Address: Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks, Sydney 2000
Ph: (61 2) 9251 5600
Chef/Owner: Peter Gilmour
Hours: Lunch – Tuesday to Friday, 12 noon – 2:30pm. Dinner – Monday to Sunday, 6.00pm-10.00pm
We are looking through enormous windows, across the harbour to a lit up Opera House to where some sort of event is being held. Suddenly, fireworks erupt over the iconic building.
Believe it or not, that was significantly less exciting than the food on the plate in front of me.
Quay has, over the past few years, been called the best restaurant in Australia so many times that it is redundant to even mention it. Throw on top of that the “most famous dessert in Australia” and this is a restaurant that comes with very high expectations. And it meets every one.
Peter Gilmour’s food is a masterclass in how much is needed to achieve purity. From the amuse-bouche of milk curd and oxtail consommé through to the final chocolate truffles as a petit four, every step of this experience had absolute clarity of flavour, brought forth through unbelievable technique.
Take, for example, the surprising salad of pink turnips and breakfast radishes. Borrowing the idea of an edible garden that continues to take the restaurant world by storm, this was an unexpected highlight. Appearing like a miniature city of raw vegetable high-rises, this was a lesson in freshness, the crispness of the radishes and turnips offset by the black olive soil and soft cream underneath. Stunning.
Equally stunning is the slow braised Berkshire pig jowl. I am not sure if jowl is going to replace belly as the favoured cut of pig, but there is no reason it couldn’t. This rich, fatty meat was encased in a thin crust of maltose crackling, and placed atop Pedro Ximinez soaked prunes and cauliflower cream. It was simple, it was clean, and it was the way pork should be served.
Every dish had this clarity of purpose, in a way that far too few places know how to master. This was a meal created with poise and confidence, by a chef at the top of his game.
Sometimes there were many ingredients, like with a gentle braise of pearl oysters with shaved squid, golden tapioca, smooth lobster velvet, pea flowers and the amazingly exciting flavour that comes from lettuce hearts. Other times there were hardly any, as with an unbelievably soft slab of poached Blackmore wagyu fillet served with rich morels and garnished with nothing more than the gentle heat of fresh Tasmanian wasabi. Either way, with every dish you could tell exactly what the point of this dish was.
Incidentally, fresh Tasmanian wasabi is a picture of subtlety and further makes me realise what is wrong with the blasting green goo you get with sushi.
A single “pearl” made of smoked eel, scallop, pearl barley and horseradish delivered flavour so acutely it made me sad that they no longer do five of them.
It would be remiss to talk about Quay without mentioning the “most famous dessert in Australia”, the Snow Egg. A few iterations on from the guava and custard apple we all saw on Masterchef, the key ingredient is now white nectarine, and is the taste of summer. Layer upon layer of the same powerful flavour, delivered in different textures and temperatures, this was purity of purpose like few desserts I have ever had. It more than lives up to expectations, and cements Gilmour’s as being one of the few chefs who are their own star pastry chefs.
This was demonstrated again in the next dessert, a dish of preserved wild cherry compote, coconut cream, chocolate crumble, sugar crystals and chocolate sorbet. While it read like an up-market version of a Cherry Ripe, it delivered so much more than that. This is the Cherry Ripe you would eat in paradise.
There is one last dish to mention, my favourite of the night, and a dish that was to luxury and excess what the radish salad was to freshness. It was butter poached quail breast, served with truffle custard, milk skin and, in a change to the dish made only the night before, morel and ethical foie gras pudding. Every bite of this was rich and moreish, the absolute peak of indulgence.
The quail was also paired with my favourite of an expertly compiled series of matching wines, with a 2008 TerraVin Pinot Noir from Malborough that had the strength to cut through the richness of the dish. A 2009 Sangiovese/Nebbiolo from Flying Fish Cove in Margaret River called ‘The Italian Job’ was also excellent with the beef, having a subtlety that didn’t overpower the dish.
All the wines were matched well, and explained well. The sommelier was knowledgeable and very professional, as were the rest of the staff. I had heard bad reports about the service at Quay, but experienced nothing of the sort. From the moment we stepped through the door to the moment we left, we were well taken care of.
For $210 for the food and another $90 for the matching wine this is not an experience you could have every day. But it is one that everyone should do at least once. It was special, it was exciting, it was pure, and it was something you couldn’t get anywhere else in the country.
Really, it was fireworks.