Worth a thought

Name: Marque
Address: Shop 4/355 Crown Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 9332-2225
Web: marquerestaurant.com.au
Chefs: Mark Best and Pasi Petanen

Owners: Mark and Valerie Best
Hours: Lunch – Fri from noon. Dinner – Mon-Sat 6.30pm-10.30pm

Eating is something that we each do many times every day, yet so often we fail to really think about what we are eating. We don’t pay attention to the different tastes in the mouth, to the complex interplay between the bitter, salty, sour and sweet. And most of us haven’t even heard of umami.

Yet when you are at Marque and the food you are eating has been conceived in the mind of Mark Best, it is impossible not to consider these things. From the moment you start stirring the famed Chaud-Froid Egg with salted strands of grissini, you are made to think. You think about the way the salt works with the sweet that comes from a touch of maple syrup, and about the way the hot and cold parts combine.

Likewise, it is difficult not to think harder about a simple steak when it is combined with things both sweet and bitter. First you have to get past the remarkable tenderness of the hanger steak, especially in comparison to the crunch of a ribbon of fresh beetroot. Then the sugar in the beetroot and the bite of the caramelised radicchio lifts the subtle beef to the next level.

This is intelligent food. It is brilliant in the way it is put together, and Best shows unbelievable touch and balance. And yet it manages to avoid the trap that most clever food falls into. As well as intelligent, the offerings at Marque are absolutely delicious.

A few dishes really stood out. My aversion to cooked oysters was tossed aside with a butter-soft roast St Helens oyster doused in ham and mustard sauce, reinventing the tired Oyster Kilpatrick into a true showstopper.

Steamed eggplant, topped with a puree made from the eggplant’s skin, sits beside a rich sliver of duck and a dollop of tangy yoghurt. These three aspects, each being ingredients that inspire intense love from devotees, together form a dish that is nothing less than swoon-worthy.

Some dishes also showed how some modern techniques should be used. Foams weren’t just garnishes, or used to make it look better. Here they were used to lighten up normally heavy flavours, like with the very delicate veal sweetbreads that wouldn’t have worked with a heavy liquorice sauce. Or they were to maintain textural balance, as with a cloud of almond gazpacho over the swimmer crab.

Admittedly not every dish was perfect. In an optional course, Brunet cheese was completely overshadowed by a grassy rocket puree and surprising tea meringues. It was not exactly bad as much as it was suffering from an audience that wanted to taste the cheese.

A dessert of chocolate and coconut was forgettable, with conventional flavours being lost in the excitement of the rest of the meal. Especially when placed between some exceptionally bitter sauternes custard and the genius of the petit fours. These ran through the core tastes, with bitter Campari bon bons, salted caramel, a smoothly sour lemon drop, and finishing with sweet apple jellies. This rounded out the evening as a lesson on a plate.

While the food is clear draw card, the rest of the experience completely measured up. The room was gorgeously dark and sexy, the staff knowledgeable and professional, with just the right amount of affability. There was one gap that was slightly too long, but it could be excused. Matching wines were exciting. A 2004 Markus Molitor Riesling Spatlese from Mosel was a highlight, going perfectly with the crab.

Marque is considered one of the best restaurants in the country, and with good reason. This food may not be for everyone, and not everyone will want to pay the $150 a head for the meal. But, if you go in the right frame of mind, Mark Best and his team will take you on a journey that will make you think, make you marvel, and ultimately leave you walking out deliriously happy.

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About freehugstommy

Food, films and politics are my triumvirate of passions.
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