4/5 355 Crown Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
+61 2 9332 2225
Our epic meal at the world’s number 61 restaurant almost did not happen.
Marty and I had a booking at Marque for the Friday night but due to plane issues, we had to cancel our booking. Of course, we were annoyed because we (well, okay, more like I) had been looking forward to this dinner for months so we were pretty devo not to be able to attend. Thankfully, God was on my side for not only did the dude on the other line seemed cool with the very last minute cancellation, he also told me that a couple had rang up literally 10 minutes earlier to cancel their booking for the following night and whether we’d like to take their table?
Uh, yes please!
The problem was we actually had a booking at the new Red Lantern restaurant on Riley Street that following night. And while we were looking forward to eating ‘reinvented Vietnamese food,’ we were more excited about being able to dine at Marque. So our booking at Red Lantern was cancelled – sorry Luke Nguyen. Next time, next time…
After sleeping off all that walking and eating (Surry Hills to CBD to Pyrmont to CBD), we walked again to Surry Hills. Surry Hills in Sydney is actually relatively hilly, which is more than I could say for Melbourne’s Surrey Hills. Thus, by the time we arrived for our 8pm booking, we were starving. What? No a la carte options on Saturday nights? Eight course degustation only? Bring it on!
It was a full house in this tiny dining room that can only seat 50. The setting may have been intimate, but we were also able to hear each other without having to yell thanks to some awesome acoustics. Not so great was the mood lighting which prevented us from being able to properly look at our food and forcing me to ramp up my ISO to 10 billion. Oh and in case you’re wondering, this photo was taken towards the end of our meal when all the diners had left, haha.
For those of you working in marketing, you will know that the word ‘marque’ is a fancy word for ‘brand.’ Very fitting, given that Marque’s head chef and owner, Mark Best, has somehow created a brand for himself; that is, a brand that represents innovative, well-crafted and sometimes daring mod-Oz cuisine with a French twist. It also occurred to me that the restaurant’s name might also be a play on Mark Best’s first name – remember when people in the late 90s used to go around saying that they shopped at Tar-jay?
The cynic in me also thinks that the Marque brand exudes a dash of authoritarianism. I, for one, would not like to be told that bread should be enjoyed without bread plates and that Marque’s food should be accompanied by water from a ‘chilled, filtered and carbonated water system’ – oh, here’s a charge of $5 per head for the water. Yes, I’m aware that filtered water makes food taste better and yes, I can understand why Best thinks that bread plates are a burden. However, we’re paying customers and frankly, we should be allowed to choose whether we’d like to adhere to his instructions or not. Mark, you may know best but you make yourself look like a bossy twat by doing this.
Thankfully, none of the waiters we encountered were douches. Marty and I were impressed by the way head sommelier Nicolas André and his team conducted themselves, with efficiency and lots of energy. We were especially lucky to have such a lovely sommelier who clearly knew his stuff. Unfortunately, we forgot his name but he’s the guy who has a ponytail and looks like Julian Sands in the 80s movie Warlock.
In addition to the chilled, filtered and carbonated water, we selected some alcohol. I had a glass of 2009 Heymann Lowenstein ‘Schieferterrassen’ Riesling from Mosel (I thought the $26 mark-up was ridiculous, though) while Marty enjoyed a drop of Springbank 18 year-old whisky ($25). We enjoyed them with our homemade organic sourdough bread (rye caraway and white bread options were available, both of which were sampled during the dinner).
The eight-course degustation is $160 per head, with the option to have matching wines with each course for an extra $85. I normally stick to one glass of wine when I dine, so I said no while Marty eagerly accepted. This later proved to be a great arrangement as I was able to have just a sip of wine from each glass so I can see how it went with each dish.
As we waited for our food to arrived, we listened to Hole courtesy of the restaurant’s sound system. Marty liked that Marque played commercial music in the background (we heard Elton John and Coldplay too) as it made the restaurant a more relaxed place to dine at. I liked this juxtaposition as well as that of the modern chic restaurant standing among the row of old terrace houses along Crown Street.
A bonito with foie gras, potato and olive truffle formed our amuse bouche. I found it interesting that they worded the dish like that for it clearly looked like two large potato chips filled with bonito, foie fras and olive truffle rather than bonito being the central ingredient, with everything else as trimmings.
That said, it was a great opening to what would be an epic dinner. Marty said that this amuse bouche was almost tailor-made for me as I’m more than obsessed with potato chips. The potato slices were crisp and translucent and would have been great on their own, but the umami-packed filling made for an amuse bouche that I’d remember for a long time. I’ve actually never had fresh bonito before, but I decided that I liked it – it was like yellow fin tuna, but perhaps slightly brinier.
We weren’t given menus at all so naturally I was furiously typing all this down on my iPhone. The waiter saw me do this and assured me that I didn’t have to for he’ll give us a menu after dinner. I don’t know why they couldn’t do it prior to the dinner (is menu-giving AFTER a degustation meal a Sydney thing? Because the only other time this has ever happened to me was at Sepia) but anyway.
Our first course was a Marque signature dish, the almond jelly with blue swimmer crab, almond gazpacho, sweet corn and avruga. I had this dish at Pei Modern a few months back, so I was surprised to see Marque’s version quite unlike the simplified version I had at PM.
The cone is made up of almond jelly, so soft and puffy. When you break into it, you can see small lakes of almond gazpacho, sweet corn, fresh blue swimmer crab meat and a tiny blob of avruga. And to finish it off? Popcorn dust sprinkled all over. It was so creamy, so sexy and so, so delicious, especially with the delicious apple, pear and floral notes courtesy of the 2010 Stift Goettweig ‘Goettweiger Berg’ Gruner Veltliner.
Next, we had the Manjimup marron with Buddha hand, carrot and saltbush, accompanied by the Sicilian 2010 Marco de Bartolli ‘Pietranera’ Zibibbo. Referred to by Mary as the ‘rookie-looking carrot dish,’ we both thought it wasn’t particularly impressive. Marty said that it looked like something a William Angliss cooking student would whip up to impress his teachers, not something a world-renowned chef would cook. He also said the dehydrated carrots ‘tasted like the ones you find in Vegeta soup stock.’ I also thought that the whole thing just lacked depth and flavour, though I did like the way the bubbly and springy zibibbo brought out the marron’s sweet flavour.
Next, we can another Marque signature (or should that be trademarque?), the Dutch cream potatoes with bone marrow, sea urchin and coffee which also makes the menu at Pei Modern. It was essentially the same dish (no weird interpretations by way of dehydrated cream or anything), but it was much better than the one Dave and I enjoyed in Melbourne. This version was creamier and brinier thanks to the heavier presence of sea urchins. The coffee gave it a sharp kick, thus making it a necessary garnish rather than something that would just made us go ‘WAH COFFEE?! REALLY?!’
This dish was super-filling, as you can imagine. Thank goodness, then, for the 2009 Heymann Lowenstein ‘Schieferterrassen’ Riesling’s sweetness and acidity which effortlessly cut through the rich carb-y dish.
Next, we had the Murray cod with shallots, fish milk, pomelo and roe. We both thought the fish was amazing. It was so fresh that it could only have come from the Sydney Fish Market earlier that day. We both loved the contrasting textures so explicit on our plate; from the crispy deep fried fish skin to the succulent flesh and from the light bonito flakes to the creamy roe, we were pretty much treated to a string of ‘best of fish’ hits. The long bit of shallot stem provided piquancy while the accompanying 2010 Mac Forbes ‘Gruyere’ Chardonnay brought in subtle cooling herb notes from the Yarra Valley (Victoria represent, yo!).
We were now into the ‘mains’ territory. Our glass of 2010 Bénédicte & Stéphane Tissot ‘Singulier’ Trousseau accompanied our Rosewood squab with boudin noir, pickled corella pear and rhubarb, a celebration of all things woody, gamey and old world. Now, this dish proved to be the most challenging of the night, despite the wine attempting to mediate the dish with cherry and currant notes.
Martin is not usually squeamish when it comes to unusual food but if he is, well, he puts on a tough Bear Grylls-like bravado when confronted by something like this so I can’t tell. Nevertheless, his weakness has always been bloods and liver. As much as he wanted to love the black blood sausage, his body just couldn’t handle the metallic taste of it – not even when eaten with the juicy squab breast, the pear and finally, the chocolate sauce that was meant to tie the whole thing together.
Seeing a bird’s head like this on a plate would scare anyone, let alone purveyors of fine dining. However, this head actually easier for Marty than the boudin noir. In true Bear Grylls form, he sucked out the eyeball and urged me to do the same thing too. As disgusting as that may sound, it actually tasted quite nice and tender.
Our final main was the Mandagery Creek venison with beetroot, liquorice, blackcurrant and nameko. At first glance, the dish just looked like black blobs on a palette. ‘Oww dear,’ we thought, ‘Another rookie-try-hard-looking dish?’ Well, sort of. The blobs you see are actually bits of tender and juicy venison covered in smoky liquorice dust. Marty reckoned that the whole thing made him conjure up images of what a Dickensian period chimney sweeper would have had for lunch while he was at work.
In a way, I did agree with him. While I thought the use of liquorice powder like this was interesting, it was a bit overdone as the smokiness almost overpowered the beautiful venison meat lurking underneath. A more subtle approach would have suited the dish, in my opinion. After all, that’s what makes Marty’s grandpa’s homemade beef jerky taste so good. That said, the 2009 Friends of Punch Syrah did draw out some of the flavour from the venison and made the dish taste that much better.
An optional cheese course was available for $14 per head. We were going to decline it but upon hearing its description – Pecorino Toscano Gran Riserva with parmesan gnocchi, pear, vanilla and artichoke – we found it hard to say ‘no.’ The parmesan gnocchi pieces were amazing. They were so soft and pillow-y that I almost wished that they featured in a main course somehow. If only La Porchetta made gnocchi like this! The main cheese, however, was the sharp pecorino Toscano Gran Riserva which collected on the plate like rain drops and married well with the dried pears and vanilla. As for the wine accompaniment? A 2006 Alvear ‘Findo en Rama’ Pedro Ximénes; one for Marty and one for me.
Our first dessert was the Jerusalem artichoke with chestnut, cynar and rye, featuring ‘artichokes that don’t come from Jerusalem’ said the genius waiter. Accompanied by a glass of 2010 Small Acres Cyder ‘Pomana Lee’ from Orange in NSW, it was a beautiful dessert. To be honest, we would not have given it a second thought if we saw it written on a menu (the name just didn’t excite us). However, it was a beautifully balanced dessert.
The dessert struck a perfect balance between nuttiness, earthiness and creaminess accentuated by the crunchiness of the rye that brought us back to reality after each bite. There was also a lingering caramel note thrown in there too. For a ‘first dessert’ though, I will admit that it was pretty heavy but thankfully, the beautifully crisp and tangy cider (why the hell called it a ‘cyder’?!) broke the dish up a bit.
The drink that was to accompany our final course was not a wine. Instead, the sommelier thought it would be more fun to show off his Tom Cruise cocktail-making skills in front of us. The result was a ‘Gentiane Sour’ to accompany our lemon and white chocolate-based dessert.
It wasn’t the most awesome cocktail we’ve ever had but because we both love sours, we eagerly welcomed the simple gentiane and lemon mix.
Our charred lemon with white chocolate and tarragon looked pretty damn amazing. Compared to our Jerusalem artichoke dessert, this one was pretty light with the white chocolate half-shell thing being the only relatively heavy ingredient on the plate. I loved the very intense lemon sorbet while a bit of tarragon lent a nice herb-y touch to everything. It was a beautiful dessert to finish the night off with.
Okay, we weren’t quite finished. To say ‘thank you’ the waiter gave us sauternes custard, which was presented in an eggshell. A quick dip of the spoon led us to luscious blobs of caramel-coated custard, making it the perfect ending to a perfect night ‘because Libby’s an egg’ … or so Marty thinks, pfft.
For some reason, we thought coffee was included as part of the degustation meal so when the waiter asked us if we wanted coffee, we said ‘yes.’ We figured that if we were going to run amuck around Sydney all night*, we were going to need lots and lots of caffeine. Marty ended up with a latte with a shot of goodness knows what (and I can’t text him to double-check because he’s running amuck in Broadbeach as we speak and won’t be able to give me a coherent answer) which was ‘okay.’ Now, I know that Sydney restaurants make terrible coffee but we did expect something better for $18 (so, $6 for the coffee and $12 for whatever shot of alcohol they put it in).
Yes, they did end up changing us for coffee. Now, I was more than slightly annoyed at this stage for having to fork out extra money for crappy coffee. Okay, so maybe it was our fault for not asking if the coffees were included in the degustation. However, we’ve dined at way too many restaurants to work under the assumption that more often than not (and by that, I mean on every. single. occasion.), coffee is included. It also didn’t help that we weren’t able to see the menu prior to the dinner; speaking of which, what’s the deal with that? And ohmygoodness, don’t get me STARTED on the whole bullshit water thing! *breathes in and out*
In the end, I got a peppermint tea instead because I am hardcore like that. It still cost me $6 though. D’oh.
So what did I think of Marque? I think despite the water and coffee issues, our dinner did leave a marque on us. Sure, it would have been nice to be informed about the coffee but I’ve decided to treat it as a lesson for next time (i.e. to ask if it’s included if it’s being offered post-meal). Apart from that, the service was what you’d expect at a three-hatted restaurant and more.
Of the dishes we had that night, the ones that were done particularly well were of OMGLIKEWOAH standard. Meanwhile, the dishes that we didn’t like as much weren’t so much terrible, they reminded me of a dish ‘in progress’ – in other words, they were not quite there yet it was like the kitchen decided to serve them to us anyway. That said, we would definitely go there again and hope that with the normal seasonal changes, the amazing dishes remain on the menu while the try-hard ones make way for new ones.
*Of course we didn’t; we just went to bed.