A conversation with a farmer doesn’t have to be face to face, by ‘phone, by letter, or even through one of the relatively new social media. Executive Chef Peter Gilmore entrusts us with these intimate conversations on each outstanding plate while dining at Sydney restaurant Quay. Each tiny morsel engages our senses with the ultimate in flavour, aroma, texture and with each dish pretty as a picture. But more than just the hand of a talented cook or the eye of a gifted artist, Gilmore provides the ultimate in provenance, acknowledging farmers, growers and providores such as Richard and Nina Kalina, Lyn York, Steven Adey and Richard Gunner on a separate page of the menu. His “respect for the beauty of nature” arrives as a holistic picture with texture also harmonising through the bespoke ceramics.
Within the total experience, where the food upstages the magnificent sweeping Sydney Harbour Bridge to Sydney Opera House panorama, service has its own unique high end style. The arrival table is simple, and although the minimum dining at Quay is four courses, the linen is set with just a folded napkin and two glasses. Service is precise. Flatware and more glasses arrive swiftly prior to each course. Other larger tables are attended simultaneously by two, so that everyone gets the attention they deserve. And it’s easy to see that everyone is proud to be part of this team, showcasing Australia at its best, and awarding Quay number 26 in the 2011 S. Pellegrino ‘World’s 50 Best Restaurants’. Yet beyond all this there is an ease that shines on everything (food, wine and service) and makes sure that from high end novice to experienced palate, everyone is comfortable to partake in the pleasure that is Quay.
It’s the first time this year I’ve had the opportunity to indulge in this pleasure, so the Tasting Menu of nine courses, is a premeditated given. The only choice left to make is that of wine, and I select the premium of the two matched wine options. From the start the matching demonstrates more than balance of flavour but also a surprising understanding of textural match with the food. The first match of premium (chilled) sake is no exception and has an incredible velvety mouthfeel, floral nose and cucumber palate.
Sashimi Hiramasa kingfish, pickled kohlrabi, octopus, nasturtiums, white dashi jelly
Yuki No Bosha ‘Yamahai Junmai Ginjo’ Sake, Akita, Japan
Blacked lipped abalone & shiitake mushrooms, braised in seaweed & oyster juices, ginger milk curd, purslane
2009 Pyramid Valley ‘Field of Fire’ Chardonnay, Canterbury, New Zealand
Native freshwater marron, rose salt, organic pink turnips, jamon de bellota cream, oloroso caramel, almonds, society garlic flowers
2001 Jacques Puffeney Arbois Vin Jaune, Arbois France
Butter poached coturnix quail breast, pumpernickel & ethical foie gras pudding, walnuts, quinoa, truffle custard, milk skin
1999 Bannockburn Pinot Noir, Geelong, Victoria
Slow braised Berkshire pig jowl, maltose crackling, prunes, cauliflower cream, perfumed with prune kernel oil
2007 Domaine de Bellivière ‘Calligramme’ Jasnières, Loire Valley, France
Wagyu beef, poached in an oxtail and morel reduction, molè puree, farro & ezekiel crumbs
NV Frank Cornelissen ‘Munjabel 5′ Etna, Sicily, Italy
Jewels in the snow
2010 Cascinetta Vietta Moscato D’Asti, DOCG, Piemonte, Italy
Warm vanilla and palm blossom brioche, caramelised white chocolate, amaretto cream, walnuts, prune sorbet
2005 Rocca delle Macie, Vin Santo, Tuscany, Italy
Coffee, Tea Petits Fours
There are no words that can do justice to the food. Perhaps chefs such as Rene Redzepi of Noma may be qualified to try. Purity of produce and simplicity in plating are the new elegance and luxury. This is so much more than paddock to plate – which seems such an inadequate term for the thoroughness of process, which starts as far back as seed selection. This however, is not merely eco-cuisine. Yes it’s about nature. What transcribes onto the plate, however, is the ultimate experience in customisation. It’s also perfectly in tune – and flavour is the melody. With the freshest sashimi the accoutrements of perfect miniature sweet and peppery nasturtium leaves have a dollop of horseradish cream (light and playful from fresh horseradish of course) and an unannounced treasure of smoked eel tapioca, each separate pearl a complete diva of perfect texture with just the quaintest relief of bite. The transluscency of the white dashi jelly is offset with the tiny garlic chive captured within.
Journeying further into the menu Gilmore continues to play with Asian influence in what is later to demonstrate itself as an international repertoire. Probably more poignantly Chef Peter Gilmore’s menu is thoroughly his own unique and intelligent style. How does the influence of seaweed strike forth in the first mouthful of abalone and shiitake mushrooms to then gracefully retire and let the other flavours take the spotlight? What follows in the consomme is an unexpected richness, not of flavour which though delicious is also light and clean, but in the amazing silken texture which provides more body in the mouth than we could believe through clear sight alone.
A cornucopia of flavours dances around the marron, which remains the hero of the dish. Somehow in all the contrasts there is harmony. All just lap at the marron creating the support it deserves. None overpower. It’s playful and sweet. The marron danced with my favourite wine of the evening – the often under rated but stunning Arbois was nearly like a sherry. Then onto the second dish of surprising sourcing. The first was the caviar of the amuse bouche, at first surprising when you know that Gilmore takes a totally natural stance and speaks out against genetic engineering. In parallel he spends enormous time and energy in the retention of bio-diversity. Support and practice of seed saving is a primary example. Back to the food which begs the question: where does Chef get the caviar? And we were all relieved and inspired when we found the source is an aquaculture product of France. Similarly the adjective “ethical” is added to the menu. Foie gras, for those in the know, is a natural state of fattening in the annual cycle of geese and ducks. So an ethical product has always been available – without the greed of human force feeding. The fattened pudding delights as the lightness of the previous course succeeds to more exaggerated flavours of pumpernickel, candied walnuts, quinoa and truffle.
The next in the progression is unctious, buttery, sweeter flesh. Savoury toffee crackling providing crunch and sweetness too. As an aside, don’t you love the way the crackling on the pork is replicated in the crackling on the pottery glaze? Just another clever layer in the complete experience. A long time favourite of mine – the classic French Provencial casserole of pork and prunes has had its update. Again there is a conscience in the procurement of the Berkshire breed.
Depth and complexity nearly jumps off the menu when you read that the Wagyu beef was poached in oxtail and morel reduction. The WOW factor here came from the molé which was also intriguingly complex, again it was balanced as no one spice dominated, and thankfully without the sweetness of some I have tried. An exceptional sauce that weighed in against the crunch of the ezekiel crumbs (read up on them – there’s a whole story in itself). Another masterpiece!
So here comes the extra dish we had to have. As our beef was cleared we were reminded that the now famous snow eggs wasn’t on the degustation. I’ve had it before of course, and this autumn version was the combination I’d had before too, with guava and custard apple. For anyone that’s missed it, Chef Peter Gilmore demonstrated this dish on the TV show Masterchef. So a repeat performance was offered and accepted as we swapped out one of the desserts of the degustation. Like the earlier pork and prunes, my childhood version of the French snow eggs (sometimes also translated as floating islands) has been a lifetime favourite, simple poached meringue (rather than crispy shell baked meringue) is light as a feather, creamy pillows. In his adult version, Gilmore takes two halves of meringue with a central hollow, and closes them around a quenelle of icecream, to create the yolk and the white. Then a light biscuit is blowtorched over the round to create the shell. The final touch of the powdery sweet dusting completes. Yes, I was disappointed – I only got to taste one baby teaspoon of that wonderful dish. But my own dessert – jewels in the snow – with it’s glistening treasure of candied fruits wasn’t even shared. I kept it all to myself!
The final moments of the degustation were both chocolate. First white with an incredible sweet moist brioche that had an almost marzipan consistency, the almond flavour appearing instead though in the amaretto cream. Prune sorbet was profoundly satisfying yet in the same mouthful silky and smooth.
The applause had lasted all night, with the final delight in yet another childhood reminiscence, now all grown up! Chocolate crackles with the finest dark chocolate cocoa and crunchy tiny balls of pop. The ultimate Sydney dinner finished with the ultimate petit fours.
Exquisite! Amazing! Delicious!
Upper Level, Overseas Passenger Terminal
George Street, The Rocks, Sydney 2000 Australia
+61 2 9251 5600