Saturday, December 26, 2009

2009 Annual Birthday Bash - Sepia

It's all about the food!

Years ago, before food blogging became a hobby, a bunch of Yaya's nearest and dearest and their NFBFs (non food-blogging friends), who all have their birthdays at the arse end of the year, decided that instead of going out for each of our birthdays, we'd pool our money and spend it all on one fancy feast (no, not catfood!) towards the end of the year. The catalyst was Tetsuya's and this set a precedent for degustation menus.

Last year, we went to Bentley Restaurant & Bar, the year before it was Becasse and the year before that it was Rockpool (before it opened the steakhouse). This year's shortlist came down to Quay, Bilsons (unable to link due to malware warning on site), Waqu, Gallileo & Sepia. The majority chose Sepia, a restaurant at the base of the PWC building on Sussex Street in Sydney.

and although we'd already shortlisted it, Lorraine's blog on the venue certainly helped to cement our decision (we're not stalking you, honestly!)

Having settled on this, we almost threw it all away for a Portugese meat fest as we were shocked to discover that, having a party of ten or more for the first time, that we were expected to pay an additional 10% service charge on top of the entire bill. Having an Asian heritage where your immediate family instantly takes your dining out numbers to double figures, we were incensed.

Our outrage sparked a ring around all the shortlist only to find that this was a common practice for all high-end restaurants and is the result of wait staff being paid a bare minimum wage with the expectation that tips will make up the shortfall. The service charge (an industry insider explained) for large parties is an incentive to retain good staff. The restaurants we spoke with believed that while smaller parties inevitably gave 10% of the bill, larger parties tended not to tip as much. My question is: if it requires higher pay for proper staff, why not build it into the cost of the meal, then each individual diner can decide whether they want to pay the cost or not. It has to be said, we had no such charge put on our bill at Tetsuya's which is probably the highest priced meal in Sydney yet we happily went there as we knew what to expect. Right, so much for the rant! Here's the food:

Incredibly, restaurants which offer degustation menus will still have another little something to tempt you with before they start bringing the main attraction. In our case, it was oysters, individually purchased. Very succulent with a fresh vinaigrette and a sprinkling of crunchiness.

Amuse Bouche - the first of our complimentary dishes, consisted of two little discs of sausage with a sprinkling of cress and bean shoot. Flavourful, a little chewy but a promising start to the meal.

BBQ Silver Lake Eel, Sushi Rice, Confit Leek and Licorice Powder - I'm generally not a big fan of eel but the combination resulted in a moutful of flavours.

Yellow Fin Tuna Tartare, Avocado Cream, Soy and Wasabi Jelly
My favourite of the night, we were encouraged to mix all the flavours together before sampling.

Queensland Spanner Crab & Buckwheat Risotto, Mustard Butter, Shellfish Essence
Some of us didn't like the texture of the buckwheat but I was a big fan. The shellfish essence was intense yet light. Thank you Ferran Adria for foam!

Instead of the Butter Poached Cod which was listed on the website we had Mulloway.
We all misheard the description and thought we were getting turkey underneath the fish, instead it was turnip!

Creamed corn - someone had raved about it on a blog so we ordered it for the table. Beautifully served, it wasn't that expensive nor, to be perfectly honest, that great but we're glad we tried it.

As a diner who suffers from food intolerances, I have a love/hate relationship with degustation menus. I love the surprise of not knowing what is going to be presented and I hate finding out that for the sake of not knowing how the chef was going to use the one ingredient which precludes me from eating a particular dish, I am offered something far worse!

While everyone else had Roast Loin of Gippsland Lamb, Crisp Lamb Belly, Braised Daikon, Jerusalem Artichoke with Mushroom Infusion ... (I'm not sure what was in this dish that I couldn't have) ...

... I was presented with my substitute dish of duck. In the chef's defence, my food intolerance list didn't mention "raw" food (something I will most likely mention next time) so how were they to know? In matters of the flesh (of the eating kind at least!) I like mine medium to well done. The duck being quite rare and not suitable for my palate, rather than send it back to the kitchen, the Woodster, who knows that I'm not a huge fan and who is partial to rare, was the beneficiary of this chef's delight.

This was followed by Wagyu beef with pressed watermelon and a mandarin sauce. The sauce really made this dish and it was a shame that there was so little of it! The pressed watermelon was an interesting texture and left me wondering how it all stayed together yet didn't feel like normal watermelon nor what you expected pressed watermelon to be like!

Again, the beef was bleeding more heavily than to my liking, so again our resident chef had no qualms about helping me out!

Pre Dessert - a beautiful pannacotta with a melon sorbet nestling on a bed of crushed biscuit, sort of like a deconstucted cheesecake - delicate and refreshing. I didn't get the biscuit crumbs as I'm assuming it contained egg but I could have eaten a lot more of this one!

For the majority of the table, Citrus Marshmallows, Pineapple Sorbet, Mint Whip, Coriander Sprouts is what we were expecting - I'm not sure if we got that but what we did get was certainly the most beautifully constructed dessert, original and lovely to look at, almost a shame to eat. (The smiley face was the Sky Diver's doing.) I wasn't served this one due to the egg white in the marshmallow so my fellow bloggers will have to fill in the comments here but my dessert ...

... was Fruit Sorbet overlayed with a disc of sugared lace on top of which was green tea foam with a scattering of petals. I marvelled at the translucency of the glass like sugar which was absolutely colourless. The foam itself could have been a little sweeter but in combination with the toffee, this was not a big deal.

It's always hard to come to the end of a great meal which the ordering of coffee naturally heralds, bringing along with it the sadness of knowing that it will take another 150 emails and more organisation to get us together for the next one! (Something to look forward to!) The petit fours accompanying tea & coffee didn't disappoint.
Damn Adriano Zumbo for making macaron more popular than the beach in summer! These tiny ones were minty according to those who tasted.

And then there were chocolates! Dark, geodesic shaped (according to the Architect) and filled with a passionfruit cream, they didn't disappoint.

Would I go back? Probably not for the degustation but definitely to see what's on the a la carte menu, I'd love to try more of their desserts!

Happy birthday to all who attended! Looking forward to next year! : )

And a big thanks to fellow blogger and foodie M.S. Glutamate, without whom these photos would not have been possible. His industrial strength camera was the only one capable of capturing the food in such low light!


  1. Hehe no problems - stalk away! :D We were ringing around for our wedding reception a few years ago and Tetsuya's told us that there was a 10% service charge :( We thought hmmm 10% of $15,000 is a lot of a tip and again yes the Asian sensibility might think "Hmmm shouldn't I be getting a discount for booking lots of people?" :P.

    Ahh yes the lighting, isn't it SO hard! You got great pics though! :D

  2. I'm with you re the degustation. While I enjoyed it, it didn't overly impress me for some reason. However, I agree that seeing Lorraine's lovely post made me want to go back, as did yours! The presentation has changed slightly (the eel for example) and the geodesic(!) chocolates look cool!

  3. the only degustation i've really enjoyed has been tetsuyas. most of the dishes i had was memorable. if i think about it i could probably remember most of them. i think this is a sign of a good degustation. i really dislike the 10% surcharge for large groups, it's so mean. but i guess big groups generally stay around longer and take up valuable seating space for longer too. but still, i don't think they should do it. but then again i don't own a restaurant. merry xmas! :-)