Dressed casually for our long-awaited meal at Australia's top restaurant, we had a few apprehensive minutes as we followed 2 couples from our hotel to the same venue who were dressed in tuxedos and ball gowns. Fortunately, it turned out that there was a works outing at one end of the restaurant (lucky, lucky people to have to come here on business) and everyone else was, like us, dressing down.
A slow start from the sommelier was the only hint of anything less than perfection throughout an evening of fantastic, creative cooking. Even the hideous cruise liner which had dominated the view from our hotel room miraculously moved off from the quayside as we perused our menus.* From our table we could then view in one direction the Sydney Opera House and in the other the Sydney Harbour Bridge. As darkness descended and the lights came on the setting was magical - probably the most beautiful location anywhere in the world for a city restaurant.
There are 2 ways to go at Quay, 4 courses from the a la carte menu or 8 in the tasting menu and both of them are unbelievably expensive. Since 2 of the 8 featured beetroot and squid, which are not to my wife's taste, we opted on this occasion for the a la carte. Taking a deep breath we also entrusted wine selections by the glass to the sommelier who finally arrived at our table just as the first courses were served; we were not disappointed by anything he suggested, a Tapanappa Pinot Noir and a Thick as Thieves Nebbiolo proving especially memorable. A glass of Bollinger champagne was the ideal accompaniment for an amuse bouche of creamy goat cheese, capers, tomato and dried fennel in a shot glass; its subtle flavour confirmed that we could expect some wonderful food.
Until the dessert stage I made the better choices, starting with a congee of Northern Australian mud crab with fresh palm heart and egg yolk emulsion, while my wife chose the native freshwater marron having discovered that this was the local name for a crayfish rather than a very expensive water chestnut. Her dish looked the prettier, 3 delicate pieces of tail meat dressed with rose hip, radish, creme fraiche, woodland sorrel and pomegranate seeds but mine had a depth of flavour that said loudly and clearly there was real talent at work in the kitchen.
We both chose the quail breast for our second course which was a riot of contrasting textures and tastes. There was hazelnut in evidence, quinoa, faro and many more things besides, served alongside a steamed truffle brioche with egg yolk confit and Vin Jaune cream. Our final savoury course saw my wife opt for a really delicate Suffolk lamb loin dish, embellished with eggplant skin and olive puree, sheep's milk creme fraiche, fresh and preserved flowers, while I was treated to what I think is the finest pork dish I've ever eaten. Described as Berkshire pig jowl, it was a small square of porcine perfection, with a maltose crackling which was both crisped to perfection and yet cut as soft as butter. Accompanied by prunes and cauliflower puree and perfumed with prune kernel oil it was, like the two preceding courses, 'lick the plate clean' food.
At the dessert stage we had pre-selected the two celebrated dishes I'd read about on various Australian food blogs, the cherry and coconut snow egg and Quay's 8 texture chocolate cake, and agreed to argue later about who would get which. Only when the wine pairings were revealed did my wife choose the former (accompanied by a glass of a frizzante rose Bugey Cerdon) while I got the latter with a glass of S'Naranja, Pedro Ximenez infused with orange. To be honest, while I loved the chocolate dish it didn't stand out in the way my 3 previous courses had: the 8th 'texture' was, very theatrically, poured over in the form of a liquid which drilled a neat hole in the centre of the dish but I would have been hard-pressed to identify more than a couple of others. The snow egg by comparison was both a work of art and delicious eating.
The evening flew by, service was exemplary and unnecessary apologies were offered for some problems with the lighting. This was one of the finest meals we've eaten anywhere and we would book again without hesitation on any future trips to Sydney, having first consulted the shipping timetables of course.
* Actually not a coincidence. Booking several months earlier from the UK, we were grateful for the advice of Elise, on reservations, that this would be the only night of the week free from these eyesores. During the summer months you need to know that this problem exists and is out of the restaurant's control. Given their name and the fantastic location when there are no boats around, it would be hard to relocate from the quayside but it is seriously off-putting and clearly bad for business.
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