’ll know that I’ve had enough glasses of rieslings to fill a swimming pool).
I didn’t take any photos of the bread, which was funny given how I had about four rolls, including a couple of organic sourdough ones. I did manage to take a photo of the creamy butter quenelle though which, as you can imagine, whittled to a tiny olive-sized knob by the end of the night.
For his first course, Marty had the sashimi of Corner Inlet rock flathead, Tasmanian trumpeter, salt cured wild oyster cream, black lipped abalone, raw sea cabbage, green radish, nasturtiums, warrigals, periwinkles (what a mouthful – both literally and figuratively). We were told that the trumpeter wasn’t available on the night so kingfish was offered as an alternative – fine with us. The elements were arranged in a neat little cigar, with the oyster cream appearing as a smudge next to it. The result was a beautiful medley of smoothness, freshness and beauty with a bit of crunch throw in courtesy of the radish. I was, however, puzzled by some of the ingredients used in the dish. What was a periwinkle? And what was a warrigal? I assumed that both were some sort of native plant but it turned out I wasn’t 100% right. The periwinkle is apparently a sea snail while the warrigal could either be a green native plant found in NSW, a dingo or a wild horse. I’m guessing the plant.
Meanwhile, I had the congee of Northern Australian mud crab, fresh palm heart, egg yolk emulsion. Although my dish’s description was not as long as Marty’s, it was bloody awkward. ‘Congee of Northern Australian mud crab’? Why not just say ‘Northern Australian mud crab congee’? Not only will you save precious space, you are also less likely to create awkward sentences and less likely to sound like a wanker. Nominalisations, be gone! And secondly, why not be specific and actually tell us if the mud crab comes from the Northern Territory or from Queensland? There is a MASSIVE difference between crabs coming from those two regions, you know!
Criticisms aside, I thought my congee was incredible. I’ve never had a congee that was so texturally exciting to eat, let alone one that was filled with deliciously succulent pieces of sweet crab meat. The base was essentially a smooth and silky master seafood stock broth swimming with succulent crab meat and puffy grains. On top, the creamy egg yolk floated on the congee’s surface like a bather swimming in the Dead Sea. The flavours in the congee were anything BUT dead though. Marty also enjoyed it, going so far to say that the broth tasted like a strange and wonderful culmination of some of his favourite Asian soups. One minute, he’ll taste the robustness and sweetness of a good pho broth, another minute he’ll taste the delightfully delicate umami goodness that comes with a dashi-based broth. And you know what? He was right. Oh, luscious congee, I Would Die 4 U.
Marty’s second course was the gentle braise, prawns, octopus, diamond shell clams, heirloom radishes, pink turnips, baby squid, sea urchin. There was no ‘of’ inserted between ‘braise’ and ‘prawns’ so we were confused – did the gentle braise include all of the subsequent listed ingredients and if so, why is there a random comma right after the word ‘braise’? Or did the braise stand on its own and the prawns, octopus et al come on top of it? Seriously, Quay, these things MATTER! It may not have been the prettiest dish of the night but Marty loved it. He enjoyed the light yet flavoursome broth, which didn’t overpower the seafood medley. The whole thing seamlessly blended together with pieces of turnips and radishes adding a lovely crunch.
I scored with another amazing dish, the gently poached southern rock lobster, hand-caught Tasmanian squid, golden tapioca and lobster velvet. It seems that Quay likes to do things gently here – and that is fine by me if ‘gentle’ can produce sensational dishes such as this. I don’t need to tell you that the lobster meat was ridiculously fresh and sweet – and could have stood proudly on its own. Here, though, the kitchen dressed it with caviar-like pearls of golden tapioca, little ribbons of tender squid and a ‘lobster velvet’ cream.
Wow, like, WOW. We were in awe. It was creamy, yet coarse; full of salty umami goodness, yet sweet; it looked simple, yet intricate. This was a dish more precious than diamonds and pearls. Just, wow.
Marty’s third course, the ‘main’ I suppose, was the Berkshire pig jowl, maltose crackling, prunes, cauliflower cream, perfumed with prune kernel oil. After laughing at the use of ‘perfumed’, I took a bite of his bite. Now, I’m not usually one to order pork dishes at places other than a Korean restaurant or a Vietnamese pork roll shop but if all pork dishes tasted as good as this, I’d be ordering pork more often. The meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender and the best bit? It didn’t have that nasty ‘pork’ smell that comes with a lot of pork dishes. Meanwhile, the deliciously sweet and crispy crackling created a lovely textural contrast. Who would have thought that mixing candy and meat would produce results such as this? If we had to be picky, we’d whinge about the prune overload but thankfully, the cauliflower cream was there to provide some savoury relief.
After receiving two wonderful dishes beforehand, I guess I was expecting my third course to be nothing short of amazing. On paper, my roasted pink snapper, ginger scented milk curd, shaved abalone, young leeks, fennel, kabu turnips, black radish, oyster and seaweed consommé sounded like a dish that would blow me away. In reality, however, it didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t terrible or even just okay – it was great – but having it after the congee and the lobster certainly put the snapper at a disadvantage. In comparison to my first two dishes (and Marty’s rich main), this one was more subdued and definitely put the G in gentle (groan). I think Gilmore was going for a mellow effect but I reckon a bit more flavour wouldn’t have hurt. In hindsight, I should have gone for the squab with black eggplant puree, smoked bone marrow and quinoa. Oh yeah.
It was time for dessert. Marty would have ordered the eight-layer chocolate cake but was ‘unfortunately not a reality TV tragic who orders certain dishes just because Masterchef says so.’ Instead, he had the jersey cream, salted caramel, prunes, walnuts, ethereal sheets. It looked like a masterpiece and tasted like one too. More Jersey Boys than Jersey Shore, the dessert was different shades of sweet all over with contrasting textures for a bit of funky syncopation. You could taste solid bits of hard dark chocolate panels amongst those that were wafer-like and those that were delicate like Japanese rice paper. We could also taste the magical flavour of salted caramel in between the luscious ribbons of jersey cream. Although our frenemy prune made an appearance, we didn’t seem to mind for we also had walnuts for keep things nutty.
While I’m not at all a reality TV tragic nor do I watch Masterchef (WTF kind of a foodie am I?), how could I not order the famous snow egg? I mean, c’mon, we’re at Quay here! Not ordering the snow egg would have been a crime on par with going to a Prince concert and leaving before he performs ‘When Doves Cry.’ Just. Not. On.
So what did I think of my strawberry guava snow egg? It was very well executed, that was for sure. The strawberry guava granita and guava provided a solid base for which the snow egg sat on. The egg was essentially a poached meringue ball with a creamy ‘yolk’ of custard apple ice cream in the centre. A firm golden maltose shell dusted in icing sugar protected the egg’s precious contents whilst also providing a delicious crunch amidst all the lusciousness and softness that was happening in the centre.
How did it taste? I will probably get shot for saying this, but surprisingly not mind-blowing. While it was good, no, VERY good, it was just too sweet. The sugar taste lingered way too long in my mouth, just like Prince’s meandering performance of ‘Purple Rain’ which started off beautifully, but was perhaps 10 minutes too long. A little less sugar, and I would have been able to actually taste fruit. Still good, though.
While the waitress cleared our tables, I sat there contentedly thinking about how lucky I was. Not only did I have a sweet boyfriend who not only took me to Quay for our one year anniversary, he was also taking me to Sepia for my birthday lunch the following day AND taking me to see Prince, one of my favourite artists (well, duh). I thought that nothing would top this night … until the waitress plonked some petit fours in front of us with a little message scrawled in chocolate on the plate. Aw!
We both enjoyed a chocolate and hazelnut truffle and a dark chocolate one. They were both absolutely delicious and probably one of the better petit fours I’ve had. We politely turned down offers for coffee (it was approaching midnight!) but promised to return one day. Our more-epic-than-epic dinner hit all the high notes – yep, even exceeding the extraordinarily high benchmark set by Prince’s high falsetto notes (okay, I’ll stop now). I couldn’t find fault in the service and the food we enjoyed blew us away. I’m originally from Melbourne and as much as it pains me to say this, I’m sorry, Melbourne, but Sydney pwns all over you when it comes to fine-dining if our dinner at Quay is anything to go by.
*The bad hygiene bit isn’t true. The idiotic remarks bit, however, may be true.