Sometimes you just have to treat yourself.
At $235 per person for a tasting menu, drinks or wine pairing notwithstanding, QUAY is certainly not the most expensive fine dining option in Sydney, but it's far from the cheapest. After all, Peter Gilmore's restaurant has recently been named the #4 restaurant in the country, and remains in the top 100 in the world. When you're spending that kind of money, and for us it came to around the $600 mark for a special night out on the town, you'd hope that the restuarant would cater to your dietary needs. This is something that QUAY did incredibly well.
Sat in the Upper Level of the Overseas Passenger Terminal at The Rocks, it's hard to beat a view that has the Harbour Bridge on one side and the Opera House on the other. It made the extended wait for the first course a chance to soak in the scenery, sipping back a selection of craft beer that included La Sirene Brewing's lively Saison.
The waitstaff at QUAY presented us with two special tasting menus for the evening, one for a vegetarian and the other avoiding mammalian meat. Following an amuse-bouche, the 8-course tasting menu began with a salad of globe artichoke, sheep milk feta, agretti, young carrots and smoked almonds. It set the tone for a series of seasonal vegetables on offer, but also some unique vegetables such as the agretti - also known as saltwort, or "land seaweed" - the in-demand spring crop is eye-catching on the plate and an excellent complement to the other veges.
The rich mixture of textures prepared us for the Eggplant Tartare, which was served on a bed of warm horseradish soured cream, and topped with an earthy mix of fermented rye and raw fungi. Much of the joy of this dish is also found in the visual, like a forest floor covered in tiny mushrooms springing up through the fallen bark.
The Japanese egg custard dish chawanmushi was completely new to me, a spin on the abalone dish the restaurant offers. Here the fish has been replaced by seaweed, sitting on top of the custard texture, with hen of woods mushrooms to complete the mushroom theme of the evening.
The braised shimonita onions, spring asparagus, broad beans, and black vinegar seaweed dish is all about the crunch. The layers of green sit in a super tasty broth, one that marks the midway point of the meal and the start of something a little meatier. So to speak.
One of the more colourful dishes of the night silken tofu, XO sauce, organic radishes, another adaptation of a crayfish dish that goes full vego in QUAY's vegetarian take on the XO. To paraphrase Homer (Simpson), "purple's a fruit."
The final savoury serving of the evening was a stone pot organic green rice, mountain spinach, spring cabbage stems, and seaweed. Beside being delicious, it was a much needed dose of grains and greens before the round of desserts.
The two sweetest words in the English language, or in any other if properly translated, are "first dessert." It brings the promise of a second dessert (spoilers: there was), and in this case it's also the world-famous Snow Egg. You've seen it on MasterChef. It's one of Australia's favourite desserts. The ice-cream filled poached meringue in an almond biscuit sits on a strawberry granita, and the staff recommended we try and get a bit of everything in one bite. Boy, were they right.
"Second dessert," no longer just the dream of a young Hobbit emerging from a sheltered shire, was the knee-melting combination of walnut, oloroso caramel, muscovado, dulcey, muscatel, and pecan. Seriously, we have no knees. We are without knees. The milk chocolate based dish was just about perfect, it might even change your mind on dried fruit.
The course went on for long enough to ensure that we were the last in the circle, treating us to a spectacularly uninterrupted view of the harbour in what felt like a private dining experience, even if it was only for the last few moments. While there may not have been a massive standout dish for us, the Snow Egg excepted. the overall experience was so pleasurable that it was hard to deny QUAY's continuing appeal.
QUAY is located on the Upper Level, Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks, Sydney NSW 2000 | quay.com.au