Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A little birdy told me

I've been told repeatedly that overindulgence, especially overeating, is not a sin at this time of the year. Rather, it is to be expected. It doesn't make me feel any better physically, but if everyone's doing it I suppose we're all in the same slowly sinking boat.

Admittedly, my eating festivities started a few days before Christmas (and will surely extend into the New Year). Dinner at Bistro Ortolan followed a long work lunch function, so I'm not sure how my stomach managed but it did.

On the outdoor balcony overlooking the relatively quiet Marion Street in Leichhardt, there's a slight air of eating at someone's terrace in the suburbs. That's taking out of consideration the two chef's hats, the impeccable service and the very Marque tablecloths.

Amuse bouche - Iced tomato essence - from Bistro Ortolan,
Marion Street, Leichhardt

The amuse bouche was the seemingly ubiquitous tomato water or essence - an iced version which would have been delightful were we having the summer weather we're supposed to be having. With the addition of basil and olives in the glass, and anchovy toast on the side, this was quite the savoury starter for the palate.

Rare loin of yellowfin tuna with almond and sherry veloute
and blue swimmer crab remoulade

Perhaps in some part due to the presence of the word 'bistro' in the name, I had rather expected hearty plating and servings of the dishes. So I'm very impressed with the artful and delicate appearance of our entrees at first, and it seems everyone else was too as there was reluctant and little sharing of dishes.

The tuna was rare with a seared seed crust; delicate and fresh in flavour atop the round of veloute. The crab flesh was somewhere on the plate, and small as it was, sweetness it packed.

Seared Hervey Bay sea scallops with caramelised calves
sweetbreads, green vegetables and truffled potato

Like the crab, I didn't see the sweetbreads that had turned me away from the scallop entree. The large seared scallops were robed in what seemed like dumpling wrappers, or round pasta sheets. The spears of green asparagus and the fluffy, lightly truffled potato played formidable side roles but the plump juicy scallops were the star of this show.

Feuillete of baby spinach, fontina and lyonnaise onion with
softly poached duck egg and truffle beurre blanc

My tart of spinach, caramelly onions and richly melted fontina cheese verged on 'too pretty to eat' but the heady aroma of truffles strongly encouraged otherwise. The demure, and surprisingly hot, puff pastry tart was almost a little strange bedfellow to the poached egg. However, the truffle butter sauce diplomatically brought the two together nicely in a plate wiping fashion.

Crisp-skinned fillet of saltwater barramundi with a
fricassee of yabbies, baby turnips, and foie gras

The wait for mains certainly gets the appetites back with gusto and luckily so, because the hearty 'bistro' promise delivers. A beautiful, golden-skinned fillet of barramundi sits amid a plethora of baby turnips and yabbies, and beneath a crunchy wrapped parcel of foie gras it seems.

Roasted loin of organic Berkshire pork and a croquette
of confit neck, with snails and sweetcorn

A vibrant yellow sweetcorn puree introduces the pork main; two thick cut slices of roasted loin with a crackling skin garnish. The confit neck croquette appears to be the favourite on this dish, with the snails in hiding - probably with good reason.

Butter-poached fillet of blue eye trevalla with squid and pea ‘risotto’,
tomato confit and baby vegetables

Another fish dish and another Marque-esque moment with the squid and pea 'risotto' - which was deliciously sweet and briney. The trevalla was cooked to perfection with the magnified-taste of its tomato confit topping - alas, another case of dish envy for me.

Rare spiced loin of Cervena venison with bone marrow gnocchi,
chanterelles and white apsparagus puree

My ambitious choice of the venison followed lunch, when I chose lamb over fish to arrive at dish envy case #1 for the day. Nonetheless the rare cubes of venison were lightly spiced so that all I could taste was the tender, jucy meat rather than any gaminess or bloodiness. The bone marrow gnocchi could have not had its title ingredient for all I could taste in the oddly floral herbs or spicing, although there was a small slice of quivering pink marrow served at the back. The chanterelles and puree were supremely rich, hence my preference for the white asparagus and its puree.

We'd also had sides of brocollini with anchovy butter and fresh tomato, and crispy roasted potatoes with tarragon and horseradish so by the time the dessert menu descended, the Christmas bellies were already out in force. Probably with thoughts of gingerbread and fruitcake in mind, we skipped the sweets in support of the collective protestations of the stomach; showing clemency for the time as more plans for festive overindulgence were stewing.

Bistro Ortolan on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas to one and all

Quick post to say Merry Christmas to everyone. Hope everyone has a great day regardless of the weather.

And just a quick look at what I've been up to tonight - aside from stuffing myself silly and childishly hoping Santa comes, of course.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...
Oh - hang on...

The gingerbread people get a tan

OTT icing monster man - when you don't know when to put the
icing bag down and step away from the cookies

I've made gingerbread people place cards

Merry Christmas, people!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A fews taps to The Winery

Sometimes getting the girls together is a monumental feat. Holidays, work schedules, hangovers, boys and associated troubles - sometimes it just feels all too hard. So it was a pleasant surprise when afternoon drinks at The Winery in Surry Hills eventuated with the ease of tapping out a couple of emails.

I have a feeling their uber cool website might have something to do with it. Otherwise, the pulling power of the whimsical and undeniably girly venue, and the lure of jugs of sweetly alcoholic beverages.

White wine sangria from The Winery,
Crown Street, Surry Hills

The bar in the main room runs the length of the room with a worn-in wooden feel, dotted with vases of fake flowers and bottle upon bottle of liquor. The clear skies and warm afternoon call for something light, refreshing and jolly to start - and if it comes in a jug, then all the better for liberal self-service.

The white wine sangria starts off a nice base of tinned lychees, whole mint leaves and lemon quarters, and then we veer into the naughty side with Cointreau, sweet white vermouth and what I'm sure was a scientific beaker of white wine. A bit of swishing and mixing with a delectable long-handled spoon and its was cheers to first drinks of the pre-Chrissy-week day.

I think it's something about the abundance of fruit that makes the drink festive, and for an elongated afternoon of socialising and drinking, the icy jugs are not too potent nor sweet.

Rose wine sangria

In addition to battling the heat and what some may label an addiction at this time of the year, the jugs also make for a handy companion when waiting for the whole group to turn up. The rose wine version of the sangria was equally as light and fun as its white counterpart, but a little sweeter with the addition of strawberry liquer to strawberries, lime, white vermouth and lemonade.

Waiting also gave us time to admire at the interior of high tables and bar chairs, bird figurines stuck upside-down on the ceiling, and the frantically busy open kitchen. We also marvelled at the high-tech wine service device - a rather vending machine-like, wine-on-tap contraption and completely removing the art of pouring a glass of wine. Will definitely study this and the wine list further next time.

Pimms and lemonade

Finally, the final member of our group arrives, jug of Pimms in hand. All is forgiven as the simply scrumptious mix of Pimms, gin, vermouth, lemonade, ginger ale, strawberries, lemon and cucumber is delightfully taken. We have a winner, in my books, with the cucumber a genuinely refreshing addition. It would probably be rude to request yet another jug without giving the menu a glance - and with that, appetites are racing.

I spy... a stuffed koala bear in the tree!

It is a bit of a wait for the food, although perhaps understandably as the tightly packed tables and couches of two-level venue are constantly filled. The vibe is relaxed as the girly lunch crowd revels in the sunshine-y day; dresses simply everywhere among the quirks and surprises of The Winery.

Kingfish carpaccio, lemon, ginger & chilli dressing, edamames

We start with a few shared plates to wean ourselves off the drinks. The use of edamame beans almost as a garnish with the kingfish is clever and pretty to boot - the vibrantly green pops of colour in addition to an array of microherbs. The dish hits visually first and hardest, with a more subdued flavour to follow. The dressing is lovely and awakens the palate for the slightly unexcited kingfish.

Crab and herb salad, lemon avocado cream, salt crisps

The crab salad is also a good looker, with strands of crab flesh lightly resting on a round of tangy and creamy mashed avocado. The promised herbs were a bit more like small salad leaves, including rocket - so I'm not complaining. The strips of curly fried crisps are similar to deep-fried wonton wrappers, perhaps a bit thicker, and make for a nice utensil for scooping avocado and crab.

Grape, champagne and chicken pie, buttered spinach

On mains selection, I think one of us was simply sold on the queer notion of grapes in a pie. Stranger yet, they seemed to be absent from the pie upon exploration beyond the pastry lid. The chicken was there; the champagne was expected to be subtle - but, no sultanas, muscatels, fresh or dry, in sight. It was, nonetheless, a decent chicken pie but a little less exotic than the name would imply.

WA crab tossed with spinach, pasta, chilli, tomato & Chardy

The size of the pasta shells is confronting to begin with, aside from the surprise of not having a noodle (linguine, tagliatelle) pasta. The simple sauce tastes healthy yet wholesome, but the shells are definitley not al dente, which makes it difficult for the dish to really impress.

Baked salmon with a herbed crust, steamed greens & hollandaise

I think I would really enjoy the task of being the hollandaise sauce server in the kitchen - the circular squirts beneath steamed beans and brocolini. The salmon fillet was nicely baked although I didn't get a taste of the herb crust. This was definitely one of the top picks of the table, and a few other tables from observation.

Grilled sirloin, café de Paris, shoestring fries

Certainly one of the larger dishes, my grilled sirloin steak was a plate of decadence and victim of some dish envy, I think. The crisp, but not quite hot, fries were ridiculously abundant but handy for mopping up the herbed jus accompanying the steak. Requested medium-rare, the sirloin was quite well done in one area, but mostly tender inside its charred outer with the cafe de Paris butter a lovely condiment in place of my usual preference for hot English mustard.

Thus, food conquered, the rest of our afternoon was accompanied by a few more jugs before the dolled-up evening crowd started to penetrate the boozily relaxed among us. The Winery really is a beautiful location, particularly for the feminine-inclined, inside and out with views of the city skyline. The convenient Surry Hills location gives nearby drinking holes some serious competition, especially with the girlies - and it seems I'm only a few emails away from returning.

The Winery on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Pigs might, but cornmeal won't

If in some mystical, sub-zero land, reindeer can fly, surely pigs might have that opportunity one day too? Although if that makes prosciutto more difficult to come by, I'm not sure that's a good fantasy.

Glebe Point Road is some kind of fantastical spontaneous saviour of a street for anyone without dining plans. Even the not-hungry are spoilt for choice with bookstores-cum-cafes, drinking holes and other bits and bobs that make Glebe the inviting place it is.

And Flying Fajita Sisters is definitely one of those inviting establishments - colourful, bustling and packed to the gills both down- and upstairs this Monday night, including a large birthday group and a star of Wicked too. The Mexican beer list is also much fun - the Bohemia and Sol the thirst and heat-quenching picks of the night.

Chimichanga with braised chile and onion from Flying Fajita Sisters,
Glebe Point Road, Glebe

The Flying Fajita Sisters menu, however, is not quite as inviting and friendly. Those without knowledge of Mexican fare or vocabulary may struggle to understand both titles and explanations. I think in the end, it was more a case of what I could pronounce and didn't sound overly hot and spicy.

We skip the appetisers and smaller dishes in favour of a quick duo of mains, and although I think the entrees probably deserve a look in, the size of the mains confirms my decision as a sensible one.

Other than being rather fun to say, the chimichanga is quite a mouthful with Mexican rice, cherry tomato salsa, guacamole and salad served alongside. This flour tortilla, with braised chile and onion inside on this occasion, is deep fried for a crisp casing with lashings of cheese with the filling. It's definitely the first time I've tried a dish cooked and set up like this, yet the flavours are all too familiar and safe.


Hence the side of jalapenos and hot chilli sauce selections from the 'Wall of Pain'. There was pain experienced and the jalapenos went mostly untouched - enough said, washed down with Sol.

Tamale with chicken in mole rojo

My tamale (also fun to say) looked delectable, especially the obviously chocolate sauce on top. The rectangle with which my choice of chicken was encased looked intriguing, half the reason why I ordered it. And when choosing the the most strangely described menu items, I suppose one has to be prepared for unlikely hits and weird misses.

The mole sauce is described as chile and chocolate, although to the non-chilli eating me, it was mostly the latter and chile that must have flown off elsewhere. The salsa in the dish and the corn mix were bright, shining bursts of freshness and flavour on the plate; the rice and salad fairly standard.

But it was the steamed, banana leaf-wrapped masa parcel that sold me, and it was the masa parcel that filled most the plate. And it was the masa parcel that utterly disapointed me - I just don't think I expected the cornmeal concoction to be quite so bland and verging on dry. Chocolate sauce, salsa and beautiful fresh corn kernels couldn't help it, and so my lump of cornmeal dough remained sadly on the plate while the rest of my meal was quite devoured.

Given the generally party atmosphere of the venue, and that it was a Monday night, it didn't have much of a 'sit and linger with desserts' vibe; although saying that, even cake and ice cream at Badde Manors couldn't tempt me. Now, when does that ever happen? Better keep a Christmas Eve eye out for those trotters running across the sky.

Flying Fajita Sistas on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Freezing fun food film

The 13th Japanese Film Festival (hosted by the Japan Foundation) has just come to its end for another year, and it's closing film was an absolute cracker. Or rice ball if you prefer. Or lobsters, ramen, tempura, crabs for breakfast, or anything you like on your birthday.

Winner of the 2009 Golden Award at the Shindo Kaneto Director Awards, Chef of the South Pole is a film to warm hearts and stomachs. It starts with a food porn montage to whet the appetite and only gets better from there.

It really is a story about a chef in the South Pole, and the surprising characters and menus in the Antarctic climate. Funny, genuine and crammed with tummy-tempting food scenes, if you ever get a chance to see it - do. Just don't go in on an empty stomach.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Being good for goodness' sake

Being somewhat beyond the age of at anticipating Santa and his reindeer on my rooftop in the next month or so, I've been looking forward to other things and experiences - and trying my darndest to be good for the sake of those other things too.

Certainly, there are a few food experiences in there among the festive boozing, so before complete festive madness takes over, it was a lovely quiet Tuesday in which I was able to squeeze in a highly-anticipated visit to Sake Restaurant and Bar - right next door to The Argyle. In addition to some business tie-in, the windows on the way to the bathroom look out onto The Argyle's cobblestone courtyard, with and exit in the restaurant stepping right into the courtyard, lending a slightly casual and open precinct feel.

There's also an imposing sake cellar and bar, an open kitchen with seats right up at the bar, long and dark private room, little segmented booth boxes and really, seating for any occasion. The interior is wood-abundant but just a little conservative - likely to appease the CBD clientele.

Beef (left) and chicken (right) kushiyaki from Sake Restaurant & Bar,
Argyle Street, The Rocks, Sydney

The menu looks excitingly traditional with its sections, with modern and local touches throughout. The new trend for izakaya style snacks and grilled skewers, or kushiyaki, isn't looked past, and neither a slight air of fusion. We munch on warmed, salted edamame beans while deciding on the split of starters, mains, sushi, sashimi and indeed, a must-order from the huge sake menu.

The kushiyaki are served in a range of meat, vegetarian or seafood options with the choice of teriyaki or a spicy anticucho sauce. We have big cubes of beef with the teriyaki - unlike any of the super sweet versions I've had before, served with lemon and a citrussy salt mix - and the chicken with the antichucho sauce, which isn't all too spicy at all.

For sake, we go with the Kozaemon House Junmai which is from the Nakashima prefecture and described as an "Earthy aroma of rice, fresh citrus fruits with a medium to full body and well rounded finish". I'm by no means a sake connoisseur, but this chilled carafe was delightful throughout the entire meal without that throat-burning sensation of some past experiences.

Miso cream scallops - Pan-seared scallops, baby corn, asparagus,
shiitake mushrooms and yuzu miso cream

A lot of the mains look appealing, but in the spirit from sampling from across the menu, we have the one that appeals the most. The pan-seared scallop dish is elegeant and harmonoius in flavour and, most importantly, cooked nicely to point of retaining its sea juiciness. The medley of vegetables sings of spring, and the yuzu miso cream sauce simultaneously matches enhancingly and contrasts enticingly. Suffice to say, there wasn't any sauce left in the dish as it departed the table.

Butterfish sashimi new-style - South Australian butterfish, ponzu,
ginger & chives seared with hot oil

The sashimi list is also exciting, and we order as per the waiter's recommendation. I wasn't familiar with butterfish before, but I'm particularly glad that I didn't go with the comfort zone of tuna, salmon, kingfish and the like. Cut thinly, this white fish was dressed in a distinctly Chinese fashion - ginger, chives, sesame and the undeniable aroma of cooked oil. Not always a fusion fan am I, but this particular combination was sensational and stays on the mind.

I often like to use sushi maki rolls as a benchmark for Japanese cuisine, which is difficult sometimes because I like sushi most of the time. Aside from my helpless attraction to soft shell crab, I like sushi combinations that are a few steps from traditional, but not to the point where it's barely like sushi anymore and more like mayonnaise with a bit of rice.

I have the spider maki hand roll, and am encouraged to "Eat this one first," by the chef who places it in front of us. Thus encouraged, so that the nori seaweed doesn't get soggy, I get a little overeager and forget the photo - but I suppose we all know what a delicious tempura fried soft shell crab conical hand roll, with cucumber, mayonnaise, flying fish roe, chives and ponzu looks like - I only got a few seconds look at it anyway.

Nixon maki sushi - grilled eel, cream cheese, cucumber and
tempura crunch with avocado

The Nixon-named hand cut maki sushi snaked its way around the plate on top of zags of tonkatsu sauce, layered with sheets of avocado. The eel was a standout with smoky grilled flavour, combining superbly with the cream cheese. I'm still yet to manage eating futo-maki rolls without dropping bits, making a mess, or looking like an idiotic frog after trying to ingest an entire piece.

Open kitchen view at Sake

Aside from the thoroughly entertaining food, sitting at the sushi bar also meant that we could see all kitchen stations hard at work; from salads, sushi and sashimi, to salads, the grill and plating. I'm especially amused by the trays of salmon skin going under the grill, on their own, retuning in a curled and presumably crunchy, grilled state. How fun, except I don't like fish skin - but each to their own.

With the last drops of the sake drunk and the last crevices in our stomachs filled, we resist the urge to walk straight into The Argyle courtyard. Afterall, it's a school night and we want to make sure we're on the good list for the jolly man in red.

Sake Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Miscellaneous clean up 1

You know those phases in life when you're so busy and it seems that every waking moment is filled with a task or activity of some sort? Well, I'm not quite in one of those phases, but it doesn't feel too far off. And with Christmas breathing down my neck, it's probably not getting any quieter anytime soon.

So I'm taking the opportunity to clean out some of the random foodie experiences just sitting there like a tub of ice cream in the sun. Mmm, melted ice cream.

Fried squid and grilled scallops from
Sydney Fish Markets, Pyrmont

I love meals that are immediately associated with an event, especially when it's just some little, casual, impromptu activity. This was one of many dishes and containers of fresh cooked and raw seafood bought from the Sydney Fish Markets and walked over the road to the nearby park, to be enjoyed in the sunshine with a bottle or few of chilled white wine. This afternoon had it all, and it's one I look to re-enact rather soon.

Dumplings made at home

To me, dumplings at home is simple comfort and synonymous with sitting at the kitchen table, often with another female, wrapping parcel after parcel of seasoned minced meat in thin, floury wrappers. Often, I'd feel like I'd been wrapping dumplings for ages, to then realise that the full tray will only feed two of the household's large appetites, and that there were a few trays to go yet. This particular version we normally parboil then panfry so the skin gets nice and crunchy. I seem to have never-ending stomach capacity for these dumplings - so very dangerous.

70% dark chocolate ice cream from Lindt Cafe,
Cockle Bay, Sydney

One tub, five spoons - dessert sorted. It's an easy, almost rebellious way of having dessert, but such good value fun among friends. The 70% dark chocolate ice cream is irresistably moreish. I'm not good with excess, but this is definitely an ice cream where I could polish off a tub, brain freeze and all.

Takoyaki from Norita Cafe and Board Games,
Liverpool Street, Sydney

Late on a Friday night after a few schooners here, a few jugs of sangria there, alighting a very steep few flights of stairs to play board games seemed a fantastic idea. A lengthy democratic discussion ensued and food, drinks and Pictionary soon follow. It's certainly a novel concept: comfy couches, a hoard of board games to choose from, and a casual, civilised environment to just chill out with good company.

Strawberries with white chocolate sauce from some
sushi train on Swanston Street, Melbourne

After a long day tripping about Melbourne, we had gone for a quick and easy dinner at a sushi train near the hotel. Following the meal, a complimentary dessert plate arrived, looking tropically inviting with paper umbrella and white chocolate stripes on big red strawberries, garnished with... parsley. I didn't realise good old continental parsley was a herb to be used in sweets and honestly, I cannot confirm nor deny whether it is. Looks pretty, and I guess that's what matters here.

Flathead fillets, chips and salad from De Costi Seafoods,
Westfield Bondi Junction

There really is something that feels uniquely Australian summer about sun, the beach, and fish and chips. In fact, on this occasion we weren't even quite at the beach yet, but inspired enough to have a fish and chip lunch. I like my chips thin but not too thin, my fish boneless and thinly battered, lots of juicy lemon wedges, and ideally, all of it wrapped in paper so you can then wipe your oily fingers on it.

Home made fettucine

Since getting my very own pasta maker, whipping up a lot of lasagne sheets or or pappardelle or tagliatelle is just moments away. Saying that, I always think it's faster than I end up taking, but I must admit some selfish pleasure I have in the process. I adore seeing the silky sheets turn out from what starts as a well of flour with a few eggs. I love seeing the machine cut perfect ribbons for me to make curtains or yarn-like balls. And it's pretty good exercise for the fitness-averse too, followed with obligatory carb loading.

More miscellany another time, I assure you, once I sort out the jolly mess that is life.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Not always black and white

We live in a grey world. Sometimes though, it's rosy while other times, it's just beige. At Sepia, it's unsurprisingly and fittingly brown. All shades of brown, mind you, with a few obscure artworks thrown into the mix that's more corporate than not.

Despite the sunny brightness outside of our 7.00pm reservation, the dark room goes along with it and makes us not feel silly for having dinner at a reasonable, albeit light, time. Service is effusively likeable from the start and they're not bothered by our incessant chatter rather than looking at the menu, which takes a while given the significant deliberating over the degustation menu versus the a la carte.

Bread roll from Sepia, Sussex Street, Sydney

A few visits later from the waiter, and one from the sommelier, and we're happily ordered off the a la carte menu; still chatting; and muching through warm bread rolls with butter and salt flakes.

Amuse bouche - tomato water with basil oil

The amuse bouche came in tiny little glasses that I seriously wanted to pocket - but didn't for I ended up so distracted with the intense tomato flavour of the refreshing, clear liquid. The basil oil was a subtle accompaniment although it was difficult to consume the micro basil leaf without cutlery of any sort.

Queensland spanner crab and buckwheat risotto,
mustard butter and shellfish essence

The entree selection is genuinely exciting, and we agree to share bites from each others' dishes. The buckwheat risotto is obscured by a big serve of foam - appearing not unlike what I play with in the sink when I put in too much detergent. The dish is a blast of seafood flavour, with slight creaminess from the buttery sauce and the buckwheat playing the amusing role of the risotto base.

Confit of ocean trout, mushroom ash, mustard shortbread,
white miso, green apple salad, elderflowers

I'm told that the Sepia's chef's rendition of the confit of ocean trout is similar to that of his previous employer's - but as I haven't experienced that as yet, gladly, I can appreciate this dish without prejudice. The thick, round slice of trout is a beautifu sight, rolled in a dark, powdery ash that's not distinctly mushroom to my palate. The fish is meltingly soft and light, delightful with the green apple slivers. The shortbread and presumably miso blob were a little short on flavour, with the elderflowers more a visual than a taste.

Smoked eel, nori and Dutch cream

The smoked eel rolled in nori seaweed on the other hand has a big impact from the first taste. The savoury smokiness of the eel was like a slap across the face - the good playful type - while the Dutch cream acted to tone down the overall dish - nice and necessary.

We actually anticipate the mains with much excitement too - much more than I normally do given the creativity and imagination that appears to have gone into the dishes by menu description alone. At this time, I note that there isn't much turnover in the restaurant which is good in that there isn't much noise, but not so good in that it lacks atmosphere. All that brown was getting to me, despite the lively conversing at our own table.

250-day grainfed angus beef fillet, watermelon, citrus pepper,
braised lotus root

At first glance, the beef main seems quite unadventurous until the eyes do a double-take at the second listed ingredient - watermelon? Steak with watermelon? And apparently, it's not that strange a combination, according to the dish's owner. The rectangular logs of watermelon supporting the beef slices are impossibly juicy and sweet - but a bit of a puzzler for my tastes when its melon-crunch was paired with the soft chew of the medium-rare beef. In fact, I think I'm still a little confused.

Pan roasted Aylesbury duck breast, caramelised fennel, fennel candy,
pickled walnuts, walnut and orange jus

My duck main is a surprisingly large serve with six not-thin slices of rare-cooked duck breast artfully arranged about the scattered walnuts and fennel. It's only after devouring the first pile of duck that I discover the fennel candy - little rectangular blocks of jelly that taste more just sweet than fennel. They're a cute touch that elevate the dish to impressive, but not quite mind-blowing, levels.

Crispy skin fillet of Murray cod, baby leek, almond, wakame,
shiso and lily buds

The Murray cod has an imposing layer of skin in contrast with the dainty presentation of the other ingredients. My one small mouthful of this dish confirmed its Asian leanings in flavour, with a very gingery aroma coming across in addition to the crunchy sheet of green.

Post mains, we're well and truly on the way to being satiated, but having seen and heard about the desserts on offer, it was a fairly straightforward decision to study the menu and a sensible decision to get two desserts to share.

Pre-dessert - spiced creme with crumble, pineapple
sorbet and coriander

But of course, we'd forgotten the pre-dessert; a minute glass of custard topped with a spiced biscuit-y crumble and a tiny scoop of supremely refreshing pineapple sorbet wearing a micro coriander fascinator. Considering the diverse flavours and ingredients, it was a delightful few mouthfuls to ready us for the serious desserts.

Roasted buckwheat ice cream and sponge cake, strawberry
gel and passionfruit custard

Contemporary art pops into mind at the first arrival, though still none of us are certain about what the crunchy, squiggly thing was. The cherry flavoured stroke across the bottom was impactful, but in terms of taste the passionfruit custard was head and shoulders above the rest - demanding attention and affection with its sweet, slighty tart king-hit. The strawberries were an unspectacular and distant second with the buckwheat ice cream very much understated - somewhat expected - as too the sponge.

Elements of chocolate, prune, cocoa bubbles

But really, this is what I've been looking forward to most the night: chocolate on chocolate on chocolate on chocolate on chocolate on chocolate on chocolate. The bubbles on top are the thick, swampy type and completely appeals to the child (or frog) within. It's tastes rather sophisticated of prunes and air, and is an ingenius addition of flavour without the heaviness and boldness. The squares of snappy Valrhona are pleasure enough in themselves, but with a nutty hazelnut ganache, milk chocolate cream, layer of rice crispy-likeness and chocolate sponge on the bottom - it's chocolate nirvana. I know I'm full, but the spoon in my hand is unstoppable.

When the plates are cleared, we're glad for the comfortable seating in its soothing brown tones, as I'm not the only one who feels in need of a lie-down. Not even doing the degustation, we've spent about three hours on dinner; journeying through the menu, traversing through weeks of catch up, trekking to the bathroom, and in the end, content with Sepia-toned loving.

Sepia on Urbanspoon


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