Friday, 21 December 2012

I must say, I have been rather diligent these last couple days. I can foresee the storm of posts coming after my trip to Spain so I'm mentally preparing myself by clearing the decks, so to speak. Biota Dining is situated in Bowral, nestled in the Southern Highlands of NSW. En route back to Sydney we made a little detour which definitely paid dividends. 

Bienvenue! You know you're in the country when you actually have space for a sign out the front.

Opening in the third quarter of last year, executive chef and co-owner James Viles and the team have already been awarded two chef's hats (16/20as well as the Good Living Sustainability Award by the SMH Good Food Guide 2013. It was also ranked within the Top 100 restaurants by the Australian Gourmet Traveller for 2013 (at #100 mind you, but I'll pay that). 

Lightbulb moment - totally don't know why I haven't been here earlier. If you like the relaxed country vibe you should definitely make a visit. The Welcome Party (right): upon arrival you are greeted by the Biota Kitchen Garden (to which we don't have access to, shame!), two extremely well fed geese and a flock of ducks.
The thing that struck me right away was how spacious the grounds were. Apart from the main dining room there was also a private dining room, a more casual lounge bar as well as a terrace overlooking the 'pond' and garden. I was actually inclined to roam around before our meals were served so I did take the liberty...

Finally, a restaurant with some decent lighting i.e. sensible! If there's one word to describe this design it would be organic. That or "flowy". The kitchen was in plain view and at any one time there were always 2+ chefs plating alone. It was tweezer heaven over there (more on that later). On the right side of the pass sit three massive blocks of pink salt - quite the showpiece!
The menu works like this, there is no à la carte as such - the minimum you can order is 3 courses. The plates are between entrée and main size and you pick which dishes you like from an impressive list of 12 dishes. Oh, decisions! There was a pretty clear delineation between what was considered an entrée or main (+/- slab of protein) but there aren't any rules! You can go for 3 savoury or 2 savoury + one sweet. There were also the options of having a 5 or 7 course degustation but these were both 'set' already. I'm sure the portions would be greatly reduced as well (not a bad thing when you're still facing 5 to go). 

'Amuse' me. An amuse bouche of pecorino marshmallows.  Certainly something different, and awesome. The texture was gorgeous, beautifully light and fluffy and the cheesiness was not too overpowering. This was also served with some crusty whole meal rolls and some freshly churned butter.

Local sheep milk curd, new season asparagus, hen yolk and smoked rye. I am SO glad I ordered this little baby, I had been tossing up whether to order another seafood dish (I'm such a fiend). Well thank GOD! Once you delight in bursting the egg yolk, you are met with a translucently thin sheet of pasta cloaking the white asparagus stalks & creamy sheep's milk curd (with just the amount of resistance, in texture).I just cannot fault the execution here, it was done so, so well. Love the cute little bandaid-shaped slither of ham. Hands down favourite dish of the day

Charred hanger, licorice root caramel, garden beets and horseradish. A beautiful looking dish, we were wondering what the vegetables on the left were, unusual looking things but they were definitely beets! The beef, which had been cooked for so long was meltingly tender. You needed only a fork to see that.

Something that was almost immediately obvious to me was how the kitchen would call wait staff for service. A chef would 'clap' twice for them, and then minutes later a waiter would come scurrying to the kitchen. There is something inherently wrong in this. Not only is it plain out rude (we do live in the 21st C people, not in the dark ages) but it was extremely off-putting for me and I'd assume other diners. What ever happened to ringing a good ol' bell?! They have a point of difference here that does not do them any favours.

White corn dumplings, mushrooms, truffle, puffed grains and spring onions (left) and Burrawong duck, cauliflower, white raisins and pear & pine needles (right). Apologies for the miniaturized photos, I thought I could save some space here! The dumpling were completely moorish, served in a lovely, clean broth. The dumplings were filled with a lovely puree of corn that brought out all its natural sweetness. Divine. Now under all those pine needles, I mean talk about intricate work (!) was the duck breast. There were some inconsistencies here (3 ducks came to our table of 4!), where the fat was not completely rendered and hence, not crispy enough. 

Brooke trout, summer squash, samphire, truffle sand and mussels. My baby, another astonishment in the plating department. It would probably take as much time to plate as to prepare some of the dishes, I mean DANG. My fillet of trout was the bed for a couple of mussels, discs of zucchini, roe and old mate, samphire (which incidentally I saw at the grocer for the first time last week!).  The trout was cooked beautifully, as you'd come to expect now! I didn't pick up my knife, until I was trying to get every skerrick of fish onto my fork! I will say though that with all the accoutrements of the dish it did get rather salty. What with the truffle sand (salty), roe (salty) and samphire (sea salty) it got all a bit too much by the end. I'm loathe to leave anything on the plate but truffle salt was my sacrifice. More truffle in there might have done the trick ;)

And most importantly, DOLCE.

Cherries & their juice, almond milk tofu, white grape & eucalyptus sorbet. I must say the wobbly cylinder of almond infused tofu looked great. Pity I couldn't steal any haha

Sweetened root vegetables, chocolate, artichoke ice cream, warm carrot sponge. My dessert, you know me - fan of 'savoury' desserts that I am. The stand out on this plate was THE artichoke ice cream, for sure. The aerated white chocolate provided the perfect sweet note to balance out the dish. The block of carrot at the bottom of the dish was a bit clunky, it was a massive chunk that was steamed (?) but I found it very bland and wrong for the dish. Maybe a ribbon or two would suffice.
So there you go, my impressions on Biota Dining. The moderately new kid on the block, making waves in regional NSW. A few flaws in the running of the restaurant (clapping?!) are almost completely offset by spectacular food at its core. The dishes were bold, experimental and looked like fine art. Pat Nourse of Australian Gourmet Traveller writes, "leaves just about every other country New South Wales contender for dead". They are definitely on to something.

Thanks for reading and merry christmas folks! xo
Biota Dining on Urbanspoon

Edible gifts: Almond Biscotti

Thursday, 20 December 2012

This is possibly the easiest recipe I know and if you're stuck for gift ideas this year (um, who isn't?!) then this is your ticket! For these almond biscotti there are only 5 ingredients involved, so you can't go wrong. Stunning with a cup of coffee for arvo tea these biscotti have been a favourite with my family for years. I have always taken issue for paying big bucks for things you can easily make at home and this is one such example. One batch can easily be divided as gifts for 3-4 people :)

The 'problem' is that once you start, you can't stop! I'm sounding like a pringles advert aren't I...

3/4 cup raw caster sugar
2 eggs
2 cups plain flour
1 cup of almonds (I have used toasted almonds here, but feel free to use whichever - I have also had biscotti dreams of a pistachio version...gah!)
1/2 tspn baking powder (use just under this quantity)

1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees C
2. Whisk together eggs and sugar
3. Sift flour and baking powder and add to egg/sugar mixture
4. Add in almonds and stir to combine
5. Divide mixture into two and form 2 logs (you may need a floured bench for this part)
6. Bake logs for 25 minutes or until golden brown and springy
7. Cool for 1 hour until hardened. Preheat oven to 140 degrees close to the end of cooling time. Then cut into thin slices (use a serrated knife!)
8. Lie biscotti on tray and cook for 6 minutes on each side at 140 degrees C

And you're done!

Hope you find this recipe as handy as I have. Enjoy it and thanks for reading! xo

Aren't they adorable ;)

Snapshot: Canberra cafés

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

So as promised, here is the post on my favourite cafés in Canberra. I feel a bit like a broken record whenever I report it's slim pickings here but in the past couple of years a few saving graces have come up. Three to be precise!

Lonsdale Steet Roasters

7 Lonsdale Street, Braddon

Good ol' Lonsdale St Roasters. This is my old trusty in Canberra and I have eaten/coffee-d here on numerous occasions. A little slice of Melbourne has reached Lonsdale St, the quirky interior decor with bikes hanging off the walls, magnetic letter menu and mismatched canvas cushions make it a good place to while away the hours. I love to flick through the Canberra times (flicking is all that is required) at the big table by the window, coffee in hand. Not much can beat that!

Not enough: LSR needs two coffee machines to keep Canberrans content and caffeine fuelled. Me included.

LSR has turned into a hipster hang out, with Canberra's highest concentration of mustaches and tattoo sleeves under one roof. It's disorientating, everybody looks the same! A word of warning, going early in the morning when you are likely to run into hoards of hardcore cyclists or hitting the lunch hour peak (pram gridlock) you are at peril of not getting a table. Heaven forbid you have to WAIT.

Panini: the holy grail of LSR. All my ramblings about the suckling pig roll @ Wilbur's Place got me thinking I should at least show you what the competition was. Presenting...

At your discretion: Cuban slow roasted pork chipotle and coriander panini ($12). Oh yes, I order this panini every time I can. Yes, once you slather on the chipotle and add the jalapenos you feel like your head might explode but i love it anyway. Bring an antacid.

Notes on coffee: it's nice to find a venue that sources and roasts their own beans. LSR pride themselves on offering a different single origin coffee or blend everyday, just to mix it up. It is this precise practice that makes the coffee a bit hit and miss. Some coffees are just better than others here. At times you are hit with such a bitter taste in the mouth that I need to add sugar to my cap. A cardinal sin, if ever there was one. Having tried their beans at home, I reckon the coffee blends actually have better depth. I know there's all this hype about Single Origin beans coming from the same farm etc but that's just my personal preference.

Writing's on the wall - there's something not quite right about the grammar here, do you actually 'commit' nuisance? Anywho...


40 Marcus Clarke St, Canberra

What a relief, uni students rejoice! What constitutes a quick coffee between classes need not be a s*** one. Harvest is a dinky place that does good coffee. The Canberran suits are testament to this, lining up from 7am onwards to get their fix (triple shot skinny flat white?) to get them through the a.m. Food is the usual pastry cabinet affair so don't expect a proper lunch from here (i.e. go to LSR).

For show: the counter at Harvest. I haven't actually seen the siphons been used before. All this talk about siphon coffee being milder/weaker put me off for good! Photo credit: Harvest Coffee

Decor is simple and distinctly Melbournian (again), I think they've been doing rather well and are now trading on Saturdays - good on them! They have recently extended their outdoor seating arrangements so you can enjoy the sunshine and sit on Chewbacca and other assorted wildlife, lovingly painted onto their stools.

Awesome: Chewie stool at Harvest, artwork by Tom Farrell. Photo credit: Harvest Coffee 

Silo Bakery

36 Giles St, Kingston

Not many eateries in Canberra can boast a cheese room but Silo is one exception. This little gem in Kingston faces even worse congestion problems than LSR, particularly on weekends. Go early in the morning or late in the afternoon, buy take away if you can! Desperate times.

Bragging rights: the climate controlled cheese display. Photo credit: Coffee and Chairs

There are a couple of things worth trying out here including the Chicken Caesar Roll - that's if you can even get your paws on one. Everything sells like hot cakes at this place, but they also have an à la carte menu if you can spare the minutes. The sourdough loaves are also not to be sniffed at, but best eaten fresh - obviously. All this queuing, everywhere in Canberra says something doesn't it? Canberrans are crying out for a half decent latte and chocolate croissant. Any budding cafe owners/barista types should hop on that bandwagon and set up shop - no kidding. 

Silo's Lychee and Peach tart. A nice little sweet, easily shared by 2. Thin pastry and smooth vanilla custard make it quite a treat.

So there we are! The Canberra café wrap-up - hope you can put it to good use on your travels.

Thanks for reading!
Love, Gourmand.
Lonsdale Street Roasters 23 on Urbanspoon

The Artisan

Monday, 17 December 2012

Well, here we are. Already in the festive season with Xmas, my birthday and a trip to Spain (hellO) not far away now! For your reading pleasure I have decided to pen slash write a few posts bringing the nation's capital to you. Known for its wiiide tree-lined avenues, the never ending round-a-bouts and algae-riddled Lake Burley Griffin, this. is. Canberra.

Before anyone jumps to conclusions about Canberra itself (oh wait, you already have), how it's a haven (or hole) for pubes, pollies, uni students etc etc. I'd like it to be able to stake its claim on the dining scene. So here's my test drive of a little suburban restaurant doing its thing at the Narrabundah shops. The Artisan first hit my radar when The Australian published its 50 Hottest Restaurants in Australia article back in July. This restaurant was the only to be listed from the ACT. Represent. Not long after, I was assigned a uni placement very close by and so almost everyday for a fortnight i would walk past the place and catch glimpses of the menu on display. Spanner crab and saffron tortellini? Hells YES.

Their baby. Chef Sam McGeechan and David Black opened The Artisan 2 years ago and have become a local favourite. Photo credit: The Australian

In usual Gourmand fashion, I have finally arrived at the intended destination a mere 5 months later. We were lucky to get a last minute booking just after a cancellation had been made - just our luck! The dining room is an elegant, though pared back affair. No table cloths, just simple dark timber tables with your beautiful Riedel glassware. My dining party and I were shown to a table (with window seat, hurrah) by co-owner David Black. Without hesitation, I promptly ordered a Gypsy Pear Cider (deciding to forgo the treacherous territory of the wine list). For more on my wine list failings click here.

Let's cut to the chase now and in quick succession, here were the night's culinary proceedings:

Shredded braised beef cheek in roasted red pepper consomme with coriander salsa ($19). This dish was served in two parts, the consomme poured over the pile of beef cheek to literally rehydrate it. Without the consomme the beef would have been very dry. I think the texture would have been nicer if the cheek was kept in its entirety and cooked till max tenderness, lol. I want to shred it with my fork! The broth had an acidic tang that I presume was from the capsicum.

Pan seared scallops with corn puree, crisp speck and spiced popcorn. This was a cute little entrée. The elements marry very well together, the only downfall was that the scallops were slightly over (I so wanted them to do it right!), especially little mate on the far left :( The crispy speck and popcorn added a nice textural element.

Pure Black eye fillet with potato soufflé, Terra Preta truffle butter and port jus ($35). The only comment I'll make was that the potato soufflé had a strong hint of cheese (cheddar maybe?) there that may not be to everyone's taste. Apologies for the blur, my macro setting was doing odd things.

The Cassoulet: slow braised pork cheek, toulouse sausage and white bean with pork loin and kale ($33). I can imagine how comforting a dish like this would be on a frosty winter's evening. In Summer? Maybe not so much but it was a good dish none-the-less. The cassoulet stew (to be poured onto the pork) itself looked delish!

What else but the Artisan crafted spanner crab and saffron tortellini, lobster and chive beurre blanc ($29). I had my eye on the prize as soon as we decided to come the restaurant, obviously. The tortellini look a treat but I must say the pasta was a little bit too thick! Especially in the parts where it is folded and doubled up - such a shame! The flavours were there though and the beurre blanc was happily mopped up. I would have liked the crab to be a little bit chunkier - after the Sixpenny precedent was set for crab (MY GOD).

This takes me back! Artisan's take on the Wagon Wheel: layers of biscuit, marshmallow, raspberry jam and peanut praline with dark chocolate ganache ($14). Again, the ganache was poured onto the wagon wheel to great effect. Drool worthy! And thank goodness for the fresh raspberries on top!

Crème brulée: vanilla bean custard with burnt sugar, brioche toast and mango lassi ($14). This dessert was given the thumbs up in The Australian article and I won't rain on The Artisan's parade here. It is a decent crème brulée with lashings of vanilla beans through it (be sure to mix it up before you dig into the custard). The sugar crust was slightly thick and I may have caused some damage in crunching through that but hey, who gives. The lassi was a very pleasant surprise, the spices such as cardamom + pistachio were something different to cut through that sweeet toffee layer. The brioche was so rendered superfluous but eaten anyway (duh).

All in all I was a moderately happy customer after dining at The Artisan. I was very pleased with the front of house staff, the waiters were friendly and attentive. None of this Sydney down-the-nose tomfoolery. There were a few little things there that made them fall just short of the mark for me to be dolling out the praise they deserve. They are, however certainly making their mark on the Canberra dining scene. Goodness knows we need more places like this over there!

Thanks for reading! xo

P.S. Stay tuned when I review my favourite cafe in Canberra! It is a terribly kept secret but, meh!
The Artisan on Urbanspoon


Monday, 3 December 2012

Ahoy hoy!
Just a quickie from me today ;)
Apologies for my absence (did ya miss me?), I have been off galavanting in the Pacific (more on that later). Earlier this week I finally had a chance to check out a cafe that is literally in my hood (5 minute walk anyone?). That would be La Casa de Wilbur a.k.a Wilbur's Place, in Potts Point.

Sydney, becoming more 'Melbournified' by the second has seen a flurry of cafes and bars opening in impossible to find laneways. Laneways? In Sydney? Never!! WP is about the size of 3 holes in the wall. With some bar seating inside and 3 communal tables outside, I am positive that there'd be standing room only on Saturday or Sunday mornings. Lucky it was a Thursday ;) Named after the Piggy in Charlotte's Web, Wilbur's was opened by the crew behind Bourke Street Bakery. Looks like they've struck again!

Great things come in small packages. Perched upon a stool inside, you are at a perfect vantage point to watch the comings and goings of Potts Point. Loove it! Source: Wilbur's Place

But wait, it gets better! Not only do they do an all-day brekkie on Saturdays, they also open for dinner AND have a liquor license (boom)! Another patron was heard saying (not that quietly) that they had polished off seven bottles of wine there one night. Err...kudos? So the cafe-cum-bar diner is born!

Now what would a cafe visit be without a coffee? Pointless.

A soy latte was on the cards I think. The coffee was great, ticking all the right boxes. How cool is the polaroid effect? I've discovered this awesome app. If you hadn't guessed by now, I'm pretty old school (note school, not skool)!

Salad of the day: chicken with green grapes, frisée lettuce and fregola. Ain't it pretty? I haven't actually tried fregola before *gasp* but I'd love to some day. Maybe next time?

Oh em GEEE@! Sheer genius: the suckling pig roll, mustard pickles, dill mayo & pickles. Me and it are a match made in heaven... I've had a few pork sandwiches in my time, the pulled pork roll by The Table Sessions @ Pyrmont markets, the Cuban slow roasted pork panini @ Lonsdale Street Roasters (frontrunner in the Canberra cafe 'stakes') and this one. They all run a tight race but I think this snatches it by a whisker. It was really, truly delicioso! The crackling on the top + the pickles seal. the. deal.

It wouldn't be me if I didn't include a dessert to end a post. I am determined to set things right so here we are! It would've been rude not to order the famed ice cream sandwich that I had heard so many (good) things about.

Talk about packing a wallop! This was quite a big ask to put this one away at lunch time (yes, even for me). Presenting: toasted brioche ice cream sandwich with caramel. Carefully divided, we picked at this with spoons to reveal a lovely chunky cookies and cream ice. The brioche was sliced thin enough to be able to enjoy the filling more. The sweet caramel gave it a terrific sheen (and extra sweetness, as if we needed it)! I was rather glad to be sharing this one.

Well! What can I say other than I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Wilbur a little better, what with his old school taste in music e.g. Louis Armstrong and wide open windows (all the better for us to people watch through)! Cheap and cheerful triumphs in the Inner East.

Thanks for reading! xo
Wilbur's Place on Urbanspoon


Wednesday, 21 November 2012

I must be a sucker for punishment.
This was going to be my 2nd degustation in 2 days. Yep, I must be mad. Presenting, gastronomic blowout #4!

I was headed to Sepia to celebrate a friend's birthday. Yes, Sixpenny would be a hard act to follow but how could one refuse? It would be rude not to. Anyway, the timing was impeccable. Sepia is just one of those restaurants, easily up there with Sydney big-guns Marque & Quay. I have always wanted to go there and now I had my chance. I was going for the culinary (degustation) trifecta. Wish me luck!

The grand entrance: great big double doors welcome you into one of Sydney's culinary institutions. Photo credit: KE-ZU

Since opening in 2009, the Sepia mantlepiece has gotten rather crowded with all those hats and stars jostling for position. Sepia has retained 3 hats (SMH Good Food Guide) for the past 2 years and bespectacled Chef Martin Benn has previously been Chef of the Year (Good Food Guide 2011). Numerous Young Chefs of the Year have also issued from Sepia's doors. More recently Sepia was named #3 restaurant (after Marque & Quay, funnily enough) in the country by Australian Gourmet Traveller Magazine (2013). I could go on forever here but I'll spare you ;)

The dining room was a relatively simple affair, dark timber dining tables (on the larger side, I felt I was leaning in all the time) and comfortable chairs. I was surprised that we were 'sans' tablecloths here, but that's fine. Times are a changin' and laundering bills can cost a mint! And I wouldn't be dining in Australia if it wasn't very very dark in the restaurant (um, someone here would really like to be able to see the food?) ...that box was well and truly ticked.

The first obstacle was hit when were each given a wine list to leisurely "peruse". Jeepers, the thing was a 36-page tome. Thanks must go to Sommelier of the Year, Rodney Setter (Good Food Guide 2013)! Scheiße. I was way out of my depth here. So I had no hesitation in enlisting the help of the trusty sommelier. HELP! I'm quite easily convinced when it comes to wine recommendations. Must go to more wine tastings to fix this...

My dining companions hopped on board to tackle the degustation with matched wines. I abstained, not wanting to do myself in after last night's feasting episode. The Riedel glasses were on high rotation at our table (that is a heck of a lot of washing up). The sommelier was an extremely busy man, dashing like a headless chook between tables and was kitted out with a very impressive looking trolley decked out with decanters, ice buckets, half opened bottles and candle (??). Prior to each wine course, we would get a little spiel, where they came from (we traversed the globe many times over) and with way too many adjectives. I was also straining to hear as they verbal diarrhoed (ah, lol) at an almighty pace. A lot of the descriptions were way over my head - oaky and fruity I can grasp but 'silky' and 'notes of spice'? Sorry pal, but I'm out.

Let me give you a run down of our night (all 10 courses of it)!
1. Reverse nigiri, toro, soy wasabi, sushi rice, nori - the ultimate amuse to get us going. This little tuna morsel was delicious, might we have more? The Japanese style is miles away from the contemporary Australian of last night but I can't complain!

2. Kingfish bacon, citrus soy, olive oil, smoked trout roe - a little Heston trickery to throw into the mix. The roe was da bomb (English has suddenly escaped me). 

3. Beetroot butter, sheep milk chèvre, rhubarb, apple balsamic, rye, goat milk crisp - so so pretty. The creaminess of the beetroot butter/puree and the cheese was divine. Unfortunately we were given the wrong dining implements, a clunking Japanese wooden spoon to tackle this dish...uh how do I eat this?

My my my, ain't it stunning? The shards are too cool for school.

4. Poached Queensland tiger prawn skinn, white asparagus, samphire, sea parsley, hijiki citrus dashi - the texture of the prawn completely blew my mind. I'm definitely admiring the amount of work that has gone into this. 

My socks were just knocked off. I was a bit chuffed when I recognised the samphire garnish - boo yeah.

As we were getting into the swing of things we noticed that were had some very enthusiastic waiters. We heard "Sorry to interrupt" many times as the degustation rolled on. Otherwise it all went very smoothly. Have I used the well-oiled-machine analogy too many times now? At times the wait staff were so anxious to explain the dish that they were jittery and bumbling a little. I was tempted to tell them to calm down a little! It is O-K. I'm sure people don't mind slash care too much.

 5. Glazed and smoked freshwater eel, yuzu curd, green almonds, tapioca, licorice watercress and nasturtium = my favourite so far. I'm such a sucker for an eel dish. The yuzu curd was a sort of lemon curd that worked really well, surprisingly. The tapioca pearls (old mate), give a little nod to the Snapper @ Gastro Park.

Le Eel, C'est chic: a photo captured in no-light conditions can't do this dish justice I'm afraid.

 6. Saikyo miso braised pork belly, Corella pear, pickled water chestnuts, spanner crab and crackling, garlic flowers - this dish comes a very close second. The textures of the pork and the water chestnuts are bang on (to borrow a Jamie Oliver-esque phrase).

Each dish was but a 'taster' but you had so many flavours for your palate to contend with, it's quite unbelievable.

7. Seared rolled David Blackmore wagyu beef, chestnut mushrrom, roasted red onion juice, onion cream, wasabi, fried potato and kombu crumb, citrus soy -  served with a salad of micro greens on the side (with this adorable little wooden tongs), this wagyu was naturally cooked very well. The potato crumb was a nice addition but there wasn't much else to recommend here - the eel and pork were too good!

The rather tiny main event: the boys were dismayed at the meagre portioning of this dish i.e. where's the rest of it/my steak?! 

8. Pre-dessert #1: Caramelized honey mousse, lemon sorbet, camomile and lemon granita, white chocolate and toasted oats - sounds like a lot but it's all rather compact in a degustation. A nice palette cleanser for us to soldier on!

9. Pre-dessert #2: Mulberries, pineapple, buttermilk and tarragon, shortbread - a great combination. You don't see mulberries around all that much!

10. IT. What a way to finish, with the famed "Spring Chocolate Forest". Soft chocolate, hazelnut and almond, rose geranium cream, sour cherry sorbet, blackberry jellies, green tea, licorice, chocolate twigs... Did you get that? This is Sepia's most triumphant dessert, striking a delicate balance of sweetness with bountiful varieties of textures. For the birthday girl, a single candle was lit on plate with a piped chocolate "Happy Birthday" on the rim! I'm sure they get a lot of birthdays/occasions, why else would you be at Sepia? The candied dill (white speckled stuff) was a nice touch. The sorbet and those little perfectly cut cubes of jelly have got to be my favourite. I'm very sensitive to 'sweet' at the moment and by the end of all that chocolate soil I was hitting struggle town. But the show must go on!

The one and only: the perfect exclamation mark to end a fabulous meal. Like a dessert artwork, it was hard to know where to start (yeah, not really).

And in the blink of an eye, it was all over! What felt like only 2 hours was more like 4 (a positive marathon in food circles!). The food was very pleasing, to say the least. Benn's dishes follow that Japanese philosophy of precision, technique and the pursuit of perfection (pretty damn close!). For a time we sat looking at one other and smiling, luxuriating in all that food gloriousness we had just experienced. I was totally won over. Surprise surprise, I was not actually that full. I must be adapting to this way of dining (danger!). The matched wines might have tipped me over the edge  into treacherous food coma territory. 

When we got the bill, there were several discreetly gaping mouths. At least I came prepared! Paying such astronomical sums for dinner is rather a guilty pleasure. I could get used to this, when my salary drastically increases that is. I found it hilarious that there was a strategically placed ATM en route to the bathrooms. So if on receiving the bill you're suddenly feeling nauseous...! Thank goodness they also gave us a copy of the menu (could not have done the post without it!). We were ushered out of the restaurant at close to midnight - crazy (good)Now that I've had a (another) proper taste for fine dining, I might not be able to go back. Oh well!

Thanks for reading! x
Sepia on Urbanspoon


Tuesday, 13 November 2012

So here we are, I have bitten the bullet and gone to my first restaurant degustation (my last was a pop-up, and a great one at that). And so I have revived the series of 'Gastronomic Blowout' posts that I started in Melbs last year. Brace yourselves ;)

There are no prizes for guessing this one, we went to Stanmore's new addition Sixpenny. Just past Newtown, there aren't a whole lot of things the suburb can recommend for itself - but here's a good place to start! Owner-chefs James Parry and Daniel Puskas (ex Oscillate Wildly) have opened this degustation only restaurant much to the delight of foodies and critics alike. Stepping away from their Michelin starred and hatted roots, they have branched out to start this venture. When Mr Durack gave it 16/20 back in March, it went straight on my hit-list and eight months later, I've made it!

Situated on a corner block on Percival Rd, we were met with a closed door, and walls draped with sheer white terylene curtains. The restaurant is rather tiny (in a good way) to seat about 35. There's also a separate dining area for 8 (I assume 'out the back'). Being one of the first tables to arrive (I feel old), we were sat at a round walnut table with matching chairs (comfy!). The dining room had a rather Scandinavian feel about it (no complaints here) but with  distinct touches of Australiana, the native flowers at the waiter's station (which is right front and centre) and the botanical prints hung on a green wall panel.

Not bad, if I do say so myself (my photo + the dining room)!

All in all the design is quite pared back and understated, which I think rather suits the kind of food that was to be served. The soundtrack was very welcome featuring the likes of Radiohead and Feist and thank god it wasn't blaring because I don't like to shout. Trust me to notice but the wine glasses were crystal by Plumm, an Australian company to rival the Austrians (looking square at you, Riedel). And the crockery by Bendigo Pottery (est. 1858), something tells me that this was a very deliberate move to support local industry and I applaud that.

We settled on ordering the 'Tasting Menu', 5 to 6 courses. It was a good introduction as "My First Degustation", the big kids version is 8 courses (maybe next time??). To start the night off we were given some 'snacks', 5 to be exact. In addition we also had house made sourdough with mascarpone butter (I was in two-minds about indulging the bread but decided I had to seeing as it was made on site) as well as some Kipfler potato chips which were made from the skins alone, and paper thin - you've got to try those! 

To start you off: an onion pickle with verjuice (hmm, still a bit too onion-ey i thought) and rye toast with fresh cheese. I am so glad we started miniature here (we will also end in miniature but I'll get to that ;) )

The potato scallop: you know that anything with the words potato and fried in it is good but these puffy golden discs were delicious! The light dusting of chicken skin salt was the perfect seasoning

Pork knuckle sandwich: it could only be on mini brioche toasts, right? The apple and bergamot jelly was a nice touch 
Waste not, the duck tongue with jus. Once you get the past the fact it's tongue, you'll be delighted to know it just tastes like duck, without any toughness or chewiness. It was cooked right and that's always a good start
Et maintenant Mesdames et Messieurs, we get to the main event (that's pretty much the extent of my French these days, shame)! In case you didn't already know, here's how it works at Sixpenny: the chefs do double duty and serve your dishes, explaining each course as they go. It must be completely interruptive in the kitchen but it really is a lovely touch and does not go unappreciated. Sometimes it was all rather mystifying with the volume of information, but I tried to keep my ears peeled. 

The amuse = Sixpenny's fruit salad. This dish consisted of scrolls of grilled peach filled with ricotta, translucent slithers of green peach, milk chips and a lemony micro herb garnish, all drizzled with pear juice. A rather ingenious use of a mandolin here I think.
This is IT. The famed spanner crab, silky macadamia and chamomile with macadamia shavings. Look, the degustation could have finished here and I would have been happy. M had been looking forward to this singular dish for months and I tell you, we were not disappointed. At first I thought it was an early dessert (well,  alright then) but the plating had been tweaked slightly (for the better i think!). An early high note for the evening, the crab meat was 1. real (and I love the generosity here) 2. creamy and smooth 3. accented with macadamia. Done. We can all go home now

The complimentary course (read: AWESOME!) - seared sea mullet with toasted walnut, dressed lightly with mead vinegar/buttermilk. In the dying light I was just able to capture it.
In the few minutes that we were able to chat to Dan, they're open 5.5 days a week (Sunday is lunch service only) and the other two days, they're at the farm in Mittagong. I imagine in my head a rather idyllic kitchen garden where they grow all their herbs and vegies - I'm rather jealous I must say! How immensely satisfying it must be to grow and cook all your own produce. Living the dream people ;)

And here we have the poached snapper fillet with pumpkin seed cream and soft leeks with a pepita (pumpkin) seed and sea salt crumb. Apologies it's almost blurred beyond recognition! It's always a good sign when you can eat a fish dish without a knife, and this was no exception. The pumpkin in the cream was a really nice accompaniment for a melt-in-your-mouth soft finish. P.S. i could taste the butter off of those leeks (eep!) but I'll let that pass because the fish was so so good...

It was also interesting to note how 'in time' everyone moved, as if it were choreographed. As the night went on and the dining room became progressively fuller and noisier (proportional to collective alcohol consumption), the chefs would maintain a calm exterior but the pace would subtly quicken. The gaps between courses would get a little bit longer but I have no qualms about that. We all needed a little moment to rest and digest. One good thing about eating/starting earlier is that you get to 'preview' all the dishes before everyone else. As others would commence the degustation, you knew what they were getting next and could gauge their reactions! A little voyeuristic of me I know, but it felt like a very shared experience.

And den? Suffolk leg of lamb with sweet blackened onions, grilled baby leek and  garnished with saltbush and chickweed. Men breathed a sigh of relief at seeing a proper piece of protein. Degustation being the name of the game, you can't expect to put away a 250 grammer right in the thick of it. No thanks! Anyway, the lamb was tender and cooked well although others found it to be slightly chewy
And then came the sweeties...huzzah!

Sticky rhubarb which reminded me so much of Haw Flakes i.e. "saan zaa beng" - the fruity discs that I used to scoff as a child. YUM! Also, meringue with lemon, chamomile and honey ice - a delicious mouthful. My only wish was that there were more ;)

Only my favourite: green strawberry poached in rosella (wild hibiscus) soup (ty, Don Burke) and ginger sorbet. Pretty as a picture on that orange plate! That sorbet was incredible - the lack of sweetness   sits very well with me and it was so light. 

It might not look like much but this was Sixpenny's milo ice cream. Fans of the old milo McFlurry (ew) look no further. This version included a rye ice cream that was like eating clouds. Barely churned, this is what I want from my (future) ice cream maker...yes, please. My only note here would be that the serving was too large and not quite in keeping with the rest. Maybe a quinelle (on the larger side, of course) would suffice?
As the meal was reaching its end *sigh* I ordered a fresh leaf lemon myrtle tea. It was something different (I'm always game), and picked fresh off the farm no doubt. Me and my little glass teapot for 2, what luxury!

Petits-Fours: Sixpenny's Arnotts cookie jar (plus lamingtons) already has a legion (maybe?) of fans. Pick your favourite from the pint sized monte carlos, kingstons, delta creams and gingernut biccies. Don't mind if I do! The green lidded jar (Bendigo Pottery strikes again) was adorable as well.
So close to three hours later we had traipsed our way across a 6 cum 7 course degustation (plus extras!) - it was epic (kind of like this post, eh) and completely wonderful. Sixpenny has forged a name and character for itself in its not even one year of existence. It has earnt one hat in the 2013 SMH GFG and named this year's Hot Talent in the Time Out Food Awards. Hopefully we'll be seeing the rise and rise of these guys in years to come!  

To top it all off, we were given doggy bags packed with a couple of loaves of Sixpenny sourdough, "for breakfast the next day". Swooning. Right. Now. So the degustation continues on! I am in awe with the amount of care and consideration that has gone not only into the menu but also gestures of goodwill like this one 

In the end, I surprised myself in that I wasn't too full (granted I had very strategic portion control during the day but no matter). I enjoyed this evening to the fullest, being a celebration of several things ;) And it may sound ridiculous (perhaps not) but I didn't want to leave! I felt so at home and would have happily spent longer there had I not been coaxed out the door by my company. Once they did get me outside, I was riding a high & couldn't wipe the grin off my face! It had to be a winner.

Thanks for reading xo


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