We always seem to be talking about ‘The List’ and I guess it is for a good reason. There are sooooo many restaurants we want to go to and only limited time and money to eat at them all. But if there was a place we needed to bump up ‘The List’ it would have to be Bilson’s. Tony Bilson has been touted as the ‘Godfather of Australian Cuisine’ and with such a long and successful career it only seems natural that he would be behind such an awarded restaurant.
And it just so happened that Lex spotted the Gourmet Traveller Reader’s Dinner in the October edition. With a chance to get to Bilson’s sooner than expected as well as a lovely $10 donation to the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation it was locked it then and there.
Gourmet Traveller Reader’s Dinner: Bilson’s, Sydney – $140.00 per person (including matched wines and a $10 donation to the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation)
- Sweet potato, black sesame, black garlic (2010 Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Sauvignon Blanc)
- Semi-cooked and raw Crystal Bay Prawns, consommé, baby sorrel (2010 Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Chardonnay)
- Smoked mackerel, salsify, Jerusalem artichoke, rosemary (2010 Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Pinot Noir)
- Quail, burnt bread cream, beets, sweetcorn, raspberry (2009 Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Cabernet Franc)
- Wild berries, lychee and rose (2009 Ross Hill Cordon Cut Riesling)
We walked into the dining room to see the restaurant pretty full and all of the tables were already set with just about everything we would need for the night. Wine glasses, knives and forks aplenty and a rosette of smoked tomato butter sitting on top of some ‘ordinary’ butter. The menu was placed in front of each diner so we could have a nice read. Bread was offered soon after we sat down and of course it was a yes from everyone. The smoked tomato butter was amazing, crisp tomato acid with a prominent but subtle smoky flavour. I am quite surprised to have not seen something similar anywhere else we have dined as it was stunning.
Sweet potato, black sesame, black garlic.
In came our first course and immediately we were impressed by the presentation, exactly what one would expect from a top notch restaurant. The sweet potato ‘soup’ was vibrantly orange and tasted as vibrant. Rich and sweet the black sesame seeds were toasted and packed a healthy punch while the black fermented garlic sponge was a textural marvel and the taste was something to behold. The little addition of miso finished off the Asian inspired dish and I was pleased that this was shaping up to be an outstanding dinner.
Semi-cooked and raw Crystal Bay Prawns, consommé, baby sorrel.
The semi-cooked prawn looked quite special with the orange underside and the semi-translucent green top. Em sadly did not look as impressed as she still doesn’t quite enjoy uncooked shellfish. Tony Bilson had said during his introduction that the menu was as much about taste as it was texture and this dish really spoke his language. The quinoa was crunchy but chewy at the same time (from being deep fried and then soaked in consommé) and the first prawn had even another layer to it. Crispy tail, succulent underside and a soft top that almost melted away. Even though the sorrel were just shoots they still carried the acidic trait and this was perfect to bring the rich consommé together with everything else.
A few years ago Lex, some friends & I were dining at Zest in Nelson Bay and something in the amuse-bouche reacted with me. For the next 20 minutes I was wreck feeling dizzy, sweating and without even the closest inclination of an appetite. I still don’t know what I was allergic to and maybe one day I will have an allergy test to find out why, but unfortunately it appeared that something in either the sweet potato or the prawn dish began to have a similar effect on me and it seemed my night might take a turn for the worse. Thankfully my reaction to whatever it was seemed quite subdued compared and with the generous spacing between courses it never interrupted the evening.
Smoked mackerel, salsify, Jerusalem artichoke, rosemary.
I was quite unsure of the presentation of this dish, it had me second guessing if it was the presentation or my recent ‘reaction’ that had me put off a little. A thin strip of smoked mackerel was perpendicularly placed onto of a globe artichoke and offset by a rosemary sauce and rosemary yoghurt. I went right for the yoghurt and the rosemary was quite apparent, then into the sauce and still the rosemary took all my attention. Once I had tried everything combined I went back to the yoghurt and there was no hint of rosemary and the butter was the same. The oily mackerel being smoked really dominated the other flavours but only due to the subtleness of them. Without the acidic yoghurt or rich butter that mackerel may have been too much for the artichoke but together it just worked, and quite well.
Quail, burnt bread cream, beets, sweetcorn, raspberry.
This was the dish I was really hanging out for, quail is amazing by itself but the burnt bread cream combined with the quail seemed like a match made in heaven. My initial feelings were correct, when combined the two were just perfect; two parallel caramalisation flavours of burnt bread and fried quail just had me in awe. The two were not alone in their magic because the amazing frozen raspberries acidic tartness mellowed the richness of the burnt bread and had me quite surprised. Hiding up the back were some nice baby beats that were as earthy as you could want. This is the best quail dish I have ever eaten making all others thoughts of what could have been.
Wild berries, lychee and rose.
Wow this dish looked impressive. So many things going on it was hard to know where to start. The centre piece had to be the cannelloni of berry jelly filled with white chocolate cream, an amazing combination of flavours but this sensation had some competition with the rose water jelly encasing lychee and adorned with a slither gold leaf. The wild berry sorbet rounded off all of the monumentally good combinations to make this one of the best desserts I have had in a long time.
And that was it, a rather quick meal when compared to some of the epic degustations we have had previously with being only a few hours. All of us were quite pleased with the menu and how everything really did live up to Tony Bilson’s taste/texture philosophy. Diego Muñoz has definitely breathed life into what some thought was a sinking ship and let’s just hope he hangs around until our next visit.
Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel
27 O’Connell Street
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 8214 0496