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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sean's Kitchen, Pyrmont

Duck fat chips. This is the main reason why Yas and I find ourselves at Sean's Kitchen for a pre-show dinner.

We're seeing David Sedaris at the State Theatre - not a huge walk between that and Star City Casino - but it's the promise of duck fat chips that clinch our decision. We're easily swayed.

Sean's Kitchen

It's my third visit to Sean's Kitchen, the first at the launch of Sean Connolly's TV series My Family Feast, then a brief interlude for lunch during the World Chef Showcase for the Sydney International Food Festival.

We arrive at 6.00pm and are seated in the alcove dining room, quieter and a little more romantic than the main area, although the huge red-tinted glass doors unfortunately make me feel as if I'm entering some sort of stylised bordello.

Sean's Kitchen enclosed dining room

A framed black-and-white portrait of Sean looks over the dining room, a past entry submitted for the Shoot the Chef photography competition. The linen is crisp, the glassware is elegant and the wait staff are quietly attentive. There's a seriousness to the service, perhaps amplified by our waiter who has a thick French accent. At a nearby table, one woman takes great pains to repeat everything back to him, complete with Aussie drawl, to make sure she has understood everything he has said.

Cultured butter

Its proximity to the Lyric Theatre means staff are well-prepared for patrons in a hurry, and the pre-theatre menu is significantly cheaper than the a la carte version. Two courses are available for $50, three courses for $65, with five options listed under entrees, mains and desserts.

Bread platter

I'm still enamoured by the curved and elongated bread plate, but I'm in love with the cultured butter even more. Peeling off the cow print wax paper on top is a bit like opening the world's best Christmas present, the cheerful pat of batter so good I put literal slices of it on my crusty slice of bread. Truly I could have eaten just bread and butter for dinner and been more than satisfied.

Tartare of Crystal Bay prawns and avocado with beetroot gazpacho

Entrees however, are far more interesting. My tartare of Crystal Bay prawns arrives as a delicate quenelle topped with tiny slices of beetroot in the middle of a broad-brimmed bowl. In his other hand, the waiter holds a silver jug, which he solemnly tips over until the thick puree of beetroot gazpacho creates a crimson moat around the tartare island.

The beetroot gazpacho isn't as strongly flavoured as you'd expect, more of a muted raw beetroot flavour, and we both notice a slight oily residue on the tongue. The prawn tartare is magnificent, with the kind of intense and super-sweet prawn flavour that you find in Japanese ebi sashimi. Eaten with the prawn tartare, the beetroot gazpacho forms a pleasant backdrop, but there seems a little too much of it overall.

Chicken liver parfait with toasted brioche

I'd been eyeing the chicken liver parfait but in the interests of diversity, I'd chosen differently from Yas. The parfait arrives in a glass, elegantly presented although its relatively high walls make it a little difficult to scoop out with a knife.

The parfait is divine - smooth, silky, buttery and rich. I slather huge chunks of it on the toasted brioche bread. A passerby could tell how could it was by the evil looks of delight in our eyes.

Lamb chops with parsley mint and caper sauce

Yas orders the lamb chops for mains, three artfully stacked piece alongside a green daub of parsley, mint and caper sauce, smeared and scraped in that terribly trendy way so it looks like a hoon has gone gunning down your plate.

The lamb chops are succulent and tender, cooked sous vide to retain the moisture inside. We relish the chops (and Yas delights in savouring each mouthful of fat too) although we both find the parsley sauce a bit at odds with the lamb, like a blended up version of tabbouleh. I keep craving peas instead.

Meat loaf, 4 cuts of pure wagyu, vine-ripened tomato sauce

I'd been intrigued by the wagyu meat loaf, touted to contain four cuts of pure wagyu, the menu proclaims. It arrives looking much fancier than any meatloaf I'd ever eaten as a kid, a chunky slice flash-grilled, slathered with tomato sauce and sprinkled with gremolata.

The meat loaf, made with a coarse mince, is discernibly fattier in flavour and texture. A few gristly bits are presumably from the use of wagyu brisket. The vine-ripened tomato sauce is a highlight, adding an intense tangy sweetness. It's a rich dish that probably needs a side of vegetables to be better enjoyed, a tip that waitstaff should probably pass on.

Duck fat chips $8

Because instead of vegetables, we'd ordered the duck fat chips. They arrive in a battered measuring cap, the peeling red paint adding rustic charm. The fat cut chips have a golden edge, the insides creamy and dense.

As we eat the chips, the imprint of two hanging ducks is gradually revealed on the paper collar inside the cup. I can't help thinking about the dead ducks and their contribution to the fat soaked in our chips. Perhaps this is why we barely make our way through half of them, although in the interests of our cholesterol intake for the evening, this is probably a good thing.

Lemon tart and mandarin sorbet

The lemon tart is a narrow wedge, the filling tangy with citrus although the shallow filling means the crust seems to dominate the flavour. Mandarin sorbet is light and refreshing.

Duck egg crema Catalan

Yas had had to settle for the lemon tart because I'd gotten first dibs on the crema Catalan. I break the glossy surface with my spoon and, upon tasting, widen my eyes and fall silent. Yas looks at me, laughing, until he too takes a spoonful and does the same thing.

"You want to close your eyes don't you," I say. He nods, slowly at first and then vigorously speeds up in agreement.

The custard is every superlative you could think of and more. Cooked to a delicate wobble, it glides effortlessly down the throat. The dark caramel sauce is tempered by a touch of bitterness.
It's quite a large portion too - I would come back for this dish alone.

David Sedaris at the State Theatre

We managed to have three courses in just over 100 minutes (including excessive photo taking) which means a brisk walk over the Pyrmont Bridge to the State Theatre. We arrive flushed but on time to see David Sedaris who regales us with short stories (and one very funny email), revealing that he learnt Australian songs like Kookaburra, Waltzing Matilda and Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport in elementary school. He's witty, funny, self-deprecating and a master with words. A brief Q&A reveals his proudest moment - being featured as a clue in the New York Times crossword puzzle!

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Sean's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Sean's Kitchen
Level 2, Star City Hotel
80 Pyrmont Street
Pyrmont, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9777 9000

Opening hours
Monday to Friday 12pm - 10pm
Saturday and Sunday 6pm - 10.30pm

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13 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 1/19/2010 02:49:00 am


  • At 1/19/2010 4:06 am, Anonymous Hannah said…

    I'm sorry, but this is just scary - two nights ago I was in the car, in upstate Virginia with two American friends, listening to an audio CD of David Sedaris reading out exactly that story!!

    Now, if only our lives had also coalesced so that I was eating your "superlative" dessert too :)

  • At 1/19/2010 7:19 am, Blogger Yas @ hungry.digital.elf. said…

    I can't get over it, the crema catalan was simply divine. You BETTER call me if you are going back for it!!

    Great show after a nice dinner with a lovely company, it was totally well worth for a sweating power walk to the theatre ;) oh and the duck fat chips.

  • At 1/19/2010 8:30 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    Love lamb chop fat, yum .... I agree with you regarding the meatloaf, as it was so richly flavoured it needed something to accompany it. I would have loved it with rice; that's Asian for you! LOL.

    I disagree with you about the catalan though. Nice as it was, it was a bit boring with no contrasting textures, and the portion was far too large. To me it was like eating a 1L tub of Ben & Jerry's Cookie Dough ice cream in one sitting, way too much. I would have preferred a smaller portion with some accompaniment.

  • At 1/19/2010 11:06 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm glad you enjoyed it, Helen, but frankly a lot of the food looks as bad as the last time I went. Sous-vide does cuts like cutlets few favours, and the ones you were served look, frankly, scrawny and terrible.

    Describing the peeling cheaply spray-painted measuring cups the chips are served in as somehow rustically attractive is a very glass-half-full approach. They struck me more as dinged-up and crappy looking.

    I think this place has gone steeply downhill, and given that it wasn't that great to begin with, that's bad news. Seems like a very cynical and lazy kitchen, alas. Don't expect anyone at the SMH to point that out while Star City remains a big sponsor of their Sydney Food Festival.

  • At 1/19/2010 1:35 pm, Blogger Gastronomy Gal said…

    I agree- peeling the cow print paper off that beautiful butter would have been so incredibly satisfying.

  • At 1/19/2010 5:02 pm, Anonymous The Ninja said…

    I slay hoons by letting them run me over.

    Would the restaurant sell duck-fat chips for take-away? Because that would be a great hit for...well, any time of the day, really. You should've kept the chips for post-show antics.

    And I can imagine Yas' blissful expression could have - in some circles - rivalled Sedaris' wit in the number of laughs it elicited.

  • At 1/19/2010 9:38 pm, Blogger YaYa said…

    Yep, having gone past the age of feeling embarassed about shameful behaviour, I definitely would have taken the leftover chips with me! They were fried in DUCK FAT no way they would have been left behind!

  • At 1/20/2010 12:56 am, Anonymous billy@atablefortwo said…

    aha I love how u both fell in orgasmic silent with the catalan! LOL I was lucky to have a "quick" taste of their chicken kiev coated in green during the hotel conference photoshoot. Shame Star City is just tad far inconvenient to get to...

  • At 1/20/2010 2:19 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Hannah - Wow, that is a coincedence as we were watching David Sedaris two nights before! I will have to track down his audio CDs and I'm looking foward to his next book too!

    Oh I think the grass is always greener. By the time you return to Oz you will be thinking wistfully of your travels, I'm sure :)

    Hi Yas - The crema Catalan was one of those light-changing moments. lol. I would head back there just for that dessert, and you betcha I'm calling you to join me too!

    Thanks for a fab evening, and ha, I don't think we quite walked off our dinner but hey, we kinda tried. lol

    Hi Joey - Ha, I could totally imagine eating the meatloaf with rice :) I think some vegetables would definitely have helped too.

    We shared the crema Catalan but I'm sure I could have eaten the whole thing. I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to silken textures - I don't like it being interrupted by anything crunchy and I thought the dark caramel sauce was divine. But everyone has different tastes :)

    Hi Anon - I didn't mind the spray-painted measuring cups but I suppose it may have looked a little out of place in the type of atmosphere they're trying to create.

    I haven't eaten here enough to comment on any perceived drop in quality, but I appreciate your comments. Some interesting points raised :)

    Hi Gastronomy Gal - it's funny how it's the little touches that can leave such an impression!

    Hi The Ninja - I applaud your selflessness.

    I don't think the chips are available for takeaway but you could always try to negotiate. lol.

    I think we both had expressions of pure unadulterated bliss although I think David Sedaris still wins hands down.

    Hi YaYa - lol. I think I've done that before in my youth but cold greasy chips always make me feel ill. Besides it really was a good thing I didn't eat many more. My metabolish is annoyingly efficient!

    Hi Rob - It's what brought us there!

    Hi Billy - It's not too far - just a 15min walk from Town Hall across the Pyrmont Bridge. We noticed the whole roast chicken being trundled on a trolley whilst we were there. What a pity you didn't get a chance to enjoy an entire meal!

  • At 1/20/2010 10:32 am, Blogger Rambling Tart said…

    Oooeee - those chips sound AMAZING! :-)

  • At 1/20/2010 1:21 pm, Blogger Deb said…

    Duck fat chips? I've got to go soon!

  • At 1/20/2010 3:20 pm, Blogger Eyes Bigger Than Belly said…

    Oh wow - your entire meal looked divine... I want all of it... and NOW!! YUM!!

  • At 1/25/2010 4:41 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Rambling Tart - I think anything cooked in duck fat sounds amazing :)

    Hi Food.4.two - Enjoy. The duck fat chips were the deal maker for us too!

    Hi Joy - lol. I wouldn't mind all of it right now too. Always fun to share with someone so you can cover more the menu!


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