It has become a bit of tradition for the four of us (Lex, Em, Mr O & I) to make birthdays the pinnacle of our gastronomic explorations. The 4 days of the year we let loose – literally, I went sans belt – and do not let our logical budget conscious minds interfere with our illogical flavour seeking tummies.
The facts were pretty simple for this restaurant choice. Lex’s 30th. No questions. Quay. Lex likes to drag out the celebrations (dubbed #festivaloflex) so why not start a day early. We booked in for Saturday night, Australia Day, the day before Lex’s birthday.
Lex and I have dined at Quay twice before (lucky Lex has been three times previously) but we’d never had the Tasting Menu. Because it was her 30th and that Em and Mr O had never experienced Quay we decided to go absolutely all out and have the premium wine match. Yes that is right, Lex’s 30th just became the most expensive meal we’ve ever had.
After a couple of sneakies at Hemmesphere we were in a cocktail kind of mood so we all started with a drink before dinner. Led by our last visit Lex and I ordered the same cocktails. Again they were light and refreshing and perfect to enjoy while the last light of Australia Day faded.
Tasting Menu $220.00 per person / with accompanying wines $315.00 per person / with accompanying premium wines $395.00 per person
- Sashimi of local lobster, bergamot, green almonds, grapefruit, elder flowers
(2010 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling Mosel, Germany)
- Salad of preserved wild cherries, albino and chioggia beetroots, radish, crème fraîche, violets
(2010 Greenstone Sangiovese, Heathcote)
- Line caught iki jime Tasmanian squid, squid ink custard, society garlic, pink turnips
(NV Gosset Grand Rosé Champagne, Ay, France)
- Courtix quail, farro, hazelnuts, quinoa, steamed truffle brioche, egg yolk confit, Vin Jaune cream
(2005 Valenciso Reserva Rioja, Spain)
- Smoked and confit pig cheek, shiitake, shaved scallops, Jerusalem artichoke leaves
(2010 Bass Phillip Pinot Noir, South Gippsland, Victoria)
- Poached Rangers Valley beef, bitter chocolate black pudding, morel, ezekiel crumbs, shaved mushrooms
(2009 Rockford ‘Basket Press’ Shiraz, Barossa Valley)
- Andalucia citrus and almonds
(2009 Huet Clos du Bourg Vouvray, Loire Valley, France)
- Coconut and cherry snow egg
(2006 Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine, Niagara Peninsula)
- Coffee, Tea, Quay Petits Fours
Goat’s curd, tomato hearts, olive crumbs, fennel, baby capers.
Starting the evening’s gastronomic adventure was the wonderful amuse bouche. A little bowl of perfection, there was nothing I did not love about it. All perceivable bases were covered: salty capers and olives, sour and acidic tomato hearts, bitter and aniseedic fennel, smooth and binding tartness from the goat’s curd, which made for an overwhelming sample of things to come.
Sashimi of local lobster, bergamot, green almonds, grapefruit, elder flowers.
2010 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling Mosel, Germany.
It was definitely a first for me to try lobster sashimi so I had been looking forward to trying this. Plated it all looked so similar, the lobster, bergamot and grapefruit with just the white flecks of almonds and elder flowers to set it off. On its own the lobster was a uniquely familiar texture and taste, not discerning itself from other larger crustaceans when eaten in this manner, but when eaten with an equal amount of bergamot and grapefruit it came into its own. Soft sweet flesh of lobster and tart sweet flesh of the citrus paired so well but we all found this match was ruined by the ratio of lobster to citrus.
There was three to four times more citrus than lobster and after the initial jubilance of a masterful combination we felt the only ingredient on the pate was grapefruit, lots of it. It might be difficult to plate up a dish with more lobster, but all of us agreed after our initial joy all we could taste was grapefruit and this made it impossible to even remember we ate some amazing lobster.
Salad of preserved wild cherries, albino and chioggia beetroots, radish, crème fraîche, violets.
2010 Greenstone Sangiovese, Heathcote.
Never ones to disappoint in the crockery department, Peter Gilmore and his team have designed a dish that is served in a pretty little matte ceramic bowl with a lid that is removed at the table to reveal a salad which looks more like a little garden. Quite a tasty little garden also, all of the varieties of beetroot tasted so pure, there were peppery hints of radish catching you here and there, a sour injection of liquid nitrogen creme fraiche and a very light pickled vegetable tone throughout to really make this a remarkable dish.
Line caught iki jime Tasmanian squid, squid ink custard, society garlic, pink turnips.
NV Gosset Grand Rosé Champagne, Ay, France.
Amazing, that is the best way to describe the squid that is line caught and killed humanely (iki jime). Cooked in clarified butter and allowed to take on as much of the butter without diminishing the clean squid flavour it was just a skilfully executed dish. But before you think it is over there is more to discover. The squid ink custard juxtaposes the pristine white squid with its brooding dark complexion full of big flavours of spinach and squid ink though it is never allowed to overthrow the champion ingredient.
Aside from the execution of the squid an unforgettable moment was watching Lex and Mr O trying to spoon the smooth white custard from the bottom of the dish when in fact it was just the glossy base of the otherwise matte bowl.
Courtix quail, farro, hazelnuts, quinoa, steamed truffle brioche, egg yolk confit, Vin Jaune cream.
2005 Valenciso Reserva Rioja, Spain.
Moving from the light dishes into what we hoped to be the big winners of the night it was the quail that greeted us with a hefty waft of truffle that lingered around the table. As unmistakable and absolutely brilliant truffle can be, it was a mere sideshow compared to the quaint breast of quail we were served. Texturally this had it all, first and foremost was the quail, juicy and giving, utterly impressive, pop, crack and crunch from the quinoa and farro combination and fluffy sweet brioche with a lingering truffle essence rounding it all off.
Smoked and confit pig cheek, shiitake, shaved scallops, Jerusalem artichoke leaves.
2010 Bass Phillip Pinot Noir, South Gippsland, Victoria.
For the first time in a long time I was unsure what I was more excited about, the food or the wine. Pinot Noir is up there as one of the all time greats and a red that can be instrumental in making a good course great. Bass Phillip make an outstanding Pinot, the best in Australia (IMHO) and seeing this paired with the pork almost brought a tear to my eye. Pork and Pinot, they go together so well and it was no coincidence these two were paired.
Upon my first bite I was hooked, photos confirm my grin was ear to ear eating this. Simple in a way but ever so complex I felt a synergy between the food and wine I rarely experience. A light yet robust Pinot Noir the Bass Phillip was able to take on the subtle tones of cold smoking that made even the razor thin sliced scallop feel as if they were meant to be. Crisps of Jerusalem artichoke skins and subtle earthy tones of shiitake mushrooms really rounded out what was a cracking dish.
Poached Rangers Valley beef, bitter chocolate black pudding, morel, ezekiel crumbs, shaved mushrooms.
2009 Rockford ‘Basket Press’ Shiraz, Barossa Valley.
When I saw this was still on menu I had some trepidation that I was going to be let down by my favourite pal, beef. Previously we found this dish rather full on with the rich nut mixture the ezekial crust comprises being way too dominant. Thankfully it all just worked so much better this time. The ezekiel crumbs were less powerful and the bitter chocolate black pudding paired well with the tender poached beef that was allowed to really shine.
Andalucia citrus and almonds.
2009 Huet Clos du Bourg Vouvray, Loire Valley, France.
Wow. To begin there is an absolutely stunning bowl which is designed to fit a lady’s hand and which Em could not stop raving about. But the dessert itself was so impressive. Almond tuile, liquid nitrogen creme fraiche making another appearance, almond ice cream, nougat and lemon curd. There were just so many elements to this that made it have such an impressive ‘wow’ factor. As far as Quay desserts go this was my all time number one without any shadow of a doubt.
Coconut and cherry snow egg.
2006 Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine, Niagara Peninsula.
With some very close friends dining at Quay just 6 days prior we knew the snow egg was going to be something to write home about and the anticipation was almost killing me (an exaggeration but you get the idea).
Things went a little bit crazy when we were invited into the kitchen to see our snow eggs being assembled. I think Lex said “I just can’t talk right now, I’m so excited” a number of times. She was beside herself to have been invited into the kitchen of her favourite restaurant and the kitchen of Australia’s number one chef. She was equally as excited to meet the crew and have a behind the scenes peak of a commercial kitchen.
We were lucky to meet Sam Aisbett who now heads up the kitchen at Quay and who we’d only just missed after his departure from Darley’s when we dined there last year. One thing we all found was that the kitchen was a lot smaller than we had anticipated. While Lex was chatting up a storm with Sam I was busy in snap happy overload.
Although some may have seen it all before on ‘that’ chef show, to see it happening in the restaurant kitchen was so impressive. A small dab of macerated cherries in the glass starts it all. Then the pre-made egg is adorned with a maltose tuile which is then blasted with an industrial sized blow torch to melt it over the egg and a generous dusting of icing sugar is applied. Meanwhile the serving glasses are layered with a coconut mixture and then topped with a hefty amount of cherry granita. Some marinated cherries are precisely added with a set of kitchen tweezers and then, with a skilful touch, the dusted eggs are lowered into the glass and positioned ready to be served.
After a couple of final happy snaps and a huge thanks to everyone for making this happen we were out and back at our table to enjoy the dessert we had just witnessed being made. It may have been that our little kitchen adventure was so awesome but when I first dug into the snow egg I was completely under whelmed. It was only the granita I had sampled but I thought to myself, geez, it only tastes like cherry granita.
Finally I smashed open the egg (always so damn impressive to see the amount of work concealed inside) and dug in to ensure I got a proper spoonful of everything. Bam! All I could have ever asked for and more, the cherry and coconut just melded together to make for the most impressive snow egg yet. Everything gelled and complimented each other, I laughed at my initial thoughts as it was silly to think these guys could do anything less than spectacular.
Quay’s eight texture chocolate cake.
Those who are quite observant may notice that the chocolate cake is not on the tasting menu. Haha, a preset menu, that has never stopped the ‘hungry hippos’ before and I doubt it ever will. There was no way Lex was missing out on the overindulgence that is eight textures of chocolate, even though it was under the guise of letting Em and Mr O try the amazing dessert.
One was enough for the four of us to share, but seeing as though it was Lex’s 30th the kitchen brought out one for Lex and another for the other three of us to share. OMG chocolate overload. It is always impressive to see the final texture of hot chocolate ganache poured over to melt through the centre and finish this truly remarkable dessert.
Chocolate is the best way to describe it. 8 insanely wonderful textures of it to be precise. It is as rich as it is decadent and something you only need to indulge in once a year, but that one time is definitely worth it.
Coffee, Tea, Quay Petits Fours.
Usually we welcome the sight of petits fours but this night we met our match, only Mr O was capable of sampling some of the fine offerings. All Lex and I could manage was a macchiato to help aid digestion. But not to be outdone, Quay sent Lex away with Happy Birthday petits fours and seeds to grow our own produce in our backyard.
As the evening was drawing to a close a recap really let me see how wonderful it had been. Some early cocktails to get the ball rolling, an epic journey through the Quay tasting menu, Australia Day fireworks, a brilliant trip to the kitchen and some great company made for an unforgettable night.
Thanks to the team at Quay for making the night so special, and thanks to Em & Mr O for sharing this special evening with Lex & I.
Overseas Passenger Terminal
The Rocks NSW 2000
(02) 9251 5600