Quay - Sydney, Australia

Dinner - Friday, October 19, 2012

Quay has one of the most gorgeous night-time views of any restaurant I've eaten in, rural or urban. Your mileage will almost certainly vary, with two major factors coming into play: (i) seating - we were fortunate enough to be seated at the best table in the house (at the north end of the restaurant, where the floor-to-ceiling windows wrap around in a semicircle), with panoramic views from the Sydney Harbour Bridge, to the Opera House, all the way back to the edge of Circular Quay; (ii) obstructions - of our four nights in Sydney, we were again lucky to dine there on the only night that a giant cruise ship was not blocking the restaurant's entire east-facing view.

Of course, good food and good views come at a hefty price. The eight-course degustation at Quay runs $220 (a four-course prix fixe menu is $160), a significantly stiffer pricetag than all the other restaurants we dined at on this trip. Was the meal worth the admission fee?

Amuse - Ginger-infused milk curd, seaweed-oyster consommé
Quite obviously a spin on 姜汁撞奶, a traditional Chinese dessert. Simply adding ginger juice to milk will indeed coagulate the proteins and produce a pudding, but the one here was texturally impeccable - I imagine a lot of refinement went into perfecting the conditions. The umami-packed consommé was a great way to whet our appetites.

Sashimi of Corner Inlet rock flathead and hiramasa
Salt-cured wild oyster cream, raw sea cabbage, green radish, nasturtium, warrigals
A nice interplay of flavours and textures was on display, revealing more layers in every bite. The quality of the seafood was excellent. I particularly enjoyed how the various greens wove in and out of the sweet fish flesh - bitter cabbage, sharp radish, peppery nasturtium, tangy warrigal greens. Superb first plate.

Congee of Northern Australian mudcrab
Fresh palm heart, egg yolk emulsion, ginger, warrigal greens
Gently poached Southern rock lobster
Hand-caught Tasmanian squid, golden tapioca, lobster velvet
Gorgeous dish. Like the first course of sashimi, this was multi-layered and much greater than the sum of its parts. The lobster was amazingly sweet and supple, contrasting with the firm ribbons of squid and the airy velvet. The tapioca carried a faintly smoky aroma and were bursting with brininess, a very nice imitation of roe - they must have been cooked in some sort of seafood stock. My favourite of the savory courses.

Roasted partridge breast, white walnuts
Steamed truffle brioche, confit egg yolk, fumet of Vin Jaune, dehydrated milk skin
Smoked and confit pig cheek, shaved scallop
Shitake, Jerusalem artichoke crisps, juniper, bay
Pasture-raised milk-fed veal
Raw buckwheat, young orach, parsnip, smoked marrow consommé
The veal was lightly poached in bone marrow fat and served on a bed of parsnip puree. Extremely rich in combination with the marrow broth and buckwheat, but the orach (mountain spinach here, different from the saltbush variety) did lift the dish slightly with its characteristic spice notes.

Jackfruit snow egg
Perhaps Quay's most famous dessert, executed here in shades of jackfruit. A jackfruit cream filled the bottom of the bowl, topped by an intense jackfruit granita (unfortunately, not as fluffy as it should have been). Nestled in the ice, the snow egg meringue (perfectly set) concealed a jackfruit-flavoured "yolk". Delicious - deserving of its signature status.

Jersey cream, salted caramel
Prune ice cream, walnuts, ethereal sheets
A very nice textural dish, featuring crisp panes of chocolate, butterscotch, sugar starch, and milk. These sweet sheets were balanced both by the caramel and the ice cream, while the Jersey cream served as a velvety rich canvas.

Mignardises - Assorted truffles

It was a fine dinner, with desserts actually being the high point - the menu progression exhibited the dreaded mid-meal dip. When one eats at many places in a short span, it's hard not to draw comparisons, and here Quay falls short of its peers. Our meal felt rather faceless - there was little sense of place, and the menu did not evoke a strong reaction in anyone at the table. In any city, this would be a high 1-star or low 2-star establishment by Michelin standards, but therein lies the problem - it could've been in any city.

Upper Level, Overseas Passenger Terminal
The Rocks
Sydney, NSW 2000
Phone: +61 (2) 9251-5600

P.S. In hindsight, with dinner here coming towards the end of our trip, this meal crystallized a number of observations about the restaurants we visited in eight days of eating (the Royal Mail Hotel being the notable exception):
  1. Servers are friendly, but seem less professional (in terms of alertness as well as knowledge of the menu) than in American restaurants, and incomparable to high-end Asian places. 
  2. Good wine knowledge, on the other hand, was quite commonplace.
  3. Every place we visited had very good house-churned butter. However, the bread is mediocre compared to American, much less European counterparts. I don't understand this, given that the stuff we tried from bakeries was much better than the average back home.
  4. Many restaurants are dark. At one place, I literally had to hold a table lamp near my plate to see the food clearly.
  5. I am very much in favour of the all-inclusive pricing system practiced here and in other countries with VAT (granted, we still tipped some amount - it's a hard habit to break).