Early in November 2011 I had micro surgery on my ear. To cut a long story short, my facial nerve was damaged which resulted in loss of taste and no desire to eat or blog about food. Add the silly season to the mix and Lex & I have had a three month hiatus of blogging. So after a long wait, here it is, our last Crave event.
A collaborative dinner at Sepia was to be our final Crave SIFF 2011 event. After the crazy week of food and wine we’d had it seemed fitting to save the best for last. Although Sepia’s ‘The Chef, the Young Chefs and the Chemist’ was one of the events we had initially decided against in favour of attending a larger number of cheaper events, as with the rest of our plans things change and before we knew it Sepia was locked in and became the one event I was really excited about.
Crave Sydney International Food Festival: Sepia’s ‘The Chef, the Young Chefs and the Chemist.’ – $250.00 per person including matched wines
- Martin Benn, Sepia: Amuse cold smoked ocean trout consomme
(NV Laurent-Perrier ‘Brut L-P’, Champagne, France)
- Mitch Orr, Duke Bistro: Chickpea, calamari and tomato
(2009 Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko Athiri, Santorini, Greece)
- Martin Benn, Sepia: “Scallop sushi” Nori rolled scallop, pickled ginger, puffed sushi rice, avocado cream
(2010 Wittman ‘100 Hugel’ Riesling, Rheinhesen, Germany)
- Phil Wood, Rockpool: Glazed pigs heads, hot and sour gluten, broad beans and hazelnuts
(2010 Bourillon-Dorleans ‘La Bourdonnerie’ Demi-sec Chenin Blanc, Vouvray, France)
- Daniel Puskas, sixpenny: Slow roasted Aylesbury duck breast, salted fennel, fresh apple, apple buttermilk cream
(2004 Valenciso Tempranillio, Rioja Reserva, Spain)
- Terry Robinson, Sepia: Mulberries and blackberries, hibiscus pearls, cocoa crumb
(2010 Braida Brachetto, Acqui, Italy)
- Martin Benn, Sepia: Japanese Stones – Chocolate, coconut, cherry
Crave Sydney director Joanna Savill introduced the evening with a very special guest, Hervé This, the father of molecular gastronomy (a term Hervé coined back in 1988). He spoke of his love of cooking; the art and technique that underlies it. While describing his research and experimentation in cooking something as seemingly simple as an egg he gave us great insight into what we were about to experience and we knew it was going to be a very special evening.
Martin Benn, Sepia: Amuse cold smoked ocean trout consomme.
The evening started with our first dish created by Martin Benn, a nice little amuse bouche presented with a lonely cube of cold smoked ocean trout in a tiny sea of trout consomme. The aroma of both trout elements was enticing and I delved in with the wooden fork to find a buttery soft piece of fish with a smooth smokey flavour permeating throughout. The consomme was intensely flavoured and totally awesome but not so much to smother the more delicate complexity in the fish.
Mitch Orr, Duke Bistro: Chickpea, calamari and tomato.
Mitch Orr of Duke Bistro was the chef behind our second course. As he presented the dish he explained a few tricks used to bring it together. Firstly how starch was extracted from chickpeas and a method similar to creating regular tofu was employed to produce the chickpea ‘tofu’. Secondly how the calamari was frozen under compression and then shaved into impossibly thin sheets. These two elements along with squid ink and tomatoes were plated and then finished with our waiter pouring on the velvety broth. I was very impressed with the tofu and the calamari but found the squid ink and soup quite overwhelming and only the fresh acidity of the tomatoes was able to break through.
Martin Benn, Sepia: “Scallop sushi” Nori rolled scallop, pickled ginger, puffed sushi rice, avocado cream.
Wow, and even more wow would sum up this dish’s visual impact. I just couldn’t get over how damn spectacular it looked. A Martin Benn masterpiece, we were lucky enough to get a small insight into the process of creating such a visually stunning dish. The scallops were coated in powdered nori sheet and cooked sous vide; the ginger was pureed and combined with agar, piped on and left to set; the rice was overcooked, dehydrated and then fried to finish; while the avocado was pureed and creamed. The resultant visuals, textures and flavours were out of this world. I see this as ‘the’ ultimate sushi roll, perfect in every way.
Phil Wood, Rockpool: Glazed pigs heads, hot and sour gluten, broad beans and hazelnuts.
This had Mr O’s name plastered all over it, ticking every box to the man’s heart. Phil Wood of Rockpool popped out of the kitchen to talk about his dish and we discovered the magic of the dish was contained in the hot and sour gluten. Gluten that was extracted and then flavoured with such things as chilli, star anise, cassia and black sechuan, yet textured to imitate pork fat. A perfect touch to the wonderfuly cooked pork where you could imagine you were being overly indulgent in eating the meat and all the trimmings yet the ‘trimmings’ were almost entirely fat free. A very clever dish.
Scheduled for a December 2011 launch, sixpenny is Daniel Puskas’ new venture. The ex-Sepia chef had a real treat in store for us with his slow roasted Aylesbury duck breast. And to me it seemed the most scientific of all the evening’s dishes. Using industrial sounding ingredients such as titanium dioxide as a natural colouring agent, to bring the white out of the apple; or xanthan gum to stabilise the apple puree, that splits when cooked with butter milk at over 85 degrees. Science aside the duck was sensational, easily the best piece of duck I had enjoyed in a very long time and Lex’s absolute favourite dish of the night. Apple, duck and fennel all just working to make a superb dish and really pushing sixpenny up ‘The List’ when it opens.
I always love the idea of a palate cleanser but rarely find any that are actually cleansing. Maybe some try too hard or others do not try at all, but how Sepia have approached it is definitely the right way. Cool, refreshing, a little upfront, a touch of zing and it is done; palate cleansed leaving you feeling refreshed and ready for dessert (or if you’re Em just wanting gingerade for dessert).
Terry Robinson, Sepia: Mulberries and blackberries, hibiscus pearls, cocoa crumb.
Terry Robinson, winner of the 2011 Josephine Pignolet young chef award and Martin Benn’s sous chef really got my attention with this dessert. Interestingly Terry mentioned that it was a white mulberry tree in Wollstonecraft that gave vision to his dessert. Sweet mulberries, sour blackberries, crunchy cocoa crumbs and addictive hibiscus pearls rounded out the core of the dish but there was just something beyond all of it that impressed me. A total harmony of flavours and textures in a dessert that I don’t recall ever experiencing. Both Mr. O and I were in heaven, it was an instant favourite for me.
Martin Benn, Sepia: Japanese Stones – Chocolate, coconut, cherry.
If there was one dish that intrigued me the most it had to be the Japanese Stones. I had seen others blog about them and everyone seems to adore them. Again Martin had pulled out all the stops. Sitting atop a bed of glistening yuzu jelly and scattered with black sesame clusters, the stones hid their treasure inside. The sorbets of chocolate, coconut and cherry are frozen in liquid nitrogen and then coated with coloured cocoa butter which freezes and gives a lovely matte stone like appearance. These are then sprinkled with ‘green moss’ of powdered pistachio and ‘sand’ made of powedered feuilletine (yeah I had to Google it). All across the restaurant you could hear spoons cracking into these gems. Once inside we were treated to a smooth and soothing chocolate sorbet, a bright and rich cherry sorbet and a relaxing and creamy coconut sorbet. The little crunches of black sesame, sour yuzu jelly and hints of pistachio and feuilletine made this quite simply unforgettable.
Martin Benn – very quiet on his methods and ingredients, no doubt as many of them are current menu items and he would like a little secrecy to remain. The level of skill and balance in Martin’s dishes was quite a step above all bar Terry Robinson’s dessert; though being a 3 Hatted chef this is understandable. Sepia is the top of my list at the moment and I really want to get back and enjoy an entire evening of the high calibre dishes Martin and his team have created.
And then we were done, Crave Sydney International Food Festival 2011 was over for the four of us.
201 Sussex Street
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9283 1990
Sepia Restaurant Website