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Let’s deviate from our regular onslaught of book reviews and book love, and talk about food! Namely, the super amazing dinner I had with my good friend Anika on Wednesday, which still has me sighing in contentment at its recollection. And then I thought, well, why not write about my experience? (Yes, I’m blogging about food, and including loads of photos. What a sure way to make one hungry…)

The restaurant in question is Aria in Sydney. We went for the degustation, which Anika has had at Aria before, and which I’d…never had. That’s right: this was my first ever degustation! And yup, it’s probably spoilt me for all other degustations, but worse things have happened.

Although we wanted to have a bit of wine, Anika and I (both being rather small) decided against going with the matched wines, because we didn’t think it would be thematically appropriate to roll out of Aria and onto the steps of the Sydney Opera House four hours later. After saying as much to our sommelier (with a French accent—we’re not playing with stereotypes or anything), he suggested starting us off with the first paired wine (which would work with the second course), and seeing how we went as the evening progressed. The poor guy didn’t know what he was in for…

The mounting anticipation:

aria-01 After the menus had been taken away, the bread and appetiser arrived. On that evening, the complimentary dish was chorizo and crème fraîche with crunchy rice thingies. Om nom nom!

1: Raw Hiramasa kingfish with beetroot, lime and horseradish
2011 Markus Molitor ‘Wehlener Klosterberg’ Kabinett Trocken Riesling, Mosel Germany

aria-02 aria-03This was a really lovely first course. The fish was fresh, the flavours were light and well-balanced, and it worked well with the matched Riesling. Although it wasn’t spectacular or mind-blowing, I thought it was a pretty subtle and delicate way of easing into the meal.

2: Smoked white sweet potato with fromage blanc and Oscietra caviar
Riesling from above

aria-04 aria-05Mmm, this was a good one! I loved the presentation, and the soft textures of the sweet potato and fromage blanc. If you look at the photos, you can see that the first one (which Anika took) has a transparent thing. For some reason, my plate came without it, so I had to mention it to the waiter (“Excuse me, but I think my dish came without the thing…”), and he immediately fixed it. (Yay good service and linguistic specificity!) The thing was actually my favourite part of the dish—it was some kind of crispy, thingified sweet potato, and it had such a lovely sweetness to it, which worked well with the rest of the noms.

3: Pressed Holmbrae duck and foie gras terrine with quince and cashew nut lavosh
Dessert wine from a place near Bordeaux…

aria-06 aria-07Before this course commenced, our sommelier came by and, upon seeing our empty glasses, gave us a suggestion for our next wine. Instead of the paired wine on the menu (a New Zealand “Papillon Blanc” blend), he was inspired to try (on us) a dessert wine from a place near Bordeaux. (Unfortunately, that’s about as specific as my memory gets…) His reasoning: a lot of French folk eat their foie gras with this kind of dessert wine. Sold.

And boy, were we happy about it! The mild sweetness of the foie gras terrine was teased out into brighter existence by the dessert wine, leaving us as two happily munching (and crunching—thank you, lavosh) girls.

4: Murray cod with mascarpone, fennel, verjus and semi-dried salted grapes

aria-08 aria-09 The adventure continues, and takes a bit of a winey (whiny?) turn. Monsieur Sommelier came by and suggested the Farr Rising Pinot noir with the next one (or maybe two) dishes. I expressed my general disinclination where Pinot noir is concerned (I’m sorry!), and he brought over a bottle and two glasses for us to give it a go. Anika liked it, but I…did not. Monsieur Sommelier scratched his chin and brought out a Caillard Mataro Grenache, to which I took an instant liking. But we were both a little apprehensive, knowing that the Grenache probably wouldn’t work well (or at all) with the cod…

Meanwhile, I explained to Anika my aversion to Pinot noir (unless it’s really, really, really good). When it comes to reds, I think of mutant powers (of the X-Men variety). If you’re going to be a mutant, you want to be someone like Magneto, and you do not want to be someone like Ink (at least, as he’s portrayed in Days of Future Past), where your mutant power is to make other people puke. Similarly, if you’re having red wine, you want a nice, rich Shiraz or Cab Sav, and not a mid-range Pinot noir. But maybe that’s because I’ve been fortunate enough to grown up with some wonderfully full-bodied Australian reds…

Anyway, the cod was delicious. I had a mouthful, Anika had a mouthful, Anika ate one of the grapes, Anika had another mouthful, Anika proclaimed the post-grape amazingness. I followed suit, and the cod became super delicious.

Unfortunately, my Grenache didn’t work with the cod at all… The sommelier had left my glass of Pinot noir on the table, so I tried my cod with that, and it was significantly better as a matched pair. But I was happy enough to have my cod and then have my wine separately afterwards while waiting for the next dish, which is exactly what I did—mmm, was it good.

5: Roast chicken with Australian black truffle and potato
As above

aria-10 aria-11 This was a great dish, which I affectionately called “KFC on steroids”—and I mean it in the very best way. The chicken was lovely and crispy on the outside and tender on the inside and so flavoursome! And the mash, oh, how I love me some good mash!

(My Grenache didn’t work, but again, that was okay, because I knew what was coming next…!)

6: Cervena venison fillet with Japanese pumpkin, red witlof and riberry
2004 Torbreck ‘The Struie’ Shiraz (from Magnum), Barossa Valley South Australia

aria-12 aria-13 Um. I’m actually getting teary right now as I prepare to type this. Just thinking about the venison with the Shiraz is making me very overwhelmed.

Deep breaths, Samantha. And simple sentences.

Venison: beautifully rich flavours, perfectly cooked. Shiraz: beautifully rich, dark, slightly oaky. Together: oralgasmic heaven.

That is all.

7: Black sesame seed parfait with passionfruit jelly, yuzu and almonds
2010 Bodegas Bernabeleva ‘Cantocuerdas’ Moscatel, Madrid Spain

aria-14 aria-15Between the savoury dishes and dessert, our waiter came by with a palate cleanser, which was…cleansing and refreshing. I can’t remember any more than that, seeing as I was still riding the happy waves from the previous course.

I was probably still recovering when dessert was served, but dessert is dessert is dessert, so I had to regain my wits for the occasion. Now, I’m a massive chocoholic, and I always go for the most chocolatey thing on the menu if possible. This time, having no choice, I was ready to embrace the non-chocolate parfait—and embrace it I did! The dessert was a perfect end to the evening, with the crisp yuzu (a Japanese citrus) sorbet balancing beautifully with the mild black sesame flavours. Add the super caramelised and crunchy almonds (how come mine only burn when I try to do the same thing?) with a dash of the dark chocolate, and enter: happiness.

A couple of petit fours and a hole in our wallets later, Anika and I left Aria (sans rolling) with very contented smiles.

aria-16And so that was my first experience at Aria, and my first degustation. I’d happily go back for a meal centred on the venison, or try out a couple of other restaurants in Sydney—but before we go there, some frugal eating and living is in order… Good things I have so many books to read!