Our meals at Bourke St. Bakery along with Tetsuya’s help turbocharge our memorable day of being gluttons. With us at our high from all the food consumed, we had no intentions of slowing down. As the day turned dark, gravity played an essential role in preparing our stomachs for the next meal. Our dinner tonight happened at Sepia in the CBD. Why Sepia you might ask? Well, I personally found its cuisine’s description to be the most special compared to the other offerings around town. I was further convinced when I saw a review written by a fellow friend and foodie, Glenn. See his post on Sepia here.
Ranked among the top restaurants in the country and given a 3 hat score in the Good Food Guide 2013, Sepia is not short on accolades. The restaurant as I have seen is motivated to use the best seasonal produce and draws inspiration from Japan. Our meal was a $160 dollar degustation (also available with optional courses of oysters and cheese for an extra charge).While I decided to not try any oysters that night, Andrew, Bel and Jordan did not hold back. These freshly shucked Sydney Rock oysters they said were one of the freshest they have had to date. To add to the compliment, they enjoyed the white wine vinaigrette that accompanied the oysters!
Amuse bouche; Smoked ocean trout consommé, smoked roe, smoked eggplantThis amuse bouche for sure did not lack a wow factor. It was beautiful to look at and its flavors were unique. While it was hard to complement its distinctive taste on my first bite, I enjoyed it more as I savored it in my mouth. The smokiness really lived through the whole experience and it packed mystery in its ingredients. Some of which I would not have expected if it was not stated on the menu.
First course; New Zealand whitebait, braised ox cheek dashi, heart of palm, yuzu, sea samphire, mitsubaWhile I only knew what half the ingredients were in this dish before looking the rest up on the internet, it did not stop me from enjoying it. The Japanese inspirations in this dish were clear. For me, the highlight here was the perfectly cooked white bait. I have eaten others which tasted horrible. The dashi broth here was clear and provided a salty-sweet flavor to the fish. Also present in this dish was a mild citrus tone that induced a slight liveliness to this dish courtesy of the yuzu! To finish off, there was a melt in your mouth braised ox’s cheek which sat at the bottom :)! It was joy~!
Second course; Beetroot butter, goat milk chevre, rhubarb, apple balsamic, rye, goat milk crispWith its description so cleverly put together so as to deceive, it made Andrew eat a cheese he did not know exist haha. For me, this course was visually captivating but its textures and good combination of flavors were even better. The earthiness of the beetroot along with the sweet apple balsamic help compliment the tart flavors of the cheese. And while, the crunch of the crisps were not necessary it was still a good nice touch that gave the dish a honeycomb feel in your mouth.
Third course; Miso black cod smoked over Japanese charcoal, wasabi cream, smoked rice vinegar tonburi, nori, garlic, chive.Firstly, dear Nobu fans please do not even start because the black cod fish at Sepia was amazing. Having it smoked over Japanese charcoal might seem like an overuse of the smoking technique, but oh boy, cooking seafood over charcoal always help bring out the sensational flavors of seafood. This was no exception! Just imagine the fish meat flaking of layer by layer each tasting buttery with a hint of miso and smokiness. OMG! Also, the wasabi cream seemed like a lot at first but when I considered its potency which was very subtle, the cream was such joy that I went back for more and more each time.
Whilst the butter looked amazing, its flavors were nowhere near the sensational black truffle butter from Tetsuya’s. It was just OK. In fact, it fared slightly under as I found it lacking in the buttery flavors I wanted. EMO:(! What felt like a bigger disappointment were the rolls itself. It was hard on the outside and on the inside, it was not fluffy and super soft like I thought I would normally eat. Not a good bread course IMHO.
Fourth course; Butter poached spanner crab, shellfish mousse, pomelo, tarragon, fried garlic and quinoa, noriNow, where do I even start on how awesome this was? Well firstly, the shellfish mousse was faultless. It was perfectly flavored and its natural taste was still present. I can tell it was fresh. Buttery spanner crabs flesh had only a slight resistance when bitten through, proving that it was perfectly poached. Oh a boring super grain quinoa was made fabulous. This is a typical plain Jane becoming the hottest girl in school with the addition of spice. For what it was worth, I’d take my hats off to the chefs. But first I need to earn one.
Fifth course; Seared rolled David Blackmore wagyu beef, nameko mushroom, roasted red onion juice, wasabi fried potato and kombu crumb, citrus soy.While all the culinary skills made this dish perfect, it was ultimately the wagyu beef that made my dinner kickass. It was simply delicious. It was rolled and seared beautifully on the outside while keeping it medium rare inside. Eating it slowly, the meat was so tender it melt in our mouths. Red onion juice, mushrooms and the crumbs all helped intensify my enjoyment but they were mere elements to a bigger picture. But then again, it was the effort from all that made this dish memorable. Definitely the second best dish of the lot from Sepia with only a marginal difference compared to the shellfish mousse.
Having felt so full and sleepy, part due from the light but mainly the food, the waiter’s description of the food reached my ears like a string of rubbish. No it was not him, just me. On the plate was without a doubt another meat course cooked to perfection. Its meat was nice and red with its consistency simply being tender. But with a unique combination of fruit, cocoa and spices as condiments, my taste buds verified each individual flavor as boring. Conversely, as a trio, it tasted slightly curry-ish. But it was quite enjoyable actually. Definitely special though not outstanding.
Palate Cleanser'; Apple and BlackcurrantWhile Tetsuya’s set a standard for the sorbet palate cleanser, Sephia does something else. It goes one step ahead and entices its dinners. A ball of frozen blackcurrant shell filled with an apple-blackcurrant sorbet that was every bit decadent. All of this oozed out as I cut the sphere into half. It was superb! The sorbet or maybe not a sorbet was very light and airy. Flavor wise it managed to grasp the balance between its fruity sweetness and the berry acidity! It was great! And at the bottom was some toffee which gave good flavor though I would have personally done without it.
Seventh course; Coffee cream, mandarin, crisp yoghurt sponge, elderberry, lavenderThe dessert looked simple but do no judge a book by its cover. Here, the coffee cream sets the stage for a musical with the dehydrated mandarins and crisp yoghurt sponge releasing a delicious crunch that not only served as a textural component, but as a flavoring too. The elderberries are another important element as it featured its popping berries with great acidity. All of which take place simultaneously whilst the lavender gently floats in the air. Put it in this way, it excites all the right senses which makes something great. Texture, flavor and smell. And hey, I ate coffee. Something I normally do not do. Till this day, I am still a coffee virgin. Have not had a single cup in my entire life.
Eighth course; Autumn chocolate forestWhile its ingredients spanned two lines too long, a simple description suffices. I have eaten a few variations of this but am surprised by the lukewarm reception for Sepia’s Autumn chocolate forest. Sepia’s rendition of a chocolate forest is extremely good IMHO. It had all the varying textures of chocolate which were rich and very chocolaty, but at the same time quite well-balanced thanks to a variety of aromatics like the orange and thyme cream. The sour cherry sorbet itself was light, refreshing and fruity. It was extremely hard to fault with it although I do not blame some who might criticize it for the lack of being special as this dessert is increasingly being overused by restaurants, some good, the rest horrible. This was definitely one of the better ones!
Petite foursWhile most establishments serve macarons, truffles, bite size cakes and what not, Sepia does chocolates. It was good to have something different as I am now a little over such typical and unpredictable petit fours. This was way better. Each chocolate bits had the flavor we expected. There was a chocolate and a very good green tea one. I only sampled two as we were only entitled to two each. It was such a deprivation I must insist!! My tongue craved to try all the other flavors! Unless, we were only meant to have onside of the chocolate so that we could have tasted all. But then again, that would be rather retarded as the fillings would be one-sided!
While other’s have judged, why not let yourself be the judge? With countless of praises and mentions, this establishment is easily anyone’s favourite. Their food is consistently special from start to end though their bread leaves much to be desired. For me, this is what I came to Sydney for. Food that is good looking, fine tasting and over all, creates a memorable experience. No one on this table will forget the palate cleanser or even the beef as well as the shellfish courses. It was THAT good. So is Sepia a 3 hatted establishment? Of course it is. Maybe even Michelin 2 star if not 3. This was a great meal which everyone one thought was the better of the two fine dining meals we had in Sydney!
Lastly, a description taken from their website http://www.sepiarestaurant.com.au/.
“….describes the cuisine as: "smoky, sweet, crunchy, creamy, soft, gentle, toasty, scented, clear, brothy, earthy, floral. The focus is on texture and contrast even more than taste - there's always a crunch, always a cream. It's like the love-child of Tetsuya Wakuda and Rene Redzepi of Noma; a Nordic kaiseki.”