As soon as I had my Sydney dates finalised, the lovely Anika and I started planning an epic meal–one that would require several months’ notice to gather the necessary funds. We decided on the 9-course degustation at Sepia, one of the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide’s three-hatted restaurants, and Vittoria Coffee’s Restaurant of the Year in 2015.
Needless to say, Anika and I were both super excited about our Sepia Friday, and were pretty much ready for a three-hour meal that ended with us rolling down Sussex Street, happily watered and fed. And despite a few disappointments here and there, our overall experience was pretty amazing.
Before I start on the individual food and wine pairings (which were mostly hits, had some misses, and some super duper hits), I want to say that for me, fine-dining is about the entire experience, which includes attentive and knowledge waitstaff, the correct assortment of tableware, and an atmosphere conducive to the holistic enjoyment of dishes and drinks that have been thoughtfully created and presented, and should be consumed with the same level of respect and consideration. Additionally, when I’m forking out a decent amount for such an experience, I expect the restaurant’s quality to be much more than just the food–and unfortunately, I found the service rather lacking. The sommelier was the only person who gave us the impression of being amenable to answering our questions, whereas practically everyone else was quite brusque, impersonal, and indifferent. I found this very disappointing, and though I tried not to be affected by the service, I’m sure I would’ve enjoyed my meal significantly more had the staff been more pleasant.
Right–onto the food! Sepia was pretty darn good in this aspect, and almost every dish had Anika and me making all sorts of inappropriate noises in public. The restaurant’s Japanese inspirations are quite evident in its emphasis on seafood, which suited us just fine because mmm, seafood… (Also, I feel I should apologise for some of the sub-optimal photos–my seat wasn’t exactly photography-friendly, and I kept trying to avoiding my camera’s shadow.)
For the amuse bouche, we had light and crispy crackers with a delicately seasoned tuna tartare, complemented by seaweed. This was our first gastronomical impression of Sepia, and we were both quite pleased.
1: Sashimi of Yellow Fin tuna, Jamon Iberico cream, avocado, baby radish, ponzu, pork crackling.
2004 Crawford River “Reserve”, Riesling. Henty, Australia.
I felt this was the weakest dish of the set. I wasn’t impressed by the quality of the tuna, and the overall flavours just didn’t do anything for me. I’d actually go as far as call it quite bland—the dish was certainly overshadowed by the Riesling, which was delicious.
2: Bonito, fried potato, poached quail egg, caviar, roasted chicken powder.
2013 Perticaia, Trebbiano Spoletino. IGT Umbria, Italy.
Whatever reservations I had from the first course were immediately blown out of the water with this beautiful concoction. Anika commented on the quail egg really doing it for her, but for me, I loved the combination of flavours and textures—taking the first bite was a joyous occasion that had me grinning in that dopey foodie fashion.
At this point, they brought out the bread and butter, with the latter being an adorable ball at a perfectly spreadable temperature. The bread was hot and beautiful, and a rather peculiar fusion of Asian and Western baking: it was soft and slightly sweet, but dense and decidedly yeasty. Peculiar, but glorious, especially when the butter began to melt mouth-wateringly. (Yes, I deem that a perfectly apt adverb for this occasion.)
3: Charcoal grilled black lip abalone, yuzu, dashi sabayon, roasted chicken skin.
2013 Grace, Koshu. Katsunuma, Japan.
I enjoyed this dish, but rank it as one of my least favourites because the others were superior. The paired wine was a revelation: koshu is a Japanese grape variety, and Grace is one of the few “Western” wines in Japan. I loved the taste, and will be trying to source it when I get back to my wee cabinet in Belfast. ;)
4: Seared sea urchin, smoked bone marrow, horseradish, toasted milk bread, citrus soy, sobacha.
Katsuyama “En” Tokubetsu-junmai, Nihonshu. Miyagi, Japan.
This. Was. Amazing. Anika and I both had ours in one bite, as recommended by the server, and we both wanted mooooore immediately afterwards. That’s certainly an excellent sign, Sepia! We were a bit baffled by the junmai (a type of sake or Japanese rice wine) being served in champagne flutes, but apparently they didn’t have proper sake cups. Yeah, that was one of the little things that irked me, because I would’ve liked to sip on my o-sake properly…
5: Shiitake mushroom sushi.
Henriques and Henriques “Rainwater”, Tinta Negra Mole. Madeira, Portugal.
This definitely ranks in my top…half of the menu? A deceptively simple dish, this was comprised of magicked shiitake mushrooms and sushi rice—and it tasted heavenly. The fortified wine was a little weird at this stage of the game, and though it balanced well with the rich and smoky mushroom, we then had to drink the super sweet stuff by itself…
6: Roasted Aylesbury duck breast, candied fuyu persimmon, dried fennel, blueberry vinegar.
2014 Gaia ’14 – 18h’ Rosé, Agioritiko. PGI Peloponnisos, Greece.
Duck! This was also very, very good, and worked beautifully overall. Gotta love me some good duck! Unfortunately, the rosé was pretty horrid with the duck, though, to give credit where due, it was okay with the candied bits. It might seem like a small thing, but goodness me, I want a glorious red to go with my glorious duck, and not being able to grin goofily through a mouthful of the dish followed by a mouthful of a perfectly matched wine really detracted from my experience.
7: David Blackmore wagyu karubi, hot miso mustard, Japanese pickles, ice plant.
2010 Quinta da Muradella “Gorvia”, Mencia-Bastardo-Caino Tinto. Monterrei, Spain.
Fortunately, the somewhat disappointing seventh course-and-wine was followed by this gorgeous wagyu, soft and beautiful and melting and melding with wondrous flavours…and paired with a shiraz-like glass of perfection. When it comes to wine, I like mine red, rich, robust—and this course, my dear readers, was the climax I was waiting for, was hoping to be working towards, was dreaming about during the 36 hours of my Belfast-Sydney transit. And golly, what a spectacular, satisfying oralgasm.
8: Comté, pear jelly, roasted endive, fried walnuts, plum, celery.
2014 Eric Bordelet “Granit”, Poiré. Normandie, France.
At this point, we were so happy and floaty that we decided to have an optional cheese course to share. The shaved comté was delicious with the pear jelly, which was shaped like a pear and very yielding, to our giddy surprise.
Pre-dessert: I forget what this was, except its awesomeness. A refreshing touch between the savoury and sweet dishes.
There was a choice of two desserts, and Anika wanted the milks while I wanted the chocolate—another reason we’re a perfect match. Her milks were super milky and rather nice, from the spoonful I tasted, and she certainly enjoyed hers.
9a: Milks. Milk chocolate, coconut yoghurt, rice milk pudding, goat milk dulce de leche, sheep milk sorbet, milk cake, milk crisp, yuba
2011 Mas Amiel “Vintage Blanc” Vin Doux Naturel, Grenache Gris. Maury, France
9b: Spring chocolate forest. Soft chocolate, hazelnut and almond, violet crumble cream, blackberry sorbet elderflower and Meyer lemon jellies, green tea, licorice, chocolate twigs, bronze fennel.
Mas Amiel “Prestige – 15 Ans d’Age”, Vin Doux Naturel, Oxydatif, Grenache Noir-Carignan-Maccabeu. Maury, France.
My dessert, on the other hand… Whoa. It not only resembled a spring chocolate forest (just look at it!), but also tasted spring-like and fresh, while maintaining its chocolatey glory. The paired wine was very, very sweet, but mellowed out with the chocolate, and I had a few more moments of perfection—a second oralgasm, perhaps?
Unfortunately, there were no petits fours. Why were there no petits fours?! This was pretty disappointing, because some of my favourite noms at top-level restaurants have been petits fours… I felt like I was deprived of my post-oralgasmic cuddle.
Visited on: Friday, 18 September 2015. Lunch.
Spent: $375 per person. ($200 for the 9 courses, $125 for the matched wines, $30 for the cheese course, $20 each for the additional glass of wine, $9 for sparkling water.)
Overall: Some of the dishes and matched wines were mind-blowing, which, individually, are strong contestants for the best I’ve had. The overall experience, however, definitely had room for improvement–and at $375 per person (for lunch, no less!), I expected extraordinarily-amazeballs-with-Tchaikovsky-and-Snape-on-top, and found Sepia wanting. On my international fine-dining scale, I give it 8/10.
See website for opening times and menus.