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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sepia, Sydney

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.

'Scallop sushi'

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.

Butter poached King George whiting, chestnut mushroom and truffle jelly, confit garlic emulsion, toasted breadcrumbs and snow pea sprouts

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.

'Chocolate forest'
Soft chocolate, praline and chestnut, lavender cream, blackberry sorbet, blackberry candy, green tea, licorice, chocolate twigs, crystallised fennel fronds and native fingerlimes

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.

Japanese stones

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.

Petits fours

Grab Your Fork dined at Sepia Restaurant as a guest of Destination NSW.

View Larger Map
Sepia on Urbanspoon

201 Sussex Street, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9283 1990

Opening hours:
Lunch Tuesday to Friday from 12 noon
Dinner Tuesday to Saturday from 6pm
26 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 10/19/2011 07:31:00 am


  • At 10/19/2011 8:17 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    Sepia's been a favourite of mine for years now, it's so great they won Restaurant of the Year (though it probably means it's going to be so much harder to get a booking!). That shellfish custard really does look ridiculously good.

  • At 10/19/2011 9:21 am, Blogger ragingyoghurt said…

    this is without a doubt one of the best meals i've experience vicariously through your site. ;) really, like a traipse through wonderland.

  • At 10/19/2011 9:33 am, Blogger Apple said…

    I'm simply in awe. From your brilliant descriptions and photos, the Japanese Stones and the Nori coated scallop would me stand outs with me. Such detail and love would have gone into creating those dishes. It really makes me appreciate the chefs so much more.

  • At 10/19/2011 9:46 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    Oh my goodness. Those desserts look amazing. The mains are just teasing you while you wait for the dessert, right? This has been on the list for a long time - maybe this is what I needed to push it to the top.

    Oh, that and money.

  • At 10/19/2011 9:52 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    I've always been impressed by the food here - having dined here twice - but never wowed; is there something wrong with me??? :-)

  • At 10/19/2011 10:19 am, Blogger Merryn said…

    Wow - this looks divine! Your photos do justice to what is obviously an amazing line up of gloriously plated, exquisite food. Between the King George whiting, the New Zealand Scampi and the Chocolate Forest, it seems you have been fed nirvana on plates.

  • At 10/19/2011 11:01 am, Blogger Mel said…

    Your photos are stunning & Hi David Lebovitz...lol! I want to go to Sepia just to try those Japanse Stones...amazing.

  • At 10/19/2011 11:06 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    that chocolate forest was insane!

  • At 10/19/2011 11:10 am, Anonymous OohLookBel said…

    A truly gorgeous experience! The food at Sepia is so refined, and you're right, the attention to detail is amazing. I still occasionally dream about the chocolate forest, it's the coolest dessert.

  • At 10/19/2011 11:18 am, Anonymous Jacq said…

    Wow everything looks amazing, especially those desserts! You've reminded me that I really need to visit Sepia asap (that's if I can even get a booking!)

  • At 10/19/2011 2:25 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Oh! Just oh! It still amazes me, despite seeing similar posts on your blog over the years, that dishes (and savoury dishes, particularly), can be so PRETTY. It's awe-inspiring.

  • At 10/19/2011 3:39 pm, Anonymous Vivian - vxdollface said…

    My happy place xD I feel like I need another trip to Sepia after reading your post! Darn wish I could've bumped into Leibovitz too!

  • At 10/19/2011 5:43 pm, Blogger Phuoc'n Delicious said…

    What a divine meal, everything is a work of art. Sepia is definitely on my hit-list.

  • At 10/20/2011 9:19 am, Anonymous Nic@diningwithastud said…

    What a fantastic meal! Everything is perfect as excpected. Those stones look soooo awesome!!

  • At 10/20/2011 3:07 pm, Anonymous Ayden said…

    Your picture of the Nori-rolled scallop makes it look so so good! Love it.

  • At 10/20/2011 6:05 pm, Anonymous justachef said…

    WOW! Incredible, I am so jealous! Each dish so beautifully presented. Definitely looks like they deserve Restaurant of the Year.

  • At 10/20/2011 9:33 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    those chocolate pebbles look amazing! i've been wanting to try sepia since hearing about their chocolate forest dessert and your photos of the whole meal are gorgeous, very jealous.

  • At 10/20/2011 10:52 pm, Anonymous gummi baby said…

    Having been there once before the new menu, I read an earlier review raving about the scallop sushi which already had me sold but I am salivating at every one of those dishes! Might be time to make another visit. :D

  • At 10/20/2011 11:19 pm, Anonymous Dumpling Girl said…

    I can't get over how exquisite the stones look, and they sound heavenly. It's making Sepia so hard to resist.

  • At 10/21/2011 1:56 am, Blogger Penny Lane said…

    Is this for real? Wow, I'm in awe. Sydney really has a lot to offer. Lemon mrytle jelly looks very refreshing. I can't believe I am already full just by looking at the pictures. Great post! :)

  • At 10/21/2011 5:36 pm, Anonymous Fabia (a mouthful of fabs) said…

    I was disappointed when i went to Sepia a few yrs ago but it seems that they have turned full circle. Your pics are really good, makes me wanna go back =)

  • At 10/21/2011 8:27 pm, Anonymous Sara - Belly Rumbles said…

    Those Japanese stones are calling me!

  • At 10/21/2011 10:55 pm, Anonymous Reid said…

    OMG... Cold smoked Tasmanian ocean trout consomme looks outstanding

  • At 10/21/2011 10:57 pm, Anonymous Criss said…

    Scallop sushi !!! I loved it !

  • At 10/22/2011 11:41 pm, Anonymous tania@mykitchenstories said…

    How amazing it all looks. Great photos, thanks for the post

  • At 10/24/2011 11:41 pm, Blogger Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) said…

    A timely reminder that I've been trying to get to Sepia for around 3 years now and still haven't...*sigh*


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