The Quay surprise

7 Jan

Okay, before you think that Quay sprung some amazing surprise on me (I WISH), Quay was actually  the surprise. Some time ago, it was the Sister’s birthday (whose age I will not disclose as it goes with all women’s ages), and she had just arrived in Sydney to do a postgraduate course. I admit, it was with a slight ulterior motive that I chose Quay, but I assumed the desire would be mutual, and booked a lunch for two. The Sister had no idea. But she did venture the guess..

Past the initial realisation and shock with the extravagance, we took in our surroundings, the beautiful view of the Sydney Opera House, and the quiet peace that filled the restaurant. Mind you, this was pre-Masterchef-induced Quay-craze. We took to bread, but of course, and eventually, the amuse bouche, a Jerusalem artichoke curd with truffle and oxtail consomme.

The curd was smooth and mild, resembling silken tofu, and the consomme was lighter than I expected. All of this was dominated by the single sliver of black truffle on the top, and with each mouth I tried to savour every last bit of its strong aroma. Yes – My bouche was amused.

The main thing that drew my attention to Quay were the infamous Sea Pearls. I knew of 5 to be in existence, and I really had hope to have all of them, but as I was having the degustation menu, I had just one, the Smoked Eel and Sea Scallop Pearl. It was, nevertheless, SPLENDID. In my opinion, anyway. It looked absolutely delicate and beautiful, and tasted that way too. I spent some time scrutinising and tasting this pearl, as I wondered what were the tiny beads that covered the pearl, and where exactly were the flavours they described. You see, that’s the thing, especially in a place serving Peter Gilmore’s food, where the chef has a unique way of presenting ingredients to you in a different way you are used to perceiving them – You can’t immediately tell which component is which, until you taste each one. As it turns out, those delicate, neatly placed beads of white were egg white droplets encasing a ball of smoked eel and scallop mousse, abed horseradish cream, and adorned with a pretty wasabi flower. I felt overwhelmed, as it was full of flavour, yet each component came through so clearly, and my mind just couldn’t get over how it all comes in a tiny, compact package.

The Salad of Pink Turnips & Breakfast Radishes, with violets, olives, pine resin and balsamico, was much more straight-forward in presentation, but absolutely gorgeous to look at. It looked like a mini forest on my plate, and the use of colours on the plate is undeniably appealing. I loved the combination of the goats’ curd cigar sticks with the vegetables, and beetroot chips! It seems a trend to pair beetroot with goats’ curd, but I find this to be the most balanced among the few I have tried to date. I could look at this dish all day..

The Gentle Braise of Pearl Oyster, Southern Rock lobster, and shaved squid, with tapioca, lettuce heart, oyster cream and pea flowers was a dish that truly boggled me. For the life of me, I just could not figure out the oyster and lobster that was in the dish, perhaps of the way it was prepared, but it was exquisite. It was mild, light, yet tasty, the slippery smooth textures luxurious on my tongue, tickled with the tapioca pearls. The Sister declared this as her favourite dish by the end of the meal.

Oooh, it’s so shiny! The Butter Poached Cortunix Quail Breast with chestnuts, truffle, bitter chocolate black pudding, milk skin and walnuts was a very earthy dish. The quail was perfectly cooked with a lovely shiny glaze, and soil-like texture of nuts and black pudding was a good accompaniment and textural contrast. The milk skin was definitely interesting, though I don’t remember much of what it tasted like, and just wondered how it was made. Hm.

I have  weakness for a good piece of steak, and this Poached Blackmore Wagyu Fillet with Tasmanian wasabi and morels had my heart singing at first sight. I was slightly put out by the word ‘wasabi’ – I really can’t take that stuff – but poached? Wagyu? Knowing it was a piece of beef I was tucking into at Quay, I was almost quaking with excitement. And geez.. It was so tender I barely had to saw through the meat. When you’re chewing on it, there is little resistance and it was almost literally melt in your mouth. Oh, wagyu..! The celery and spinach puree was a smooth and rich accompaniment, cut slight by the wasabi cream. It was subtle, but truth be told, I’d be happy to leave that out completely so I can fully enjoy that juicy, tender hunk of meat, so beautifully cooked.. BLISS.

I was pretty happy with my beef, but then came the final savoury course, the Slow Braised Berkshire Pig Jowl with maltose crackling, prunes, cauliflower cream, and perfumed prune kernel oil. I’m Chinese, I like my pork, alright. And when you slow braise pig jowl.. And give it an intriguing, not-often-seen, sweet maltose crust.. This was a real winner for me, and it’s not something you forget the taste of easily. The rich, sinful pork with that delightfully sweet crunch that somehow, just WORKS, with the soft plump prunes and let’s just add to the richness, a lashing of cauliflower cream. It was definitely rich, but not in an overpowering way. It seemed like a good balance between rich flavours and portion size, which felt like a wonderful indulgence you want to go back for. It was an interesting dish for me, and definitely a tasty one to boot. Okay I can feel a craving coming on..

Ah yes, the infamous Guava Snow Egg! At that time, I had no idea the fame it was about to claim, and while I knew it was Peter Gilmore’s self-confessed favourite dish, I had no idea. The introduction was decidedly more enthusiastic, “Dig deep, all the good stuff’s at the bottom! -grin-” and we paid heed. Crack! Oh that is satisfying. And look, a surprise custard apple ice cream inside! Ooh the refreshing guava granita -brainfreeze!- and what’s that at the bottom? It was creamy, jammy, sweet and tart all at the same time. I was starting to understand the enthusiasm. It helped me understand the subsequent post-Masterchef hype. It looked pristine and perfect, truly like a delicate egg in snow. It was decidedly one of the best desserts I have had to date. Mr Gilmore, my hats off to you.

Besides the sea pearls, another reason that drew me to Quay was the 8-textured Chocolate Cake. I have seen it in blogs and I told myself, I HAD to have it. So I switched my dessert. I loved it when the service staff placed the plate in front me, and said, “Here’s your 7 textures of chocolate. And -ladles a dollop of warm chocolate on top- this is your 8th.” Knowing what was about the happen, I snapped away as the top of the chocolate cake started to form a well, funnelling down, like an implosion in slow motion. And it was warm and cold at the same time, rich, and dense. It was made for the ultimate chocolate lover, that was for sure. Strangely enough, I found myself craving the Guava Snow Egg again after the rich indulgence. I wonder why..

There is a finesse in Quay’s food that you can taste. There is also a way of intriguing you by applying different techniques to a well-known ingredient or using an ingredient that would otherwise not be expected to be used in cooking at all. In doing that, the food continues to stay close to nature and showcases the natural flavours best, despite the complicated techniques. That is why there is a feeling of simplicity and nature when you dine there, the plate taking you from one part of the natural world to the other. I’m glad that I chose lunch – for the slightly more casual atmosphere, how natural light showcases the food, as well as for us to take pictures, of course! The service staff is efficient and professional, and the views at lunch are simply splendid.

Would I go back there? In a heartbeat.

Overseas Passenger Terminal
The Rocks, Sydney NSW 2000
+61 2 9251 5600


9 Responses to “The Quay surprise”

  1. the ninja January 7, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    mmm shiny

    I like the backlog which the “ate before it was famous” statement implies

    • Sook January 8, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

      like you won’t believe.

  2. chocolatesuze January 7, 2011 at 2:57 pm #

    nice pics! mmm that chocolate cake looks to die for

  3. mademoiselle délicieuse January 8, 2011 at 5:25 pm #

    Wow…and it’s great that you got a chance to enjoy it pre-Masterchef hype. The plating is so clean and everything looks deliciously vibrant!

  4. Helen (grabyourfork) January 10, 2011 at 1:26 am #

    Wow everything looks simply stunning. I’ve seen him demonstrate how he makes the radish salad and it’s like a work of art using tweezers to put everything in place.

  5. Simon @ the heart of food January 10, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

    So much pretty looking food… *sigh*

    Wish they just did desserts. Would love to go there just for the snow egg & 7+1 textured chocolate cake! 🙂

  6. angie January 23, 2011 at 9:22 pm #

    Have booked in for lunch in March for the boy’s birthday, can’t wait! =D

  7. Amy @ cookbookmaniac February 20, 2011 at 8:26 pm #

    It all looks so incredibly artful. I wish someone would treat me to this place one day. Looks divine!

  8. Iron Chef Shellie February 21, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

    GORGEOUS photos of gorgeous looking food! Insanely jealous!!

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