Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sunny Sydney

A solo trip to Sydney for Iain has inspired this post, so for the first time this blog will be written in the first-person.

The purpose of the trip was to attend the awards ceremony for the Electrolux Appetite for Excellence for which I was highly commended in the Young Restaurateur of the Year Awards for 2010. I could not, however, fly all the way to Sydney without eating at a wonderful restaurant so I will start there.

A mid-morning start at the airport, two hours on the plane and a short walk to the Formule1 hotel just next to the airport preceded a cab ride to The Rocks, adjacent to Circular Quay, for a lunch at Sake Restaurant & Bar. I have wanted to eat at Sake for a while but last time we were in Sydney the call of Quay was too strong. 

Formule 1 on a beautiful Sydney day.

Walking up to Sake in the historic Argyle district it looks very understated, a simple sign above a stone and glass doorway is all that indicates that you have arrived. Walking through the door I was greeted by the elegant hostess and shown to the raised bar that fronts on to the very open kitchen.

Subtle Sake

I had a quick look at the large menu before asking my waitress to keep bringing out her choices of food with matched sake until I said stop.

This gave me a chance to have a look around the room. It’s all housed in an old stone building with a very modern and minimal fit out. Timber floors and tables with simple art work, the centre piece is the LED illuminated open kitchen with its glassy-topped stone pass, where white jacketed chefs move around with urgency but control.

Where I was sitting I had full view of the chef's station where the sashimi was being prepared - fish being filleted and sliced with ultimate precision. The dining room behind me was around 80% full and creating a good buzzy feel without being deafeningly loud.

Food started to arrive quickly as I watched the skilled chef prepare my first nigiri course. A scallop, some kingfish and salmon were sliced raw and set on top of little bricks of rice, along with cooked scampi and super soft calamari. As I watched, the chef very lightly warmed the top of the fish with a kitchen blowtorch. The torch gave the fish a smokey, toasty flavour. 

The scallop that was larger than a 50 cent piece had been sliced horizontally but not all the way through then butterflied onto the top of the rice. It was dressed with a little soy sauce. 

Next was the scampi removed from its shell but with its tail still attached. It was topped with a little dollop of tobbiko bound with red capsicum puree. The fish eggs snapped and crackled as the flame of the blowtorch passed over them.

Squid, simply topped with chives was soft and delicate.

Yellowtail kingfish belly topped with a tiny spot of jalapeno puree that added a vinegary heat to the fatty fish.

Lastly salmon belly with a little sprinkle of something black (that I think might have been dried miso) but the language barrier prevented me from finding out exactly what it was.

Nigiri, scallop towards the front

Next on the list was the most beautiful, transparent slices of snapper with white sesame, yuzu and shredded daikon. It was presented on a sky blue earthenware plate and fanned out like a flower with the daikon piled in the center. It was delicate, subtle and fresh. A great example of Japanese food.


The acid of the yuzu and the nuttiness of the sesame seeds, while not a new combination, were sensational.

Next up, prawn dumplings in a little bamboo steamer and a chilli dipping sauce on the side. Unlike the prawn dumplings you would expect to see at a Japanese restaurant, the dumpling wrappers were shredded very finely and pressed on to the outside of a tiny sphere of finely textured prawn mousse to give them the appearance of little knots of string. The sauce I think was made with chipotle chillis due to its smoky taste. The dumplings looked and tasted great.

Prawn dumplings

7 score wagyu seared very rare with grated daikon, lemon and a soy dressing that was reminiscent of ponzu sauce. Lots of beef, lots and lots of beef so much that I didn't think I could finish it, but I did. The beef being wagyu was rich, but balanced by the salty daikon and the acid of the lemon and ponzu.

Rare wagyu

Lastly for the savoury things (I was struggling by this stage) miso with scampi. The scampi had been cut in half and poached in the miso soup. It was finished with very finely-sliced spring onions, daikon and little red beads of red chilli oil.

Scampi miso

Even though I didn't need it, I asked them to send me a dessert. Russian cream with roasted coconut, raspberry coulis and raspberry jelly. Russian cream is a lot like a panna cotta but with the addition of sour cream to lighten it. Perfectly set and cut by the un-sweetened raspberry elements. The coconut was toasted until it was crispy in texture with a rich oiliness. 

Russian cream and raspberry

The kitchen team bustled around now prepping for dinner, while I finished my sake and the dining room started to empty of the city corporates. I took that as my cue to leave too.

Summing up Sake Restaurant & Bar. The food was everything I wanted and expected it to be. Subtle, delicate and modern, served with flair and style. Beautiful plates, great friendly service that was very educated and professional. Tied all together with an awesome Sydney-style dining room. 

I headed back across Circular Quay and into the city to buy a jumper and back to the hotel to get ready for the awards announcement. The rail workers in Sydney were on strike for the day so all rail travel was free which was a nice surprise.

The function was at the Electrolux Centre a short walk from the hotel, and it was packed. Every chef worth his or her salt was in attendance from Peter Gilmore to Lindy Milan. There were red-carpet, glasses of Bollinger and countless camera flashes. I felt a bit out of my league, it was a far-cry from when chefs get together in Hobart over a barbecue or yum cha. There were food writers, food stylists and professional foodies everywhere I looked.

The young waiters and chefs were on hand in the various satellite kitchens preparing canapes, shucking oysters and slicing joints of roasted pork. I was shown the Electrolux commercial range (all of which i want) before the official part of the evening started.

The Electrolux showroom looking like a nightclub

Brett Graham from The Ledbury in London was on hand to present the awards. Brett is an Australian who has recently been awarded his second Michelin Star. 

Sadly only two Tasmanians made to through to the national finals in the competition, Josh Smith from Black Cow Bistro and Jayde Hanley from Launceston Country Club. None of our chefs or restaurateurs made it through this time.

The winners were announced with Josh Smith clinching the runner-up position! I stayed and chatted to some of the chefs who were finalists in the 2006 Young Chef of the Year when I was lucky enough to get through to the national finals. 

It was then out into the quiet and the short walk back to the hotel to prepare for an early flight home to quiet Hobart. Just the way I like it!