The Pom was on a road trip and the first thing he told me was that he might not be back for his birthday dinner which I had planned a week prior. I was upset because my sneaky plan of using The Pom's birthday as an excuse to get myself dining in a chef's hatted restaurant might not going according to plan. It is my decision either cancel the booking or find a replacement who is ready to fork out $130 for the degustation menu to come dine with me. But luckily the Pom arrived home the day before his birthday, after driving over 7700km and visited over 20 towns. Thank god the birthday dinner is back on the menu.
In 2007, we celebrated The Pom's birthday at Galileo, last year was at Becasse, and this year, I was tossing between Quay and Sepia. In the end, Sepia won. I was simply intrigued by the top guns who lead the restaurant, Martin Benn was the Executive Chef at Tetsuya’s and Daniel Puskas was the Head Chef of Oscillate Widly. Then Mitch Orr who won Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year award 2009 and Lemonpi Y, a fellow food blogger whose pastry prowess I admire immensely - they both are also part of the Sepia team.
Sepia is tucked away on the southern end of Darling Park building on Sussex Street. The manager and maitre'd already know that we are here for dinner this evening and ready to open the door for us. Because only later I noticed that they've actually been watching me taking photos of the signage outside the whole time. As we walk into the restaurant, first thing I noticed is the interior indeed in the shades of brown tone, feels like I just step inside an old photograph. The far left corner is covered with mirrors in all different sizes, an illusion to make the restaurant looks much bigger.
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We are seated next to the cellar, with the bottom of the stairs right above us. However, the service is absolutely top notch and soon everything is forgiven. All the waiters are extremely friendly and attentive, I soon losing track on how many waiters are actually looking after us, including the maitre'd himself on few occasions.
We have already decided to go with the $130 degustation menu, it is often the best way to sample what the restaurant has to offer. Instead of paying the $60 extra for the matching wine, we actually ended up paying more under the recommendation of the Sommelier, who suggested a half bottle of Josmeyer riesling 2007 to go with the first four seafood dishes, then a full bottle of Nittnaus Blaufrankisch Kalk Und Schiefer 2007 for the rest of the meal. The riesling is crisp and fruity, it is light enough and not overpowering the subtle flavour of the seafood dishes. While the red Blaufrankisch has a fuller body and very smooth on the palate, an easy drinking wine that will suit anybody.
I love when the pre-dinner sourdough bread served on the side plate is still nice and warm. We also decided to order some fresh oysters from three different regions as starters. I am actually quite surprised at how they all taste so differently. The Lemon Tree Passage oysters are the smallest, with a sweet brine of the sea. The St Helen Pacific oysters are plumper, creamier and a lighter flavour, my favourite. The Pom likes Pambula Lake oysters the most, which is a lot saltier, and doesn't really have the taste of the sea like the other two.
We soon start off with an amuse bouche which turns out to be something not what I have expected. Instead of a broth or soup, the smoked eel consomme is set into jelly form, served with a small mouthful of compacted meaty oxtail terrine which works surprisingly well with the briny oyster cream. This intense rich mouth-opener has definitely awaken up my appetite.
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The first entree is smoked eel rolled in nori seaweed, with potato mousse which adds a new layer of creaminess to the already velvety smooth eel flesh. Specks of licorice powder and a few leaves of leek salad on top add texture and colour to the dish. But it is the wafer thin of fennel crisp that wraps up the presentation elegantly.
The presentation on the yellow fin tuna tartare is not as elegant as other dishes, but the flavour of this Japanese influenced dish is definitely one of the most memorable among them all. The softness of the tartare with avocado cream simply melts in the mouth, while the soy and wasabi jelly enhances the flavour of the tuna without the sudden heat kick up the nose.
The aroma of this next dish is so strong, I can smell the sea instantly when the waiter brought it out. The Queensland spanner crab and buckwheat risotto is all hidden underneath the vivid yellow foam of mustard butter and shellfish essence. We were instructed by the waiter to mix the foam into the meat before eating, the sweetness of the crab becomes even more intense and the saltiness of the dish is above the line without being too intrusive. The buckwheat risotto is firmer than normal ones which I found the chewy texture can be a little bit too much against the tender crab meat.
At this point, our wine are swiftly swapped over to the red Blaufrankisch to pair with the rest of the dishes this evening. The simple presentation of South Australia mulloway is uninspiring but the flavour speaks for itself. It is grilled in sea urchin butter to a creamy golden buttery layer, rest on a bed of turnip braised in dashi stock. The layers of saltiness of this dish together with tarragon brings out the flavour of fresh mulloway even more prominent.
The roast Gippsland lamb tenderloin with cauliflower covered in miso jelly resembles a translucent jellyfish resting on the plate. This dish plays on texture in many levels - the lamb tenderloin is succulent and tender while the cauliflower and salar burnet adds the crunch, and miso jelly and emulsion wrap everything up nicely.
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I know Y through her food blog, and brushed against our shoulders at a cooking class few years back but we actually never properly introduced to each other. Thus it will be great to finally meet-and-greet with Y officially tonight. Unfortunately, Y thought I cancelled the booking as she couldn't find my name on the logbook as I've booked the table under the Pom's name. And I didn't check my mobile until later and only found out that Y has already left the building and gone home. (~sadness...)
After corresponding with Lemonpi Y via tweeter, only then realised she has actually been telling the kitchen to really looking after us well tonight. The waitress brings out the next dish and tells us that it is a complimentary sent out from the kitchen which is a total surprise (~ Thanks Y! ~). The Aylesbury duck breast are just cooked through, the pink juicy meat is as tender as it gets. The combination of duck meat with licorice powder and orange jus are simply wild, but it works like a charm.
This is the last meat dish of this evening. The roasted 60 days wagyu rump is heavily coated in pickled plum jus, served with grilled baby onion, and interestingly pairs with a square of sweet compressed watermelon. The little glistening pearl of ponzu gel adds tartness to the dish.
Despite the small portions on most dishes from the degustation seating, I am actually feeling full but not stuffed. Perfect timing that the dinner has finally come to an end and finishing off with desserts. The pre-dessert is white peach sorbet, served with lime creme and a maroon baby shisso leaf on top. The little palate cleanser is not overly obtrusive with a nice balance of citrus and sweetness.
Another complimentary dish?! Oh, if you insist! It is like eating the famous mango and vanilla Weiss bar, it actually taste almost the same too but a lot more sophisticated and elegant with thin sliced pineapple and foam on top. I particular like the grainy textured macadamia sable at the bottom with a sweet caramelised toffee flavour. The ice cream is accompanied by a line of white powdery lemon sherbert which will get the supermodels high (on sugar).
Shall I sniff it?
The next dessert is truly a work of art. A wavy strip of white spiced marshmallow is winding down the plate around baubles of blueberries, a spherical frozen sour cherry, aromatic coconut sorbet, and a few shards of crisp chocolate in between. It is toasted at both ends on the marshmallow which brings out that nostalgic toasty happiness. Again, this dessert has so many layers of flavour and texture, it simply feels like a party in my mouth when I bite on the soft sweet blueberries, with a little bit of that soft chewy marshmallow, along with the frozen icy coconut sorbet, and the frozen sour cherry gives that final touch of intense sour tang.
I usually don't go for desserts that mainly focus on fruit and prefer something rich and luxurious. But these desserts are exceptional and definitely putting fruit back on my plate.
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Once and for all, we finally finishing up our dinner with some petite fours with a cup of long back, and the Pom asked for a white. The little beignet like hazelnut financiers are still warm and soft and happily mop up the dark chocolate sauce with it.
Then there are salted caramel, black olive nougat and chocolate truffle. I particularly like the soft chewy nougat, very unusual to see specks of black olive embedded inside and surprisingly, it works very well. I have the velvety smooth chocolate truffle last which has a subtle boozy kick on the back of my troat. The perfect rich indulgence to end the meal this evening.
Overall, we had a great night at Sepia. The friendliness and attentiveness of the wait staffs without attitude exceeded our expectations. The dimly lit restaurant itself is cosy and intimate but not intimidating. Unfortunately as the Sepia is part of the Darling Park building so it doesn't have its own restroom, you have to walk out to the back and use the common restroom in the building which it takes away that "wow" factor from me once I stepped outside.
The Pom and I enjoyed the food at Sepia immensely, the ingenuity behind the flavour and texture on each dish are something to praise about. We have spent over $430 for our meal this evening, a big splurge that I normally don't do very often. But needless to say, it is totally worth it for a special occasion like this.
Sepia Restaurant and Wine Bar Darling Park Building
Level Ground, 201 Sussex Street
Sydney NSW 2000
P: (02) 9283 1990