Two of the things I love most in the world are food and birthdays, so naturally my birthday always involves a celebration with close friends and good food. I spent my 25th in the Hunter Valley tasting some of the region’s most decorated wines and fresh local produce, my 26th at a pasta making course and long Italian lunch at Luciana Sampogna’s Cucina Italiana and my 27th travelling and eating my way through Thailand culminating in a Thai cooking course at Baan Thai Cookery School. This year I decided to spend my birthday with my three best friends at one of Sydney’s best fine dining restaurants, Marque.
In the fourth year of his apprenticeship Mark Best won the Josephine Pignolet ‘Young Chef of the Year’ award, he spent four months working with Alain Passard at the 3 Michelin starred L’Arpège in France, opened Marque in 1999 and was awarded 2 chef hats from the SMH Good Food Guide only 5 months later.
In the 12 years since then Marque has held its position as one of Sydney’s best, consistently awarded chef hats (2 chef hats in 2000-2003 and 3 chef hats every year since 2004), winning ‘Restaurant of the Year’ at the NSW Restaurant & Catering Awards For Excellence 2009, ranked 67th and taking home the ‘Breakthrough Award’ at San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards in 2010, and most recently awarded SMH Good Food Guide 2011’s ‘Restaurant of the Year’.
With such a long list of awards and industry recognition, my expectations for Marque were naturally high.
Degustation $150.00 per person / with matching wines $235.00 per person
- Chaud-Froid free range egg [Alain Passard 1998]
- Almond jelly with blue swimmer crab, almond gazpacho, sweet corn and avruga (2004 Reichsgraf Von Kesselstatt, Riesling Kabinett Feinherb, Scharzhofberger, Saar, Germany)
- Kingfish with vadouvan, radish, turnip and apple (2008 G. & J.H. Goisot, Aligoté, Bourgogne Aligoté, Burgundy, France)
- Cold smoked ocean trout with lemon, dill and vanilla (N/V Familia Schroeder ‘Rosa de los Vientos’ Pinot Noir, Patagonia, Argentina)
- Roast scampi with mustard and ham vinaigrette (2008 Gulfi ‘Valcanzjria’ Carricante/Chardonnay/Albanello, Sicily, Italy)
- Spatchcock with peas, spinach, pistachio and samphire (2008 Schneider, Sankt Laurent, Thermenregion, Austria)
- Wagyu striploin with shallots, leek, cucumber and ox heart (2004 Valenciso ‘Reserva’ Tempranillo, Rioja, Spain)
- [Optional Course] Brunet with pearl barley, rocket and tea jam (2008 Ökonomierat Rebholz, Gewürztraminer Auslese, Pfalz, Germany)
- Sauternes Custard
- ‘Tiramisu’ (2009 Small Acres ‘Pomona Ice’ Cider, Orange, NSW)
- Salted caramel chocolates and bitter bon bons
Chaud-Froid free range egg.
The amuse bouche is a dish Mark learnt from Alain Passard back in 1998. Translating as ‘hot-cold’ we were anxious to see what on earth the dish would encompass. Presented in a cut off egg shell, digging in we found a gorgeous poached egg yolk at the bottom, topped with chilled cream, chives and a drizzling of maple syrup. The rich yolk and creamy topping were the perfect combination, with a hint of clove coming through. The extremely thin bread sticks were some of the tastiest I’ve ever had, nice and salty. One of my favourite starters, it’s easy to see why it has been around for so long.
Almond jelly with blue swimmer crab, almond gazpacho, sweet corn and avruga.
The first course both looked and tasted really delicate and light. I enjoyed the contrasting textures and flavours of this dish with the sweetness of the fresh crab, softness of the almond foam and salty pop of the avruga all coming together beautifully and a sprinkling of popcorn dust finishing it off. The first two dishes had set the bar very high indeed and we couldn’t wait to see what was next to come.
Kingfish with vadouvan, radish, turnip and apple.
The kingfish slivers were interspersed with fine slices of radish and apple, a quenelle of turnip sorbet and deep fried rocket and basil (?). A massive fan of kingfish I was curious to see how it would taste with the introduction of vadouvan spice mix which I have since learnt is somewhat of a French take on an Indian masala. The vadouvan wasn’t as strong as you might think, just a light aromatic to complete the dish and one that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Cold smoked ocean trout with lemon, dill and vanilla.
One of my favourites of the night. The biscuit layer holding the accompaniments appeared to be a flat tuile or brandy snap and made a wonderful cracking sound when tapped with my fork. It turned out to be vanilla snap with a light crunch that just melted in my mouth. I loved the fresh lemon curd and dill, while the trout itself was a wonderful piece of fish, the cold smoking process enhancing its natural flavour. While trout, lemon and dill are flavours that always go so well together it was the presentation and addition of vanilla that really took this to the next level.
Roast scampi with mustard and ham vinaigrette.
When ingredients like mustard and vinaigrette are listed on a menu I usually avoid them at all costs, but with a degustation I feel there should be no questioning the chef and I strive to embrace it all as the chef intends. The roasted scampi was cooked perfectly, the mustard pleasant enough but the ham was a little too thickly sliced for my liking. The anise flavoured fennel flowers were a nice little touch but overall I didn’t really enjoy this course.
Spatchcock with peas, spinach, pistachio and samphire.
The spatchcock breast with a crust of powdered pea made for quite an unusual appearance. I found the salad of spinach and samphire leaves nice but would have liked some more as I felt the spatchcock was a little dry. I had thought this may be one of the best dishes of the night, but I’m probably still a little undecided on it.
Wagyu striploin with shallots, leek, cucumber and ox heart.
A course of much contention, Mr O and Em claim the spatchcock was the best, while Dylan and I both adored the wagyu and thought it was definitely the king of the night. A beautiful piece of meat, the wagyu was cooked marvellously, the shallots had a nice bite and brought a level of sweetness to the dish, and the unusual grilled cucumber was a welcome addition. The ox heart is something I didn’t think I would be able to eat with the word ‘heart’ making me shudder, yet always wanting to trust the chef and try new things I gave it a go and of course it was a tender, juicy and all round lovely lean piece of meat.
Brunet with pearl barley, rocket and tea jam.
An optional course but with Dylan, Mr O, Em and I there isn’t really an option, we never say no! I absolutely adore cheese but I must admit I have a lot to learn and there is a whole world of cheeses out there I have never tasted (or sometimes never even heard of). Brunet is a goat’s milk cheese from Italy that I had heard of but until dining at Marque I had never had. It has a gorgeous bloomy rind and a thick centre, not as oozy as brie for example. I thought the cheese was quite sweet and had a tangy finish, nicely accompanied by the peppery rocket, though personally I was not a fan of the tea jam.
I had been anxiously awaiting dessert as I had heard many good things about Marque’s sauternes custard. The custard was served in a little tea cup and saucer which I thought was quite cute, and as I dug in and brought the first spoonful to my mouth I knew it was going to be good, it looked stunning. The thin layer of bitter caramel on top had us all thinking it was a little creme caramel, the custard was silky, smooth and absolutely perfect in every way. I can’t describe how much I loved this, it was just divine.
I have a savoury tooth and a very big sweet tooth with a weakness for anything (and everything) chocolate, so I had REALLY been looking forward to the chocolate dessert that had been listed on the sample menu on the website, but it was not to be with the dessert of the evening listed as ‘Tiramisu’. Far from the Italian classic the tiramisu was comprised of apricot puree and vanilla foam that our waiter informed us had been mixed with potato, chocolate and parsnip flakes! I was surprised by both the flavour and texture of the dessert, the cream so airy and light followed by a hit of the sour puree and crunch of the parsnip. It was no Quay 8 textured chocolate tart but it was a nice dessert in its own right.
Salted caramel chocolates and bitter bon bons.
Normally served on a little wooden board, my petit fours were served on a plate with Happy Birthday written in chocolate. I have a feeling salted caramel is potentially about to steal the lime light from chocolate that has held a special place in my heart for 28 years! Yum, yum and more yum, I loved the salted caramel. The bitter bon bons were filled with various liqueurs and though not bad they had nothing on the salted caramel chocolate!
There was so much food that by the end of the meal I was ready to explode! Ahh I love the variety of degustation menus but I must learn to say no to the optional courses that always push me over my limit. We thought the service was top class, most of the wait staff were French (nice to see in a French restaurant!), they had a laugh with us and weren’t arrogant or snobby as some fine dining waiters can be. I’m not well versed in molecular gastronomy so I’m not sure if that influenced my experience but I didn’t think there was as much of a wow factor as I had been expecting. Then again, I may need to leave my expectations at the door when going to world class restaurants as they are in many ways flawless.
4/5 355 Crown Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 9332 2225