I can't help but break out into a smile when our rice crackers arrive, not the bubbled crunchy discs from a supermarket, but a slate grey tile covered with a crashing surf of delicate shards that are almost see-through.
In one corner is a spray bottle filled with vinegar, along the side of the tile is a scattered trail of sea salt. "We find that two or three sprays tends to be sufficient", says Gavin, our smiling maitre'd.
Iggy's bread with butter and smoked sea salt
With a CV that includes stints with Matt Moran, Guillaume Brahimi and Eric Chavot (Capital Hotel, London), it's Tomislav Martinovic
's experience working alongside the Fat Duck's Heston Blumenthal that seem to impact the menu most.
The restaurant itself is smaller than you'd expect, a small and cosy space decorated with Japanese gold crane wallpaper. You would hardly know it's there, tucked away a few steps from Victoria Street on William Street, but once you're seated inside, the view of the iconic Coca Cola sign is incredible, the bright lights of Darlinghurst beckoning silently.
Basmati rice risotto $19
Grilled Yamba prawns, chives and lemon zest
Basmati rice risotto is a twist on the usual arborio version, made with a specially aged Pakistani rice, Tomislav explains to us later on in the evening. He uses acidulated butter, chives and lemon zest to create a lighter finish, the dish scattered with plump and sweet Yamba prawns.
Poached Comboyne hen's egg $19
peas and ham with warm potato cream
The poached Comboyne hen's egg arrives in a deep conical shaped bowl, hidden beneath a fluffy foam of creamy potato. In amongst the cubes of ham and slivers of pea, your spoon will eventually find a magical 62C egg, the optimal temperature to enable the egg white to cook whilst the yolk remains runny. It takes 70 minutes in a waterbath for the egg to reach this stage, an investment in time for a guaranteed pocket of liquid sunshine.
The huge cracker on the side is made from batter that has been baked until crisp.
2009 Belgravia Gewurtztraminer, Orange, NSW $10 glass/ $47 bottle
The maitre'd had offered to pair my dishes with wines for the evening and I'd happily agreed. My egg is matched with a 2009 Belgravia Gewurtraminer, the sweetness of the yolk enhanced by the wine's crispness and citrus notes.
Poached silver dory fillets $31
with cauliflower, parsley crumbs and king browns
Poached silver dory fillets
are served on a grey slate tile, a striking background for the pristine rectangle of cauliflower mash. The fish is cooked to a flaking perfection, but I love the rubble of king brown mushrooms, cauliflower florets, green beans and parsley crumbs even more, a party of textures and flavours on the tongue.
Pasture burrawong duck breast $32
with onion, baby cos and olive oil sponge
I opted for the Pasture Burrawong duck breast, the skin crisped to a golden honey hue, whilst the flesh is soft and tender. A beetroot slick adds colour and sweetness, and a roasted onion puree languishes between a swirl of vegetables and an olive oil sponge that is fluffy beyond belief.
Olive oil sponge
2008 Brodie Estate Pinot Noir, Martinborough, New Zealand $72 bottle
My duck is paired with a 2008 Brodie Estate Pinot Noir, a silky and well-balanced wine with characteristics of cherry.
Apple crumble $15
with macadamia sponge and clotted cream ice cream
Apple crumble arrives looking more like a tart with a crumble topping. After one spoonful I pause in confusion, then realise that included in the crumble topping is popping candy. Tomislav tells us that whenever guests order this dish, he loves to watch their reaction, catching that moment of surprise when the dessert is not exactly what they think.
Thick slices of candied apple match well with the slab of macadamia sponge, a quenelle of clotted cream ice cream cool and satiny smooth.
Vanilla cheesecake $15
with cream cheese and rhubarb sorbet
Vanilla cheesecake is not what you'd expect either, a far leap from the biscuit crumb base and yellow filling most people envision, and instead looking more like a UFO. A flying saucer of mousse comes with cheese jelly windows, cubes made from cream cheese, cream and gelatin. A quenelle of rhubarb sorbet provides sweetness and some welcome acidity.
Tomislav owner and head chef, Tomislav Martinovic
Toward the end of service, Tomislav generously sits down to have a chat with us. He tells us about how his Mum would bake something every weekend, sometimes mid-week as well. The restaurant doesn't have a dedicated pastry chef but desserts are something close to his heart and will always feature.
He likes to change the menu regularly, although he thinks that some key dishes - like the cheesecake - will probably remain permanent. He laughs as he admits that he quite likes it when diners come in to find a dish is no longer on the menu!
"I want to create dishes that are interesting," he says, "and to layer flavours and textures so people aren't bored when they start eating. I want people to have one forkful and be surprised by what they find. I want them to have one forkful and immediately want more."
Grab Your Fork and companion dined as guests of Tomislav Restaurant.