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Monday, June 18, 2012

Sixpenny, Stanmore

James Parry and Daniel Puskas at Sixpenny Stanmore

Are restaurant gardens the new must-have feature for 2012? As diners start to pay more attention to locally sourced and sustainable produce, the restaurant garden provides instant kudos, creating a tangible connection between the food from the soil and the food on your plate.

At Sixpenny in Stanmore, head chefs James Parry and Daniel Puskas have transformed the backyard of their restaurant into a productive herb garden, complete with greenhouse and working beehive. As we make our way through the degustation-only menu, many of the vegetables, we learn, have been sourced from James' family farm in Bowral, a 90-minute drive away in the Southern Highlands.

Sixpenny Stanmore dining room
The main dining room at Sixpenny

There's been nothing but glowing praise in reviews of Sixpenny, which opened up in Stanmore in March this year. It sits on the former Codfather site, run by Ross Godfrey who also owned Oscillate Wildly, the restaurant where Parry and Puskas first met.

Parry (Noma, Mugaritz, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Manly Pavilion and Rockpool) and Puskas (Tetsuya's, Marque, WD-50 and Sepia) have an impressive CV between them. Both are former winners of the Josephone Pignolet Young Chef of the Year Award.

The Sixpenny name comes from the 1850s era, when sixpence restaurants would provide the working class with a set meal.

Housemade sourdough at Sixpenny Stanmore
House-made sourdough with mascarpone butter

It's a dismal wet weekend when we arrive for lunch which makes the sunny charm of our waitstaff even more appealing. The table isn't booked under my name but a colleague's, and our waiter admits that he'd recognised their name and cross-referenced it with their bookings to confirm that they had indeed dined several weeks earlier. It's a level of attentiveness that impresses.

There are eight of us dining today which qualifies us for the private dining room. It's a relief to escape the main dining room which feels more geared toward couples, an elegant but quiet sanctitude of hush-hush tones and muted conversations.

Chefs table private dining room with kitchen view at Sixpenny Stanmore
Chefs table private dining room with view into the kitchen 

We tumble chaotically into the private dining room, a chef's table arrangement that affords us a coveted view into the kitchen. A huge glass window is like a giant live tv screen into all the action and we can't help but periodically press our noses up against the glass like starstruck kids outside a candy store.

James Parry working with sourdough
James Parry working with sourdough

The kitchen is clean, well-organised and devoid of any Gordon Ramsay-style drama. Here is James Parry genially working with a colleague on the sourdough, there is Daniel Puskas, calmly halving macadamia nuts one by one.

Turning out the proofed sourdough for the oven
Turning out the proofed sourdough for baking

There's an easy sense of camaraderie that seems to exist in the kitchen. Everyone knows what to do and when to step in or step aside. The kitchen works on plating one dish at a time - occasionally dessert is plated off to the side.

Garden pickles and rye bread at Sixpenny Stanmore
Garden pickles and rye bread with virgin butter

The menu is degustation only. Six courses will cost you $115 ($170 with wine); eight courses costs $135 ($210 with wine). It's the same price at lunch or dinner. Ninety per cent of the wine list is from New South Wales.

We opt for the full eight courses, preceded by a generous series of snacks that number five in total. The first two are presented on one plate, a trail of garden pickles and squares of rye bread smeared with rye-infused virgin butter. Virgin butter is the stage just before freshly churned butter splits and leaches out buttermilk. It's a grainy but creamy spread, famously served at Noma, a restaurant listed on Parry's CV.

The garden pickles are a whimsical exploration of colour, texture and flavour. We're transfixed by the day lily buds, mouse melons (tiny watermelon-lookalikes that taste like cucumber), crunchy radish quarters and heirloom carrots, which we dip into the quenelle of radish yoghurt speckled with tarragon.

Salt and vinegar kipfler potato chips at Sixpenny Stanmore
Salt and vinegar kipfler potato chips

Salt and vinegar kifpler potato chips look more like pressed dried flowers, parchment-thin slices so sheer you could read a newspaper through them.

Salt and vinegar kipfler potato chips at Sixpenny Stanmore
Salt and vinegar kipfler potato chips

It almost reminds me of the high school science experiment where you'd look at cellulose layers of an onion through a microscope. The chips are astoundingly crunchy and liberally daubed with salt and vinegar.

Duck tongue and knuckle sandwich at Sixpenny Stanmore
Duck tongue and knuckle sandwich
Wine match: NV Centennial Blanc De Blanc, Southern Highlands

Snacks three and four are their increasingly infamous duck tongue and knuckle sandwich. We're no strangers to duck tongue and they're prepared deftly here, cooked to a melting softness that contrasts with the crisp cup of lettuce.

The playful but elegant knuckle sandwich utilises braised pork knuckle, slipped between Lilliputian slices of toasted brioche spread with sweet dandelion and apple jelly.

Cheddar cheese and onions at Sixpenny Stanmore
Cheddar cheese and onions
Wine match: 2011 Andrew Thomas Six Degrees Semillon, Hunter Valley

It's at least half an hour before our first official course hits the table, a dish simply titled 'Cheddar cheese and onions'. Sheaths of baby onion act as vessels for the cheese water, an intricate process of boiling cheese to extract the cheese oils which are then concentrated into a cheese essence. The curls of onion are also poached in the cheese broth.

It seems like an inordinately complex method to create a cheese-flavoured water that is frustratingly subtle, but the dish is undeniably beautiful to look at, garnished with carefully arranged chickpea shoots.

Crab with macadamia at Sixpenny Stanmore
Crab, silky macadamia and camomile
Wine match: 2010 Mount Majura Chardonnay, Canberra District

The crab course is a cloud of hand-picked mud crab doused in a silky macadamia milk spiked with toasted macadamias and carefully placed chamomile flowers. It's a revelation for the tastebuds.


Macadamia and crab? 'Why didn't anyone think of this sooner?' we collectively cry. It's a glorious match, the buttery macadamia nut enhancing the sweet notes of crab in a way that is unaffected yet exquisitely beautiful. It's my highlight dish of my day.

Roast sweet potato with fish roe at Sixpenny Stanmore
Roast sweet potato, fish roe and whey sauce
Wine match: 2007 Patina Fume Sauvignon Blanc, Orange

Two wilted sweet potato leaves appear to act as modesty fans for a plank of sweet potato poached in buttermilk and then roasted. It hides a skerrick of salted mullet roe, blanketed by a foam of light but creamy whey sauce.

Snapper with pumpkin cream cream at Sixpenny Stanmore
Snapper, pumpkin seed cream and soft leeks
Wine match: 2011 BK Wines Pinot Rose, Adelaide Hills, South Australia

Delicately cooked fillets of snapper hide in a puddle of pumpkin seed cream, and although the components are dissimilar it seems to echo the crab dish earlier on. The snapper has been poached in pumpkin seed milk, offset with miniature mounds of pumpkin seed crumbs and sauteed leeks.

Pork jowl with crackling at Sixpenny Stanmore
Slow roasted pork jowl (bonus course)

A bonus course at any restaurant feels like Christmas, but when it's a bonus dish of slow-roasted pork jowl it feels like all our Christmases have come at once. The crown of golden crackling is enough to make us weak at the knees, but we're also mesmerised by the thick layers of cheek fat wrapped around a thin layer of meat.

If there's a dish you'd knowingly make your last it's this. The milky fat is a guilt-ridden decadence, capped off with the noisy crunch of brittle blistered sticky crackling.

Daniel Puskas at Sixpenny Stanmore
Daniel Puskas overseeing the plating of the hanger steak 

Service operates in a similar vein to Noma with chefs accompanying or sometimes replacing waitstaff when delivering dishes to the table. And so we find Parry and Puskas entering the dining room on more than one occasion, dutifully dispensing dishes with quiet humility.

Daniel Puskas at Sixpenny Stanmore
Daniel Puskas 

We don't keep strict track of it all, but by the end of lunch it seems that every member of the kitchen brigade has taken it in turns to assist in service. Each chef has the chance to explain the components and process of at least one course, a detail that personalises the dining entire experience. It's like the culinary equivalent of visiting a farmers market and meeting the people behind the produce, creating an exchange that is equally rewarding and gratifying.

Coorong hanger steak at Sixpenny Stanmore
Coorong hanger, smoky cabbage and mustard leaves
Wine match: 2010 Grove Estate Nebbiolo/Primitivo, Hilltops

The Coorong hanger steak is our final savoury course, a wondrously flavourful cut of meat found near the diaphragm. It's cooked to a plump and succulent state of rare, served with streaks of mustard leaf puree and a smoky cabbage cream.

Restaurant garden and beehive at Sixpenny Stanmore
[Clockwise from top left]: Backyard beehive; garden herbs, outdoor stove and smoker;
and the restaurant garden with greenhouse 

A brief interlude between savouries and dessert gives us time to explore the back garden, admiring the herb pots, greenhouse, smoker and beehive.

Ginger root at Sixpenny Stanmore
Ginger root

"We'll let you guess this dish", our waiter says mysteriously as he puts down the next course. Mrs Pig Flyin' is onto the surprise immediately, quickly identifying Jerusalem artichoke as the ginger imposter. The Jerusalem artichoke (Americans call them sunchokes) has been cooked in a ginger syrup but the resultant ginger heat is gentle, although diced glace ginger offers a bigger kick. It's a clever play on appearances and the carriage of flavour.

Candied rhubarb and why macarons at Sixpenny Stanmore
Candied rhubarb and whey macarons


Candied rhubarb stalks look more like raspberry twizzlers entwined on the plate. Dried at a low temperature for a long time, the rhubarb has a pleasing tartness and chewiness, like an old-fashioned fruit strap. Whey macarons are airy sugary mouthfuls that disintegrate into smithereens at first bite.

Beetroots with mead and brioche at Sixpenny Stanmore
Beetroots, mead, steamed brioche and honey ice cream
Wine match: 2010 Lerida Botrytis Pinot Gris, Canberra District

A pair of the tiniest beetroot, as small as your pinky fingernail, have been cooked in mead before perching on top of a disc of steamed brioche. It's an odd combination, especially the texture of the brioche which tastes like soggy French toast, but the honey ice cream provides a worthwhile distraction, pronounced in a floral sweetness that awakens the senses.

Plating dessert at Sixpenny Stanmore
Piping our next dish into milk ice cups set in egg cartons 

Our final dessert involves egg cartons, piping and several stays in the blast freezer.

Frozen rye milk dessert at Sixpenny Stanmore
Frozen rye milk
Wine match: Bethany Old Quarry Frontignac, Barosa Valley

Hidden at the bottom of our cavernous bowls are delicate cups of frozen rye milk filled with a rye ganache and then covered in a layer of rye bread crumbs. I'm not won over by this dish which feels more heavily emphasised on presentation than anything else.

Fresh peppermint tea at Sixpenny Stanmore
Fresh peppermint tea

Cookie jar at Sixpenny Stanmore
Cookie jar

And finally, the much-revered cookie jar! It's hard not to get excited by the cookie jar crammed with homemade biscuits and sweets. We exclaim over the pint-sized lamingtons, Monte Carlos, ginger snap, native ginger chocolate and Kingston biscuits. The only minor quibble is the biscuits seem to have softened slightly after being stored in the fridge.

Monte Carlos, Kingstons and petit fours at Sixpenny Stanmore
[Clockwise from top left]: Monte Carlo, Kingston, native ginger chocolate, 
lamington and ginger snap

The food is thoughtful, quirky and creative without feeling overly pretentious or self-indulgent, but if there's one thing you must remember, it's to clear your diary for a long lunch or dinner. Our lunch took 3.5 hours to get through but then we're guessing the ethos here is that good things take time. It's a small price to pay.


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Sixpenny on Urbanspoon

Sixpenny
83 Percival Road, Stanmore, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9576 6666


Opening hours:
Dinner Wednesday to Saturday from 6pm
Lunch Saturday and Sunday from 12pm

23 comments - Add some comment love

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 6/18/2012 02:58:00 am


23 Comments:

  • At 6/18/2012 7:09 am, Anonymous TFP (The Food Pornographer) said…

    Gorgeous pics as usual, Helen! I've had Sixpenny on my Sydney To Eat list for a little while now and this post makes me even more eager to eat there. Mental note to rustle up 7 mates to get into the private dining room...

     
  • At 6/18/2012 7:55 am, Anonymous john@heneedsfood said…

    Oh that crab. That crab! It was insanely delicious. I really did like our lunch here and really look forward to returning.

     
  • At 6/18/2012 8:19 am, Blogger Food is our religion said…

    those potato chips look so cool! Talk about super thin!

     
  • At 6/18/2012 9:38 am, Blogger OohLookBel said…

    Beautiful post, Helen, and the photos are stunning. Love the beehive in the backyard, too.

     
  • At 6/18/2012 10:29 am, Anonymous Chocolatesuze said…

    Zomg everything looks amazing! I want it all! Eat all the foods!

     
  • At 6/18/2012 12:45 pm, Anonymous Eha said…

    Childishly all I can say is OMG!! And reach for my bucket list to add! Thank you, Helen, for a wonderful photographic journey of a very special meal :) !

     
  • At 6/18/2012 1:17 pm, Blogger Jacq said…

    That cookie jar is too cute! The picture of the rhubarb reminded me of raspberry swizzle sticks too - haven't had those in ages!

     
  • At 6/18/2012 2:12 pm, Blogger Sarah said…

    Despite those minor negative points you mentioned, it still sounds like an amazing experience!

    I LOVE the idea of the homemade cookie jar, and would happily eat a jar of biscuits as dessert in its entirety!! :)

    xox Sarah

     
  • At 6/18/2012 2:34 pm, Anonymous Sara - Belly Rumbles said…

    Such wonderful service, such attention, really love when chefs come out from the kitchen to talk about their dishes. A truly lovely looking meal.

     
  • At 6/18/2012 2:43 pm, Blogger MissPiggy said…

    Every plate of food looks more stunning than the one before it. I really want those S&V chips...and fresh mint tea - genius (might try that at home...have an out of control mint plant in the making).

     
  • At 6/18/2012 5:39 pm, Blogger Darklessly said…

    Yes everything looks so delicate and delish!!

    I love the photos cos they bring out a very classy atmosphere.

    However, I am a big eater. I am worried that I would still be hungry after a 3 course meal.

    Sorry to bring negativity to the table.

    The plus side is that everything is really pretty and classy.

     
  • At 6/18/2012 7:51 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Hoooooooly muppet smoke. Helen. Gorgeous, gorgeous photos and such wonderful food writing! You sure know how to make the experience sing to us :) x

     
  • At 6/18/2012 8:48 pm, Blogger K said…

    Wonderful pictures and fantastic write up!
    I can't wait to go back. :D

     
  • At 6/18/2012 9:04 pm, Anonymous tania@mykitchenstories said…

    Isn't it just fantastic. I particularly loved there bread

     
  • At 6/19/2012 12:05 pm, Blogger the dainty baker said…

    This place looks interesting!! im especially awed by how thin those chips are!! did they melt in your mouth? hehe and $115 for a 6 course not bad at all! Sixpence is my hit list for sure!

     
  • At 6/19/2012 4:58 pm, Anonymous SarahKate (Mi Casa-Su Casa) said…

    Oh, wow. Helen, what a beautiful post. Great pics of gorgeous food. I can't get over the sound of that crab and macadamia dish!

     
  • At 6/19/2012 11:30 pm, Anonymous Vivian - vxdollface said…

    Wow attention to detail from floor staff to kitchen is definitely a priority here, lots of potential. Everything looks so beautifully presented. I really like how they come in one by one and explaining part of the dish etc. Looking forward to dining here, might grab a few extra friends so we can watch the live cooking channel too ;)

     
  • At 6/20/2012 7:15 am, Anonymous Anna @ the shady pine said…

    The food here looks so incredibly good and I appreciate the attention to all the little details. Definitely one to try!

     
  • At 6/20/2012 10:52 am, Blogger ameanderingmango said…

    Wow - what an interesting and delicious looking menu, love the use of rye in their food. Another great review Helen, thanks!

     
  • At 6/20/2012 4:50 pm, Anonymous Anna @ The Littlest Anchovy said…

    This looks like it would be an amazing place to eat. I am so impressed by the on premises bee hive! I am in love with those mouse melons - I wonder where you can by them or at least buy the plant...

     
  • At 6/20/2012 8:18 pm, Blogger cara waters said…

    I've been hearing a lot about Sixpenny but am even more keen to go now I read this. Love the sound of the kitchen garden and especially that cookie jar.

     
  • At 6/21/2012 11:23 am, Anonymous JJ @ 84thand3rd said…

    Gorgeous! Good to see a place getting such rave reviews is keeping up pace. The potato chips are so cool!

     
  • At 6/22/2012 11:07 am, Anonymous Acy said…

    I want to try everything! The potato chip is just amazing!

     

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