Bloody Masterchef. Until that... thing hit our screens, I was content to think that Peter Gilmore was the bloke with a nice view that cooked overpriced meals for cruise ship tourists (whose vessel was usual blocking the view). Oh we'd heard of Quay, but not until that snow egg thing hit the TV screen did we really take it seriously. Then came the San Pellegrino list of 2010, in which it rose above our personal Sydney favourite, Tetsuyas, coming in at number 27 in the world. So it came to be that to celebrate a rather monumental achievement, we travelled to Sydney and arrived at the doorstep of the best restaurant in Australasia, 2010.
Now when I say doorstep, I’m not really sure that makes it clear. I’m also not sure that we had actually found the front doorstep. Quay is located on level 2 of the international passenger terminal at circular quay in Sydney, but there’s not much signage, or clue that you’re heading in the right direction. We found an elevator next to the loading dock with a label for Quay on level 2, and ventured inside. The lights flickered, and it smelled vaguely of urine. Not a good start.
We emerged praying that we hadn’t stumbled into a bad horror flick and were relieved to find ourselves at the front desk of the restaurant. We had indeed missed the front door. Whoops. Smooth. We stood around awkwardly near the unattended meet-n-greet desk for a couple of minutes before sticking our head around the bar to grab someone’s attention…
Eye contact with a waiter. Here we go. No, … that glass he’s polishing has really got him fixated. What about this bloke? No, he’s focussing harder on carrying that wine bottle than a 10 year-old’s magnifying glass on an ant. How about… oh no, that’s a customer. Wait, no it’s not. Maybe? "Welcome to Quay!" (Yay! I’m in the right spot!)
Our table delivered the promised view, though we were told several times to “mind that step” (which was probably a good thing - knowing my usual level of coordination I would have ended up face-first in the nearest snow-egg, were it not for the warning.) Having been told at booking that on Friday we were required to have the eight course degustation, we were surprised when we were brought the a la carte menu, without the option for the deg. We looked around… Deg on the left. Deg on the right. Degs on the big table. Guess we weren’t cool enough. We asked our waiter, who explained that last week they’d changed their policy and that after 9pm the deg was not available. No big deal, what we wanted to try was on the a la carte anyway, but it would have been nice to be told. I bitched about this to Alicia at some length, so although it’s a small thing, I feel it’s necessary to share the pissing-and-moaning around here, too.
Next comes the wine list, a great tome of a thing, whose pages are lined with the kind of old-world bottles most of us will never see. Or be able to afford. There were very few offerings under $100, most of them with 150-200% markups. Take from that what you will. I was asked if I’d like to speak to the sommelier, but given our shaky start to the evening, I just wanted pinot, and I wanted it now. We settled on a 2003 Chehalem Pinot Noir from Oregon, around the $180 mark. (Yes, I have a thing for Oregon pinot at the moment. I’ll get over it soon, I promise.) It was brought out promptly by the sommelier, who commented that it was an “interesting” choice. Yikes. That bodes well. What the hell have I got here? It was a little bright when we first tasted it, but opened up into deep earthy tones after a little time to breath.
Courses came and went, all of them immaculately presented, perfectly prepared and faultless. The dinner menu isn’t really a la carte, rather a choice between four or five options for each of four courses. Standouts included the smoked eel "sea pearl" and crisp confit of pig belly with green lipped abalone and cuttlefish, handmade silken tofu and Japanese mushrooms. The Berkshire pig jowl (not cheek, apparently) was also a favourite, although the accompanying prunes may be a little sweet for some. Of course, dessert had to be the big guys: the snow egg, and the eight texture chocolate cake. I tried really hard to count eight textures, but only found six. I guess I’ll have to go back for another serve.
All of this accompanied by that stunning view of opera house and harbour bridge. It was good, I have to admit. But was it number-twenty-seven-in-the-world good? No matter how good the food was (and it was) I keep thinking about the service. On three occasions, our water glasses sat empty on the table for 10 minutes while distracted waiters rushed to and fro until the sommelier (always the sommelier) noticed on his first pass. By the third time, I started to feel sorry for him – he seemed like an overworked school teacher trying desperately to get his students to learn. He wasn’t alone – each area seemed to have one experienced hand guiding several… um… less professional helpers, but when I think about Tetsuya’s (or Per Se, or Allinea), I can’t help but think "Nope. Sorry Pete."
I’m glad we went. And those desserts were truly wonderful. But next time we’re in Sydney we’ll be trying for a table at Tets’ again.
Raw Chinese artichokes, Hiramasa kingfish, smoked eel, horseradish, nasturtiums, octopus, pickled kohlrabi, egg white & radish flower
Sashimi tuna, sea scallop, crab, smoked eel, octopus
Crisp confit of pig belly,
green lipped abalone and cuttlefish, handmade silken tofu, Japanese mushrooms, chive flowers
Butter poached coturnix quail breast,
Pumpernickel, morel and ethical foie gras pudding, golden tapioca, quinoa, truffle custard, milk skin
Berkshire pig jowl,
maltose crackling, prunes, cauliflower cream, perfumed with prune kernel oil
Slow cooked crisp Suffolk lamb belly,
Pantelleria capers, nasturtiums, purslane, artichoke emulsion, bergamot jam
White nectarine snow egg
Eight texture chocolate cake featuring Amedei Chocolate
2003 Chehalem Pinot Noir (Oregon) ~$180