Marque - Surry Hills, Australia

Dinner - Saturday, October 20, 2012

Surry Hills seems like a really fun neighbourhood. On a Saturday night, it was crawling with people of all ages, boisterously enjoying food, drink and each other's company. Crown Street, where Marque is located, is jam-packed with restaurants and cafes (whose quality I cannot judge). By comparison, Marque has an extremely subdued exterior - we walked right past it and only doubled back when we did a double take at Kylie Kwong's place right next door.

Inside, however, the space is energetic. We were slightly worried about our meal when we heard that long-time head chef Pasi Petanen had left his position a few months ago to strike out on his own. Our concerns were unfounded - Mark Best himself was present and helming the kitchen, and the food was completely on point (as you will see).

NB: I apologize for the strange lighting in the photos - we were seated in a very dark corner of the restaurant.

Amuse - House-cured and smoked Kurobuta pork neck 
Pretty unusual move - I can count on one hand the number of times I've been served a piece of meat this large as a first bite. The pork was rolled in a spice blend containing juniper, black pepper and thyme. Very aromatic, nicely cured.

Blue swimmer crab
Almond, avruga, corn
Oh, the crab was good. So sweet, with the barest hint of brine (I suppose this makes sense, given that their native habitats are estuaries). It went swimmingly well with the milky corn purée. Combined with the strong hit of almonds (present in the form of a gazpacho and jelly), it made for an integrated bite. The avruga on the side provided a burst of salt to balance the dish's sweetness. The only component I found superfluous was a popcorn powder, which was overwhelmed by its counterparts.

Smoked tiger prawn
Avocado, buttermilk, hazelnut, cured egg yolk
My favourite plate of the evening. The quality of the tiger prawn was great, and it was just cooked to perfection. Then there was the buttermilk sauce surrounded by a rim of intense hazelnut oil, five scants drops of a prawn reduction (simply amazing!) sitting within. Finally, shavings of cured egg yolk that dissolved on the tongue, adding their unique unctuousness. The avocado, by comparison, was light and refreshing, with a wonderful caramelization to it.

Kangaroo Island scallop
Celtuce, apple, sea lettuce, mushroom broth
A very successful integration of earth and sea. The scallop was served with its roe, a welcome treat. I think this may be the first time I've truly enjoyed the juxtaposition of sharp, tangy apples with the muskiness of mushrooms.

Murray cod, fish milk, roe, crispy skin
Savoy cabbage, green strawberries
Roasted veal sweetbreads
Vadouvan, dehydrated carrots, crispy saltbush leaves
Spring lamb neck
Parsley, young garlic, dried asparagus, sea urchin bottarga, hazelnut oil
Yet another dish featuring delicious Australian asparagus - frankly, I can't get enough of it. The meltingly soft lamb neck was rolled in a crust of burnt eggplant, imbuing it with smoky aromas. Something I found surprisingly good was the combination of lamb and dried uni - their flavours played off each other unexpectedly. Overall, an excellent meat course.

Pecorino Toscana Gran Reserva
Parmesan gnocchi, pear, vanilla, pepper, Jerusalem artichoke
Radicchio vermicelli, grapefruit, mint
The vermicelli were essentially strips of dehydrated radicchio, moist and pliable like fruit leather. With the grapefruit sacs and ice cream, it was almost a little too bitter for me, but the mint pulled the flavours back and I enjoyed the dessert greatly. Very bright - a nice segue into the subsequent course.

Chocolate mousse "Ecrasé"
Beetroot, blackcurrant, candied violet flowers
Sauternes custard, bitter caramel
Wow, just wow. My idealized version of a crème brûlée. Not as sweet, more complex, with floral and honey notes from the Sauternes - and no damn sugar crust. The glossy caramel layer was beautiful and excellent with the custard beneath.

Dinner at Marque was a splendid way to spend our last night in Sydney. Despite having his attention divided by the opening of Pei Modern in Melbourne (which I'm sorry I didn't get to try), the chef was in control and the quality was impressive. Like Quay, the cuisine is more international than local, but we found the flavours here universally more appealing. The place is completely deserving of its many accolades.

4/5 355 Crown St.
Surry Hills, NSW 2010
Phone: +61 (2) 9332-2225