Quay (Sydney, NSW)

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).

We received an amuse bouche of raw native freshwater marron with pomelo, young almonds and green mango. It was beautifully refreshing and whetted our appetites for the what was to come.

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.

Oh, we also got a complimentary green salad on the side. Moving along.

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.

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  1. Great review! I am a reality TV tragic and hoping to get to Quay next weekend just for dessert! I saw Prince in Melbourne, he was amazing. I am also a shoe tragic so would have loved to see a shot of your stilettos.

  2. I enjoy reading your blogs. Ive only recently become a fan since start of 2012. But ive been reading some of your past blogs. Always a good read. you need to to get yourself a colume in the epicure or better yet take over that current food critic Larissa Dontknowwhatorhowwrite.

    1. Thanks, TH, for your kind words 🙂 It’s always good to get feedback, especially positive ones.

      Haha I don’t know about stealing Larissa Dubecki’s job, but I do think that some of her earlier reviews were WTF… 😐

  3. To be honest Marty’s dessert looks much more exciting. I’m not a fan of meringue anyway so don’t think the snow egg would do anything for me (except to admire the art form).

    Is it me or both your entrees (and the amuse bouche) look alike? I’d order that pork dish in a heart beat! Oh and happy anniversary! Coincidentally Frank and I just celebrated our 2 years too.

    1. Happy Anniversary to you and Frank, too! Hopefully I’ll see you in Melbourne very soon cos I missed you the last time you were down 🙁

      Yeah, Marty’s dessert TASTED a lot better than mine. Still, you can’t NOT be impressed by the snow egg’s prettiness!

  4. This brings back memories! The pig jowl!!! Heaven…I still insist you should have gotten the 8-layer cake. It was better than the snow egg by far.

    You write very well – I need to take some tips from you. Do you take notes during dinner, or is that too pretentious? 😛

    1. Yeah, I’m definitely getting the eight-layer cake next time!

      Nah, I don’t write with a paper and pen. I usually take pics of the menu using my iPhone (as in, the name of the dish and price) for reference but everything else, I try to commit to memory. The problem with this, though, is when I leave it too long to write about a particular meal and can’t remember anything about the dishes! I have meals dating from 2011 that I’ve yet to write about and probably will never do for that reason. Wah! 🙁

      1. I’ve started doing that, but yeah, I run into the same problems. I have the memory of a goldfish though, so that doesn’t help things.

        Can we at least see the pictures from 2011?

  5. Hah, I initally misread the description of one of your courses as “gently hand-caught Tasmanian squid” and thought, “Wow… wait – what?”

    Oooh what a fabulous meal – and congrats on the anniversary. 🙂

  6. Congratulations Libby and Marty!!! WOO HOO!!! One year that’s definitely a day to remember! Great review Libby 🙂 I’ve wanted to go to the Quay for a while now, but after watching Masterchef lol i’m done I have DECIDED to HAVE to go to the Quay ASAP just for their desserts 🙂 but from your photos I’m sure all the food was wonderful ~ But i am a little disappointed with their service though…and no bar menu…hmmmm i mean they shouldn’t ask you to get there at a certain time and then the tables not ready…geez….but either way i’m glad it was an epic dinner!!!

    1. Thank you, Daisy!

      Yep, you and Mr Bao should definitely give this place a go – I have no doubt that you’ll love the desserts!

      Yeah man, I would have thought that a restaurant of this calibre would have a bar menu and the table thing was a bit WTF but apart from that, I couldn’t really find fault in the service. On the other hand, some of the waiters were friendlier than others 😀

  7. Awww what an EPIC way to celebrate your 1st anniversary! Congrats! I will make sure to show my guy this post when that occasion comes around ;). And of course you had to try the snow egg! I’m not the greatest sweet tooth but if I ever make it to Quay will have to order that! xo

  8. Happy anniversary!! Such a romantic and beautiful dinner it seems…I adore how they wrote those words on your petit four plate, how thoughtful 😀 I would love to go to Quay some day, when I make my way back to Sydney..

  9. Happy Anniversary and how lovely of them to write it for you in chocolate. This is a restaurant I have been dying to experience. I’m just waiting for the right occasion to justify the expense! The food all looks incredible as does the restaurant as does the view – this place has the whole package. The desserts are certainly works of art xx

  10. WuuuUUUUUuuuuAAAAhhhh… So jealous that you got to go to Quay!! But I don’t think you guys could’ve chosen a better place to celebrate your 1-year anny, congrats you two!! And MAN you’re even more lucky for going to the Prince concert, heard lotsa great things abt it. This place definitely sounds like it’s living up to its standards… Have to save up to try their degustation one day!! Good luck with everything on your end =)

  11. Your post was a delight to read. Thank you so much for sharing the beautiful imagery, textual explanations and delicious little tibits of information about the dishes themselves, your surrounding guests and atmosphere and your personal reactions to all. It was such a personalised and enjoyable read, one of child-like anticipation and excitement as you shared and unravelled your edible artistry. I couldn’t think of a more indulgent, precious and decadent way to spend an evening. Happy anniversary.

    1. Hey Dominique, thanks for stopping by and for your lovely comments!

      Looking forward to finally meeting you when I’m on the Gold Coast next (or if you are ever in Melbourne, whichever comes first). 🙂

  12. Nooooo!! How could you guys have foregone the 8 layered cake? That was the best! Man i loved that 100xxxxx more than the stupid snow egg.. and I can happily say that I ate that cake wayyyy before it made it on Master stupid Chef … hahahahaha

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