It really did look like a shard of glass, sinking in on itself as though it had buckled from the heat of an inferno. We didn't know what it was as we snapped off pieces to eat, admiring its sleek surface, its amber brilliance and the bubbles trapped within.
Salt. And vinegar. And hints of chilli that was later revealed to be sansho pepper. The edible artwork prompts conversation around the table. It had been constructed from potato starch, the first of many offerings we would enjoy from Martin Benn at Sepia Restaurant.
Riding high from its Restaurant of the Year 2012 title and awarded three hats by the SMH Good Food Guide 2012, Sepia is known for its modern menu, focus on seafood and influences by Japanese cuisine. The restaurant pulled out all the stops for a recent dinner for local and international media, expanding its standard nine-course degustation menu to a phenomenal fourteen courses.
The salt and vinegar shard is followed by a plate of freshly shucked oysters. There is dressing on the side, but these beauties were exquisite enough on their own - and impressively shucked too, with pristine shells and nary a crack nor a splinter to be seen.
We food bloggers have been corraled down one end of the table, but the lack of menus was what concerned us more. Waitstaff explained that they preferred each course to be a surprise, and each dish would be described as it was served. Of course we ended up appropriating a menu eventually, unable to resist the compulsion to check the component of each dish against the written description as we tasted.
Sashimi of spring bonito, green apple, chive and sake oil with Tasmanian wasabi
We are easily won over by the parade of dishes, each plated with heart-stopping attention to detail. The sashimi of spring bonito is worth admiring for an extra minute or two, a plump pillow of raw fish set in a lake of vivid green chive and sake oil.
Cold smoked Tasmanian ocean trout consomme
A lone cube of cold smoked Tasmanian ocean trout is soft and buttery, with a tinge of smoky caramelisation. The dish yields much more than would first appear - the clear consomme is staggering with its intensity of flavour, as though a whole ocean trout had been condensed into two tablespoons of liquid.
Poached Hiramasa kingfish, smoked trout roe, daikon radish, water chestnut, Japanese fern, citrus dashi and yuzu
I love the playground of colours and textures that accompanied the poached Hiramasa kingfish. It's an adventure to dip your fork and pick out cubes of crunchy daikon, whisper thin shavings of radish, sprigs of Japanese fern and bubbles of smoked trout roe that burst in the mouth.
Nori-rolled scallop, avocado cream, pickled ginger gel and puffed sushi rice
Scallop sushi is another visually arresting dish, particularly when the scallop is cut open to reveal its pale vulnerability beneath the textured crust of nori 'crumbs'. It's hard not to feel the femininity of the dish, particularly with the pink pickled ginger gel mounds. The scallop itself is delicious, the sweetness of the scallop amplified by the crust of nori on the outside.
The jellied blanket of chestnut mushroom and truffle is cut perfectly to size over the plank of butter poached King George Whiting, however it's probably one of the few dishes that seems overly complicated to me. Perhaps I'm less appreciative of aspic than I should be, but I would have been happy to enjoy the fish on its own with just a splodge or two of the confit garlic emulsion.
Roasted New Zealand scampi, shellfish custard, crystallised wakame, fennel, wild rice, licorice and shiso leaf
The sunny egg yolk that accompanies the roasted New Zealand scampi is an orb of shellfish custard that was ridiculously good. It's rich and creamy and offers a pleasing textural contrast to the fat juicy curls of sweet scampi and grains of puffed wild rice.
Roasted corn fed chicken, butter-poached WA marron tail, shellfish and yuzu emulsion, wild rocket and toasted quinoa
We move onto roasted corn fed chicken, served with a West Australian marron tail that is draped with a zingy shellfish sauce. Toasted quinoa provide nuttiness and crunch.
Char-grilled beef tenderloin, nameko mushroom, roasted garlic puree and miso mustard
The final savoury dish is the char-grilled beef tenderloin, only a small slice of fillet, but cooked to a gentle rare. The starkness of the dish feels very Japanese in its presentation, as though the beef should be allowed centre stage without unnecessary accoutrements.
Whipped Saint Agur and mascarpone, crystallised macadamia, celery cress and roasted chicory granita
Whipped Saint Agur and mascarpone is one the most surprising dishes of the evening, an intermediary between savouries and sweets that combines blue cheese with smithereens of crystallised macadamia. After dinner, David Lebowitz told me he found this course the most memorable, almost shocking the palate with the punch of blue cheese - "It was so unexpected, but in a good way!" he adds.
Lemon myrtle jelly, poached strawberries, geranium ice cream and black sesame
A squat tumbler of pink is our first dessert, a multi-layered construction of lemon myrtle jelly, poached strawberries, geranium ice cream and a tuile of black sesame. Despite its size, the dessert is light and refreshing, providing a palate cleanser for the next dessert.
The chocolate forest is one of the signature desserts at Sepia, and it's easy to see why. It's a treasure hunt among the rubble of delicious detritus. Spoons are dug past fennel fronds dipped in sugar, chocolate soil, edible flowers and green tea moss. On one side is a scoop of praline chestnut cream; on the other is cream flavoured with lavender. Perched gracefully on top is a quenelle of blackberry sorbet that is enviably smooth and silky.
Even though everyone had started struggling five courses ago, we still can't help getting excited over the Japanese stones. They look just like polished pebbles you might find in a rock garden, but we bite into them to find surprise liquid fillings that include a soft 72% chocolate, coconut cream custard or cherry.
The impossibly thin cocoa butter shells are made with bamboo charcoal powder and frozen using liquid nitrogen. By serving the chocolates at room temperature, the formerly frozen fillings inside resume a runny consistency.
At the base of the bowl is a bed of yuzu jelly sprinkled with crystallised feuilletine, candied violets and green tea moss.
It's fun, quirky and technically intricate, a little like Sepia itself.
Grab Your Fork dined at Sepia Restaurant as a guest of Destination NSW.
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10/19/2011 07:31:00 am