Fantasy weekend of opulence in Sydney with best-friend-K and my dear Californian friend Sam, who finally came to visit me in Australia. Sammy's visit with me started with three fun but drizzly weekdays in Melbourne, so naturally Sydney - beautiful tart that she is - turned on some dazzlingly sunny weekend weather.
Several months ago I'd impulse-bought tickets for b-f-K and me to see Cate Blanchett and Joel Edgerton in the STC production of A Streetcar Named Desire (which we LOVED, by the way), so we'd been planning this weekend for some time.
As good luck would have it, my Sydney uncle and his wife were going away that same weekend, and they very generously offered to let us stay in their Milsons Point apartment in their absence. Their apartment is just next to Luna Park, in the rounded building with blueish windows at the right of the above photo.
The apartment has THE most spectacular view of Sydney Harbour.
Part of the planning for this weekend involved liaising with my charming Sydney friend J (aka Beatch) about choosing an appropriately fabulous Saturday night dinner venue. We decided on the degustation at Marque. In the end our reservation swelled to eight: me, Beatch and his girlfriend Z, "cousin" K and his girlfriend F, b-f-K, Sammy and last but certainly not least Naval Lieutenant Levi, Sammy's travel companion in Australia.
Everyone came over at 6:30pm for champagne on the apartment balcony. Just an ordinary Saturday afternoon drink, really (!).
355 Crown Street, Surry Hills, NSW (map)
(02) 9332 2225
I'd been pretty impressed reading about Ed's take on Marque, then doubly curious when Marque chef Mark Best was adjudged SMH Chef of the Year. The degustation was not cheap - $145 per head, with matching wines a further $75 per head - but was impressive enough to justify the price tag. I was slightly disappointed to see an absence of Australian wines on our menu, but not complaining about the quality of the overseas wines we did have.
The interior was sleek and sexy. Loved the softly glowing lights on each table - they looked like dinosaur eggs.
First up was the chaud-froid free range egg, a dish Mark Best credits to Alain Passard, circa 1998. It reminded me a lot of Eric Ripert's Egg that I had a few months ago at Le Bernardin, but this one was even more of a expedition through Flavour Country. I can't remember all the ingredients but they included at least cream, maple syrup, vinegar and chives as well as the egg itself and two salt-encrusted grissini... very anorexic soldiers to dip into the egg. It was sweet, salty, sour, hot and cold all at once.
The next dish was as much an expedition through Texture Country as through Flavour Country: a cone of almond jelly with morsels of blue swimmer crab buried underneath, almond gazpacho, sweet corn, a glob of avruga and popcorn dust sprinkled on top. Almond with blue swimmer crab was a flavour combination that at first sounded like all kinds of wrong to me, but DAMMIT IT WORKED. B-f-K's favourite dish. It was served with a glass of 2007 Alzinger Grüner Veltliner (Wachau, Austria) - grüner veltliner is rapidly becoming my favourite new varietal.
Next up was smoked octopus with mustard (in sorbet form), dill, watercress oil and ink, served with the 2007 Yves Cuilleron Saint-Peray 'Les Poitiers' (Rhône Valley, France). Apart from the crazy mustard sorbet, I can't say this dish did much for me.
It was followed by steamed scampi with 'fish floss', scampi anglaise custard and tiny cubes of turnip soaked in bitter bitter Campari. The nuggets of scampi were lovely and juicy and I liked the cleverly-disguised thin discs of mushroom on top. I get that the bitter turnip cubes were meant to be a contrast with the sweetness of the scampi, but the bitterness was just a bit too sharp for our tastes. This dish was accompanied by the 2007 Brookfields Gerwürztraminer (Hawkes Bay, NZ).
I'd been slightly underwhelmed by the previous two dishes but boy oh boy was I overwhelmed by the next dish. For starters, feast your eyes on the photo below:
Visually spectacular, or what?! I couldn't resist clapping my hands together with glee as it was placed before me. "It's.... gorgeous!" chirruped somebody. "It looks like Stonehenge!" chimed another. "No, it looks like the Twelve Apostles!" replied one of our international visitors. For me, it immediately made me think of the towers of San Gimignano (because I am, after all, a half-Italian pretentious tosser).
So what was it? Segments of new season white asparagus, with flavour!flavour!flavour! Victorian morels, dabs of parmesan custard and transluscent leaves of purple potato paper perched on top of some of the columns of segmented asparagus. Served with my favourite wine of the night, the intriguing 2008 Felton Road 'Vin Gris' (Central Otago, NZ). While it's made from 100% pinot noir grapes, the juice of the freshly crushed grapes is immediately bled off, so the wine is golden coloured with a very faint pink tinge.
Next up was the slow cooked pork jowl with spinach, sesame and Pacific oyster, matched with a glass of 2006 Ànima Negra Àn-2 Callet/Montenegro/Shiraz (Mallorca, Spain - I had no idea that Mallorca produced any wines of note!).
This was followed by the wagyu sirloin with black olive, Earl Grey ash, burnt cucumber, onion and green shallot purée, matched with the 2007 Conterno Fantino Barbera d'Alba (Piedmont, Italy).
Both meat dishes were fabulous, if less show-stopping-SPECTACULAR than the previous asparagus and morel dish. The elegant Barbera was my second-favourite wine of the night.
We were then given the option of an additional cheese course, which about half of us selected. It was Roquefort Papillon, served with honey jelly, crazy deep fried capers and dukkah. Served a glass of 2008 Ronco del Gelso Malvasia (Isonzo del Friuli, Italy). The menu we were given to take home at the end of the night, however, failed to mention what I thought was the most remarkable element of the cheese dish: the scoop of radicchio sorbet. LOVED it. Excuse the photo - we'd already started eating it before I remembered to pull out my camera!
The Sauternes custard, which came out unaccompanied by wine, was perfect. Simple and perfect.
The other dessert I was less sure about. Goats cheese spheres, white chocolate powder, sorrel and lemon sorbet. Maybe it's because I was getting palate fatigue, but it felt like this dish was trying too hard to hit all of our buttons at once: sharply contrasting bizzarro flavours, the molecularlicious spherification AND powder thing in the same dish, etc. It was served with a glass of chestnut marble (pages, liqueur de Châtaigne and lime marble).
Finally, after several enjoyable hours, petits fours were offered. Similar to the ones I had recently at The Point, there were salted caramel chocolates and bitter bon bons. I didn't hear the waiter's warning to handle the bon bons carefully - they were fragile with a very liquid centre - so I reached for one only to have it explode spectacularly in my hand!
So there you have it. It was challenging food, not meant to be necessarily crowd-pleasing, but pretty damn special. Oh, and it goes without saying that the service was exemplary. Bravo!