Last year, Sepia won Sydney’s Restaurant of the Year. It’s popularity since that win has deservedly increased to the point that it now opens for lunch on Saturdays. You can only order the tasting menu which includes some signature dishes but the chefs are also given carte blanche to create new dishes that may one day make it to the permanent menu. I was expecting foam to make an appearance and I was not disappointed.
The restaurant itself is elegantly refined, an ode to the fine dining establishments that were once Sydney’s mainstay only to be replaced by the post-GFC comfort food evolution. It’s a testament to Sepia’s head chef that the restaurant has become so popular having spawned during that transition. The unusual location of the toilets in the food court next door is the only glitch in Sepia’s impressive design. But to the food.
The chargrilled miso beef tenderloin with nameko mushroom and braised barley (pictured below) was a highlight. The garlic chips, miso mustard and especially the smoked bone marrow made this dish linger on the palate long after the plates were cleared away. Intriguing to admire and exceptional to taste, the sashimi of yellow fin interweaved with Iberico Jamon into a cube of mixed flesh and topped with a poached quail egg bordered on a work of art. It was showy, thoughtful and surprising at the same time and it was the reason we were here.
The only problem with experimentation is that sometimes it doesn’t come off. Other times, though, it works perfectly. Take for instance the roasted New Zealand scampi with shellfish custard (top picture) that was paired with aniseed-type flavours through the use of fennel and licorice. It was beautifully multi-textured and the flavours worked gently with one another, a yin to each of their yangs.
Compare this to the butter poached marron tail with yuzu emulsion combined with flowering garlic chives, sprouting lentils, watercress… you get the idea. The focus of the dish appeared to be the contrasts, the textures. The result was too busy and too obviously aesthetic to be considered truly a culinary achievement. That’s not to say that it wasn’t tasty, it just wasn’t restaurant of the year tasty.
The matching wines were nothing short of incredible with the sommelier very much stealing the limelight. Presented knowledgeably and with nerd-like love, every wine enhanced and enriched the food. The story behind each inebriant was especially memorable and pushed our lunch from just eating to joyfully experiencing.
The final dish of the day, excluding the petit fours, was also the best. The now famous Summer Chocolate Forest (pictured above) is the food equivalent of exploring Machu Picchu. The first thing that strikes you is the view: an egg of sour cherry sorbet balanced on blackberry candy, green tea, licorice and chocolate masquerading as twigs and leaves. As you dig deeper, richness abounds with soft chocolate, praline and lavender cream truly redefining your depth of flavour. Taking only small tastes is the only way to reduce sensory overload.
Sepia did not disappoint. However, if I had my time over again, I would choose the standard degustation rather than the Saturday lunch special to avoid the odd blip. It remains a dynamic showcase of Martin Benn’s talent, which is remarkable, and it will undoubtedly retain it’s high regard in the foodie community. Mr Benn even came out afterwards to say hello and ask what we liked: brownie points were plentiful.
201 Sussex Street
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9283 1990
There is something to be said about those guys. You know, the ones that renovated The Flinders, that brought life to The Norfolk, that made The Carrington a foodie destination and that transformed The Abercrombie into more than just a student hangout. And that something, well, it’s usually a good something. The Forresters as the new kid on the block is hardly an exception.
The Forresters was never a bad pub. Pre-makeover the $5 steaks were a winner and you’d be pleased if it were your local. Somehow though, it just never had that X factor that Sydney seems to now demand. The makeover adds the pizazz that was missing and lo and behold you’re waiting 10 minutes to get a drink. But that’s a bit harsh.
A lot of thought has gone into the menu. Sure you have your regular pub grub like pizzas, steak and fish, but this comes from a kitchen of chefs not cooks. The food hasn’t been compromised in order to fit into a pub price tag. A quick warning though - the thin crust hot salami pizza will have you sweating like a nun in a field of cucumbers.
The rotisserie is another nice touch: each day a different type of meat is served up with Italian slaw and potatoes and it really feels like a home-cooked meal. Could it be that this public house is living up to its origins? A home away from home? The cured kingfish and balsamic ribs might beg to differ but that doesn’t take anything away from their deliciousness nor the laid back atmosphere of the place.
Wooden bench tops, corrugated iron chandeliers and an outdoor seating area along Riley Street that seems to be designed for making new acquaintances means the place doesn’t get old quickly. A quaint restaurant upstairs (serving the same food) keeps the non-minglers happy and is a bit quieter.
While it may seem like just the latest good thing on the social calendar doomed to be dormant in 6 months time, somehow I don’t think this will be the case. Each of the pubs made fresh by James Wirth and James Miller appear destined to stay popular drinking holes like they once were in years gone past. Best to drop by Incu for some new threads before you show up though.
336 Riley Street
Cnr of Foveaux and Riley Streets
Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 9212 3035
The beauty of Sydney these days, a beauty that simply did not exist 5 years ago, is the ability to discover new places organically (as opposed to relentlessly stalking food blogs). A recent hungover meander through my neighbourhood unearthed a cute little cafe run by a bunch of very funny lads. Funny “ha ha” that is.
First and foremost the coffee is incredible. The entire service counter is covered in all sorts of filters, grinders, siphons and various lab equipment that impress to such an extent that thankfully the coffee lives up to the hype. From the macchiato to a flat white, each brew is made with love which really comes out in the flavour.
The food menu is basic but has all your breakfast favourites re-imagined with hipster names and the odd twist, and each dish presented and cooked to perfection. My poached eggs were spot on which is a good benchmark for a breakfast kitchen. Some choices come “with a plate” which echoes the the humorous undercurrent of the place and the personality of the guys who run the show. When I was there, there was an x-ray on the window with a note looking for the owner with the allusion to a bad diagnosis.
It’s a cosy little venue that will no doubt be a long stayer. Not just because the hotel next door seems to provide a lot of its customers, but because amazing coffee is no longer enough for a cafe to survive in Sydney. You need presence and Joe Black has got bucket loads of that!
27 Commonwealth Street
Surry Hills NSW 2000
Isn’t it great that we live in a society that has a festival based on wine?
This year was especially memorable. Now the wine is always good and having scores of stalls to sample from is not unalike heaven. Combine this with stalls from some of Sydney’s best restaurants (hello, Porteno!) and live music, and you have the makings of an exceptional day.
But be warned - lots of small samples eventually becomes one big sample as I found out a little quicker than I would have liked. In the words of the Bard - good wine is a good familiar creature if it be well used!
You’ll need the following:
- a cup of water
- a cup of sugar
- four large eggs
- two cups of dried fruit
- a teaspoon of baking soda
- a teaspoon of salt
- a cup of brown sugar
- lemon juice
- a bottle of whiskey.
Sample the whiskey to check for quality.
Take a large bowl. Check the whiskey again. To be sure it is the highest quality, pour one level cup and drink. Repeat. Turn on the electric mixer, beat one cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl. Add one teaspoon of sugar and beat again.
Make sure the whiskey is still okay. Cry another tup. Turn off the mixer. Break two leggs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit. Mix on the turner. If the fried druit gets stuck in the beaterers, pry it loose with a drewscriver.
Sample the whiskey to check for tonsisticity. Next, sift two cups of salt. Or something. Who cares? Check the whiskey. Now sift the lemon juice and strain your nuts. Add one table. Spoon. Of sugar or something. Whatever you can find.
Grease the oven. Turn the cake tin to 350 degrees. Don’t forget to beat off the turner. Throw the bowl out of the window, check the whiskey again and go to bed.
I’m fortunate enough to live near two of the best sushi train style restaurants in Sydney, Makoto Sushi Bar and Sushi Roll, both located within walking distance from one another at World Square. They are of a higher class than your usual sushi train joint which reminds of a comedian I saw once who said: “I don’t want to be rich, I just want to have enough money so that one day I can go into a sushi train and not care what colour the plates are.”
But back to our sushi train battle. Each establishment is quite similar in certain ways. Their menus are both roughly split into traditional sushi and sushi fusion, and they both offer an array of Japanese food outside the realm of just sushi. While the traditional sushi is always fresh and consistent, it is the fusion sushi (the fusions, if you will) that keeps these businesses running, often with queues of customers spilling out the door like fish roe out of a flying fish nigiri.
The fusions board their respective trains like perfect pieces of art delicately put together by the quiet artisan chefs who they then circle in admiration. Slowly the fusions make their way along the track, through the ultraviolet steriliser, only to be all too quickly snapped up by savvy connoisseurs. It’s as brutal and honest as the art world will ever be. And it’s raw. Yes, it’s definitely raw. Well, mostly.
But comparing eel and spider rolls between these fine establishments is like comparing Osaka and Tokyo - no one ever wins but you always have to remember which side of the
escalator argument you are on. The traditional sushi is also evenly matched with Sushi Roll probably just taking the lead. Price wise, Makoto is the winner and that leaves us with the fusions. Oh the fusions! Sushi Roll’s fusions win in a photo finish but Makoto’s weekly specials often have such an interesting and fresh combination that they surprisingly pop up as the highlight of your day.
Be warned though, friends, the fusions take their toll. Once you enter one of these sushi trains, going to any other sushi vendor becomes as unimaginable as talking loudly (or at all) on your phone on the Tokyo metro. It’s just not done. But at the end of day, the sushi is exceptional at both trains and a little competition goes a long way!
Shop 10.19, World Square
644 George Street
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9283 1881
Makoto Sushi Bar
19 Liverpool Street
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9283 6767
I had the pleasure of wandering into the March into Merivale Launch Party last Thursday. The festivities occurred at the back of The Ivy and saw Ash Street transformed into a summer wonderland of feasting and fun.
Fourteen different food stalls provided gourmet delights from various Merivale restaurants. It allowed for a cheap taste test before grabbing the $33 meal deals that are the bread and butter of the March into Merivale madness.
It takes a brave restauranteur to spin as eclectic a mix of music as Nirvana and The Beatles while presenting only one menu, where you’re dished all 15 gastronomic excursions by the chefs themselves. David Chang, however, has never been known to be backward at coming forward. Introducing Momofuku Seiobo: full-time playful foodie experience and casual saviour of The Star.
It’s difficult to get a booking (try book online on Sunday at 10am) but all is forgotten and forgiven once you step inside. Sleek, subtle design paired with friendly, attentive service resplendent in smart casual attire is just the beginning. Heck, even finding the place is an adventure with the veiled entrance contrasting curiously with the garish Adrian Zumbo patisserie and dessert train across the hallway. A tale of two chefs, perhaps? But as you leave the Westfield Sydney-esqe food court of The Star, as you forget the $5 Monorail you took to get to the casino, you are transported into a place that is simultaneously all about the food and not about it at all.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be seated at the stools surrounding the kitchen where only centimetres away the chefs whip up creations in next to no time. I cannot explain how intriguing this experience is - you see how magic little merengues are moulded into divine desserts right before your eye then the magician himself presents it to you, explaining it like an artist would his latest sculpture. The passion is prominent and it’s exceedingly infectious.
In fact the experience is so enchanting, you’d be forgiven for giving the food the silver medal. But it is indeed a prize winner. Surprisingly for me, the vegetarian pasta was the standout dish of the night. Think hand torn pasta with creamy goat cheese, chili and mint and you won’t have any idea of how good it is. I could have eaten it all night. While the steamed pork bun bursting with pork belly, cucumber and hoisin sauce lived up to the hype, the seemingly simple pasta dish blew expectations quicker than an hour on the casino floor.
A surprise dish of slow-roasted candied pork served sans cutlery after dessert raised eyebrows equally in cheek and delight. While the matching drinks reflected deftly a thoughtful and talented sommelier putting other Sydney matching wine selections to shame. The espresso beer matched with a meringue will make you rethink the next drink you order at a restaurant. Strangely though, it was the one drink not part of the sommelier’s selected range which still haunts me like that exotic smell from your favourite holiday. Order the red wine sake. That is all I will say.
Finally, in what may be a Permanently Out To Lunch exclusive, there are 4 seats at the bar which require no booking. That’s right - they’re for drop-ins, vagabonds, wayfarers, you name it. And friends, the bar menu includes the famous pork bun. So what on earth are you waiting for? Experience the restaurant that is the gastronomic equivalent of a rollercoaster ride with Robin Williams.
Momofuku Seiobo, Sydney
The Star, Level G
80 Pyrmont Street
Sydney NSW 2009
(entrance at Edward and Union Street)
Reuben Hills is proof that Sydney is quickly becoming the coffee capital of Australia. The coffee roastery takes up almost the entire second floor of the amazingly revamped Surry Hills terrace so you know the owners take their coffee seriously. Yet it was the food which really shone with the menu as original and exciting as the coffee-growing countries that inspired it.
The namesake of the cafe, the Reuben sandwich (above), personifies the originality of the establishment with a wonderful take on the original Reuben replacing corned beef and sauerkraut with melt-in-your-mouth wagyu brisket and crunchy coleslaw producing a sandwich that would make Arthur Dent proud. South American brioche with dulche de leche and Central American baleada (a tortilla folded in half and filled with various ingredients) complete the unique yet simple gastronomic journey.
As you follow the polished concrete floor through the industrial-style kitchen to the massive roller door leading to the alleyway at the back, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in a nook of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg slurping espresso milkshakes and iced lattes amongst the hipsters of tomorrow, sans pretentiousness. Then you taste a salted caramel milkshake and you could be anywhere including whatever your heaven may be.
The coffee, from the quintessential to its intriguing deviations, is the focal point through which the other elements take inspiration. The menu moulds itself around the brew and fits like a warm hoodie on a cold Sydney summer’s day. When placed in the raw industrial fuselage of the reworked terrace, you have yet another Sydney original. I suggest you run for the Reuben Hills!
61 Albion St
(02) 9211 5556