China Doll at Woolloomooloo combines modern Chinese cuisine with alfresco dining. On a sunny but very windy day, we were seated on one of the outside tables with a great view of the Sydney skyline.
The Cured Hiramasa Kingfish was a perfect way to kick start our meal. It was light, fresh and tangy and got us wanting more.
The Fried Tofu with Five Spice Salt were beautifully crisp on the outside and silky smooth on the inside.
I had been to China Doll years early and remembered the Tea Smoked Duck as a highlight. Of course I had to order it again and it was just as good as I remembered it. The aroma of the tea was evident as the dish hit our table. It had a distinct smokey flavour and together with the crispy skin, mandarin segments and the plum and tamarind sauce, made for a stunning dish.
The side of Broccolini with Oyster Sauce & Garlic was simple and gave us our veggie intake for the afternoon.
The Penang Curry, whilst not the most photogenic dish, delivered in terms of incredible flavour. The beef shin was tender and falling apart, soaking in the curry sauce which was salty, tangy and sweet.
We also ordered the Steamed Market Fish, which today was a Snapper. It is cooked in the traditional Cantonese style, topped with shallots, ginger and soy sauce. Whilst not as bold in flavour as the duck or beef curry, it was a very comforting plate of food.
For dessert, we were treated to the Large Dessert Platter (we had ordered the Small but the server upgraded it for us as we were celebrating a birthday). The platter consisted of the Sago pudding with Vanilla Coconut cream and passionfruit coulis, Raspberry and Mango sorbet and Black sticky rice with cris corn and poached pear. Each was very enjoyable in their own way and I especially loved the Sago pudding which had a great balance of salty, sweet and tangy flavours.
China Doll is one of the few fine dining Chinese restaurants that I feel is worth going to with fantastic food, attentive service and water views.
S'age Bistronomy has opened in Crows Nest, taking over the spot previously occupied by Waqu. At S'age's helm is the former head chef of Waqu, Tomoyuki Usui. As the name suggests, the type of food served is a combination of bistro and gastronomy. I went there with my family to try the Three Course Lunch Set Menu, at a very reasonable $49.
There are a selection of entrees, mains and desserts to choose from as well as a series of sides (which are not included in the set menu price).
For entree, I chose the Grilled lamb backstrap, aroma crumble and mussel emulsion. The lamb was well cooked, pink in the middle, and the aroma crumble gave it a great crunch and peppery note. The hint of mussels in the emulsion, however, was not very strong.
For main, I got the Smoked spatchcock. I was very happy with my choice. The spatchcock was perfectly cooked, succulent with a crispy skin. The nectarine and corn salsa give it a fresh twist and a lovely sweetness.
We decided to order the Charred cabbage with truffle ponzu as a side. It wasn't quite up to the lofty heights of Toriciya's Savoy Cabbage but it definitely came close. The miso crumble together with the ponzu dressing really lifted the flavour, though I would have loved a stronger hit of truffle.
Onto desserts and the Figs and berries, with pink pepper crumble and milk ice cream was a great combination of flavours and textures. My favourite, though, was the Mont blanc (chestnut cream cake) with mandarin puree and yoghurt ice cream. I enjoyed the intensity of the chestnut flavour and the yoghurt ice cream was very smooth and light. The mandarin puree really balanced out the dessert.
The food at S'age Bistronomy is modern and beautifully plated, with an interesting fusion of Japanese and French flavours and techniques. It's a welcome addition to the lower north shore.
One of the most memorable dining experiences ever was at Sepia several years ago. I had a chance to go back recently and was understandly super excited, but a tad nervous that sky high expectations might not be matched. I clearly needn't have worried.
The trio of amuse bouche of Saikou salmon, smoked scarlet prawn and Hiramasa kingfish looked absolutely divine. Encased in the perfectly spherical Saikou salmon were smoked salmon roe, bursting with flavour. The Kingfish wrapped in the wafer thin tatami iwashi (a blanket of dried little fish) was perfectly balanced with the jamon cream. The smoked prawn with carrot powder dumpling was incredibly delicate, but did not have the wow factor of the other two morsels.
The first course was the Spanner crab, sake vinegar jelly, brown butter emulsion, pea and horseradish. There was theatre at the table with the use of liquid nitrogen forming horseradish snow sprinkled over the dish. The crab meat was so sweet and tender (having been cooked in butter at 70 degrees). The fine sheet of sake vinegar jelly draped over the crab meat added some tangy notes, pairing wonderfully with the creamy brown butter emulsion which reminded me of the buttery base of a cheesecake. All the flavours worked really harmoniously together and did not overpower the spanner crab.
The next course of Sea scallop, macadamia nut cream, quail egg looked incredible as it arrived at our table. The scallops were sweet and plump, delicately matched with a smooth macadamia nut cream. The 'wreath' of scallop crackling with flowers added a nice textural touch to the dish.
The Charcoal grilled black lip abalone was very tender to eat, with almost a 'meaty' texture. The dashi cream and wakame oil gave it a great depth of flavour.
Continuing the seafood theme, the Bonito with roasted chicken cream, smoked soy and caviar was on point for flavour. The star of the dish for me was the luscious roasted chicken cream - made from the roasting of several chickens with butter, white wine and herbs.
The next dish of Seared uni with smoked bone marrow, cauliflower, yuzu kosho and toasted milk bread was small in size but ginormous in flavour. All the components worked well together and really enhanced the flavour of the uni.
Onto the mains: we started with the Roasted Aylesbury duck breast. It would be hard to find a more perfectly cooked piece of duck - perfectly pink and tender. The mulberry vinegar really gave the dish a slight acidic kick, balanced perfectly with the sheep yoghurt.
The David Blackmore wagyu with Jerusalem artichoke, miso and pine mushrooms was one of my favourite dishes of the night. Apart from looking spectacular, the wagyu was incredibly tender and buttery, combining so well with the sweet, creamy miso. The pine mushrooms on top were just absolutely bursting with flavour.
Even though I was starting to feel a bit full, I couldn't go past the optional cheese cost of Comte and pear jelly. The dish looked amazing - the pear was lying on a bed of shaved comte, interspersed with walnuts and celery. The pear was actually made of sorbet and inside was a mix of liquid cheese with pear jelly. It's probably the most inventive cheese course I've ever had. But be warned - it's best to share the cheese course as it is quite a lot of cheese!
Getting us in the mood for dessert was the Raspberry, salted white chocolate chantilly with wild strawberry syrup. I thought the texture would be similar to granita, but it was a bit more creamy and melted away as soon as it entered my mouth.
The first dessert of Milks involved eight different textures of milk - incredible! The smorgasboard of flavours and textures, ranging from coconut yoghurt to sheep milk sorbet and milk cake was amazing.
Now for Sepia's signature dessert - the Winter Chocolate Forest. The Chocolate Forest is an absolute joy to eat. Every spoonful, you discover a different flavour and texture combination. There's the aniseed flavours of the fennel fronds and the licorice juxtaposed against the smooth blackberry sorbet, the sweetness of the rose jellies and of course, the rich chocolate soil.
One more thing - Sepia has an incredible tea menu and if you want something other than wine, I would highly recommend it. The teas were served hot then poured over a jug full of ice. I can't recall exactly the varieties we tried but they were delicious and refreshing, well worth trying.
It's hard not to be wowed by Martin Benn's Sepia. The meal was nicely paced, service was impeccable and every dish was beautifully presented. The food is exceptional and each plate of food is a wonderful showcase of balancing flavours and textures. Sepia will continue to be one of my favourite restaurants in Sydney.
Quay has been on my wish list for a while and I finally got the chance to cross it off my list. We were lucky to get one of the tables on the mezzanine floor of the restaurant, with uninterrupted, sweeping views of the Sydney harbour and the Opera House. This really is dining with a view!
Dining with my parents and my boyfriend, we opted for the four course menu for $175pp. We figured that if we each get different dishes, it's like one big degustation!
The Amuse Bouche was Almonds and squash seeds with cultured cream and verjuice. Light and tangy, left me wanting for more.
For the first course, I got the Mud crab congee (est. 2003). Congee is not something you would find in a Western restaurant, let alone a fine dining one. So I was intrigued. Firstly, it smelled amazing. The congee itself was a bit more watery than the versions I am used to but tasted absolutely superb. The mix of the slightly salty egg yolk emulsion with the sweet crab meat really elevated the flavours.
The Raw smoked Blackmore wagyu had a subtle smokey flavour which went very well with the golden enoki mushrooms and the lightly spiced horseradish cream.
The Smoked eel and black beef pancetta were a wonderful pairing, and the fermented mushrooms really accentuated the dish.
For the second course, I chose the Wild black lip abalone, fermented chawanmushi, smoked pig jowl, roasted Komi and sesame. The chawanmushi was silky smooth and the abalone was very tender, but the star of the dish was definitely the pig jowl. It was simply divine, like eating the fattiest slice of tuna belly.
The Slow braised quail with brioche, grains, hazelnuts and coco button mushrooms delivered on both flavour and texture. The dish had a lovely crunch and each mouthful had so much going on. I was expecting the quail to be the star of the dish but actually, it was just a smorgasbord of ingredients all working together.
Compared to the other dishes, the XO Crayfish wasn't at the same lofty standards. The XO sauce lacked a bite and was more salty than anything else. The crayfish was very well cooked though.
Onto the third course and I had chosen the Blackmore wagyu with black rice miso, white maitake and black garlic. Cooked perfectly pink and tender, I don't recall eating a better piece of steak. The black garlic puree was out of this world delicious.
The Roasted masterstock duck had a great profile of flavours. I only wished it came with crispy skin.
...and onto desserts! Like many, I had watched the finale of Masterchef Season 2 and wanted to have the Snow Egg experience since. Today's version was nectarine flavoured. I went in with super its expectations and I got to say they were met. The presentation of the dish is stunning and almost too beautiful to eat. The egg sits on a bed of granita (today, it was nectarine flavoured). To eat it, you tap on the 'egg' to crack it open and out oozes the gooey centre. At first taste. I found the 'egg' a bit too sweet but when I took a little bit of everything in one spoonful (the ice cream filled meringue, the super refreshing granita, the malt biscuit) that's when the magic happens. So much is happening texturally and flavour-wise, I can see why it's now such an iconic dessert.
We also ordered Quay's other signature dessert, the Eight Textured Chocolate Cake. It's definitely one of the best chocolate desserts I've had. I can't say I made out all eight textures, but it tasted so damn good, it doesn't really matter. At the table, hot chocolate sauce is drizzled into the dark chocolate top coat, creating a hole in the cake. It's a great touch of theatre. The cake is rich and decadent, and we scrape the plate clean.
Dining at Quay was truly a memorable, three hat worthy experience - everything from the view to the service to the food. There were some truly outstanding dishes like the Blackmore Wagyu, the snow egg and the chocolate cake that will stay with me for a long time.
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