Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Quay to a Great Meal

Well I guess I gave the game away in the title so no need to ponder the question any longer!

I fully admit that I was reluctant to dine at Quay. In spite of the many positive reviews and members of my own family calling it their favourite restaurant, year after year, I would look at their menu and ask myself whether any meal, and particularly what was on their menu at the time, was worth $220 per person - without drinks. Even when Masterchef featured the gorgeous and now famous Snow Egg, I resisted, and not only because it was the one dish I was confident I couldn't have due to its egg content.Well I was finally persuaded to give it a go and I am very glad I did.
Quay has to have the best location for a harbourside restaurant. Even better, we were in what I would call the Captain's cabin, a small dining room upstairs from the main restaurant which I imagine could be hired for private functions with the right numbers. With sweeping views of the waterfront and Bridge, what more could you want?
We decided on the degustation menu, of course, with whatever substitutes required by my egg and my friend's nut allergies.

We didn't have long to wait. First off, an amuse bouche. While I can't remember the precise ingredients (curse my rotten memory and failure to take notes!), I remember that it didn't disappoint as our first taste of the evening.
Raw, native freshwater marron, young almonds, bergamot marmalade, pomelo, green mango, elder, chamomile 
I was a little wary of this at first because, although I love sashimi of tuna or salmon, I'm not a big fan of any other raw seafood. Scallops, prawns, lobster - I couldn't say I would choose to eat any of them raw and marron would fall into that category. But I do love the pomelo, a large citrus fruit resembling a grapefruit but when chosen well, sweet and juicy. While mine excluded the young almonds, I didn't feel there was anything missing.

One of the most memorable things about this experience was that while each dish listed its ingredients, everything worked together as a whole to deliver a pretty consistent combination of flavour and texture. This first dish was no exception but I still don't think I would order it willingly! 
Mud crab congee, fresh palm heart
This was one of the three top dishes of the meal.When I read congee on the menu I pictured something rather more gluggy and stodgy. What came out was not only a work of art but almost a rice soup - delicate consomme with indvidual, dare I say sparse, grains of rice, perfectly cooked and the silken strands of crab with the al dente finely sliced heart of palm. I could have eaten this as a main course just on its own. Yum!
Gently poached southern rock lobster, hand caught Tasmanian squid, golden tapioca, lobster velvet
Presented in a covered earthenware bowl, and only ever having had tapioca as a dessert, I also expected this to be gluggy. I discovered that I rather liked savoury tapioca, opening up a whole new world of possibilities (I really love the texture, it has great mouth feel). Quay's Head Chef, Peter Gilmore, has been quoted as saying that his philosophy of food is to source locally and cook sustainably. This dish certainly fulfils that mandate. And it didn't taste bad either! 
I had thought earlier during the meal that it was (happily) unusual no bread was offered, so when the shapely dish pictured arrived with a quenelle of something yellow we concluded that it was the accompaniment to the next dish. As it turned out (perhaps there was a delay in the next course being presented, we will never know), it was butter and salt to accompany one of the largest selections of sour dough varieties we had ever been offered in a restaurant.
We were taken in particular with a sunflower kernel sourdough and were generously offered seconds and even thirds. How disappointing to find out that as it was made specially for Quay by Sonoma and we would (alas) never have the opportunity of buying it.
Smoked and confit pig jowl, shiitake, shaved scallop, Jerusalem artichoke, juniper, bay
Another top 3 dish - all the elements were so artfully put together, we couldn't work out which element was which. But it didn't matter in the end, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. This was one of the dishes which had an array of textures; the crispness of the artichoke, the succulent shiitake, the sweet melt-in-your-mouth pork jowl (who would have thought?!) and the soft shaved scallop.
Slow cooked coturnix quail breast, stone ground semolina enriched with Alba truffle butter, buckwheat, faro, walnuts, pumpernickel, malt 
This is the 3rd of my top 3 -again a cornucopia of flavours, we were warned that the quail was one of two dishes which Chef would be serving on the under side of doneness and would prefer not to serve more well done. Well it was nice to be warned and although I approached this dish with a little trepidation as a result, it didn't feel like the quail was raw. The stand-out element was the buckwheat which was a crisp contrast to the rest of the soft textures. My serving didn't contain the walnuts but once again, it didn't feel like it was missing anything vital.
David Blackmore's full blood Wagyu, bitter chocolate black pudding, oxtail consommé 
Speaking of raw, this was easily my least favourite dish of the evening. The consomme was poured from a large heavy teapot, reconstituting the black pudding into a tasty sauce. I really wanted to like this but even though the consomme was delicious, and what's not to love about chocolate, I just couldn't. 

White nectarine snow egg
The showpiece! - although those of you who have had it will not recognise this version which was put together without the egg elements, being the meringue and icecream. Instead mine had the granita and a sorbet which was so smooth I could have sworn it was icecream. Unlike most dishes where the egg is substituted, I didn't feel like I missed anything. Here's what my companions had...

Ewe's milk ice-cream, caramel, roasted walnuts, prune, Pedro Ximénez, chocolate bark, pulled toffee, vanilla milk skin 
Perhaps the exposure on Masterchef made the kitchen think that the Snow Egg would be an anti-climax so they chose to serve this second dessert as the final course. Unfortunately, although the dish looked spectacular and was no doubt a complex thing to construct, the taste was not to everyone's liking and everyone felt that the Snow Egg itself should have been the finale. I had no such qualms about my second dessert.
Jewels - raspberries, rose, coconut
This is on the a la carte menu and I couldn't have been happier after the disappointing reaction to the Ewes Milk dessert. Refreshing, light and crispy, it was a wonderful finish to a memorable meal except it wasn't - the end of the meal that is! 

Coffee, Tea Petits Fours
Well we actually didn't have coffee or tea but they served the petit fours anyway and although we were sure we'd had plenty to eat, we couldn't resist. On the left side, hazelnut ganache and on the right a dark chocolate ganache covered with what appeared to be crunchy rice crisps but which tasted entirely of chocolate. I'm pretty sure spherification was in use here but it only occurred as an after thought, during the actual eating, I wasn't distracted by it at all!

So, the verdict? If you can afford it, you can't afford not to experience a meal at Quay. I haven't mentioned the service yet but having not long afterwards experienced truly bad service, I can only sing the praises of the wait staff at Quay. Great food, great service, the key to a great meal - no pun intended! :D


  1. Your posts make me miss Sydney so much!

  2. We so wish you had been a part of this Eric! Something else to look forward to when you return! :D

  3. I dined at Quay over the weekend and all I can say is... OH EM GEEEEEEEEEEE! One of the best dining experiences I've had - food, service and view! AMAZING

  4. looks like an amazing meal! dying to go to quay even more now!

  5. This brings back memories of when I was there a few years ago. Definitely a meal to remember, and very worth it. Great that you enjoyed it, too.

  6. I really enjoyed my visit to Quay. Was so nice reliving it through your photos and comments. Peter really does have a special touch.

  7. It's definitely one of those places that you just have to go to isn't it! :)

  8. glad you went to quay! shame about the milk icecream though

  9. Merry Christmas to your and all of your families! :D xxx