Quay – 06 December 2011

Quay was the second degustation I had, and my third fine dining experience. I only compare this to Tetsuaya’s, however, and not Rockpool Bar and Grill. I was still relatively new to the game, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived. I only knew three things about Quay at the time – Jewels, Snow Egg, and Peter Gilmore. Oh, I do believe it was ranked 26th in the San Pellegrino Top 50 Restaurants at roughly this time.

I’d looked up at Quay every time I walked past the Overseas Passenger Terminal, wondering what mysterious entry point the restaurant had. It turns out it was actually ordinary, just a set of stairs to the upper level. We’d arrived early for our booking, but they were accommodating and allowed us to pass time on the balcony while they finished setting up for the night’s service. As a bonus, when they were ready, we were seated at a window table – a prime spot for the view! Being the only diners at the time, we had several waiters offer menus and drinks. As a side of trivia, Masterchef once filmed an episode here where I marvelled at the silver ceiling. It turns out in real life, it’s not as shiny and as a few tarnishes from all that cleaning.

That night, there was a large ship docked outside the restaurant, so the staff apologised for the view. They did mention that it would be departing shortly, and they even made conversation in regards to watching a fluouro-vested man at the docks having been there for the last two hours to ensure everything went smoothly.

While they have an a la carte menu, we opted for the degustation. We were then presented with an amuse bouche of ginger milk curd in a seaweed and oyster consomme. It was delicous and warming, and helped stimulate our appetites for what was to come.

Marron, grapefruit, bergamot

Still my favourite plate-up and an inspiration for my current cooking, this was a gorgeous and delicate dish. Sweet raw marron on a bed of grapefruit, with elderflower and bergamot throughout the dish. When this was placed on the table, I thought the little pulp bits were rice – until I realised that a chef who is dedicated to the love of his job had painstakingly taken apart each piece inside grapefruit just to get this to us. That’s when I really started appreciating the efforts of chefs.

Mud crab congee

This became my reference point for all “pond” dishes, where the visuals remind me of a pond. They don’t necessarily require a consomme, but it does help. Heart of palm, rice, mud crab and a buttery, slightly citrus flavoured cream were the core elements of this dish, with a clean flavour. My crab meat hadn’t been completely prepped properly, with cartilage still present. I didn’t mind, since all the meat slid off quite nicely. The waiter who took my bowl did inspect what I had left inside it.

Lobster,  lobster velvet, hand caught squid, golden tapioca

That’s right, there’s no caviar in this dish. Golden tapioca balls had only a mild flavour – instead playing with my mind and its expectations on how they should have tasted based on its past experiences of the same looking item. The squid and lobster were both beautifully tender, and underneath it all was a lobser velvet – foam flavoured with the essence of lobster. While this was nice, it wasn’t a standout dish.

 A perfect quenelle of butter with a side of sea salt indicated bread time of rye and white sourdough. The white sourdough crust was a little too hard for me, though it was still tasty. After having had a truffle butter experience at Tetsuya’s, this plain butter was just that – plain, but I wasn’t missing the truffle butter too much due to the wonderful environment and food I was enjoying.

Pork jowl, scallop, shiitake jerusalem artichoke

This was the dish of the day! Such wonderful textures and flavours, and since this, I love cooking with jerusalem artichoke every now and again. The pork jowl, mushrooms and shaved scallop were so tender, which contrasted very well against the crisp crunch of the artichoke chips. It was the perfect mix of flavours and textures.

Slow roasted quail breast, semolina truffle butter, buckwheat, pumpernickel, farro

This was also a highly textural dish, with crunch throughout from the buckwheat and farro puffs. The quail was cooked in a sweet, dark sauce, placed on top of a creamy, earthy semolina. The truffle was so subtle – it took its time to fill the senses, but when it did, was very aromatic. The reason I found the pork jowl dish better was due to the better mix of ingredients and the simpler flavours.

 Wagyu in bitter chocolate black pudding, ox tail consomme

Not much of a looker, but had a great flavour. At the time, I’d never had black pudding before, however it was infused into the dish, and gave a richness to the consomme.

That concluded the round of savouries – which left two desserts, of which one was the snow egg! Jewels was on the a la carte, so we didn’t get a chance to taste it. It was also sunset at this point, so the pictures weren’t as easy to take.

White nectarine snow egg

And here it is, the fabled snow egg, covered in sugary snow, nestled in a bed of granita, with a white nectarine syrup at the end. The toffee shell cracked beautifully, though my particular shell was a little thick though, and set a little in my teeth. That’s a minor issue though. The gooey yellow custard “yolk” oozed out from within its meringue “white” and the sweet white nectarine flavour was so good – a pure fruit flavour. Possibly not worth the hype, but it is most definitely a must have dish!

 Ewe’s milk ice-cream, milk skin, caramel, prunes, Pedro Ximénez , chocolate bark, pulled toffee

This was the last of our degustation plates. Perfect timing too, as this was the point at which I became full, so I classed this place as well paced and the amount of food just right. That being said, this dish was rather large and heavy, so I didn’t quite enjoy it as it became too much. It was the first time I’ve had milk skin in a form other than skin on warm milk, and it was a little crunchy, a little chewy, and not nasty at all. The pulled toffee and chocolate shards were quite striking and delicious! I’m not a big fan of prunes, but it worked well with this dish.

Coffee and petit fours were served shortly after. We received some truffles – milk truffle with hazelnut, dark chocolate truffle with buckwheat puffs, and one with a muscatel centre. The congratulations written here was a result of a conversation we had with the waitstaff – she asked what our occasion for visiting was – whether we were chefs or serious foodies. I was actually with my brother’s friends for this visit, so there was an awkward moment when one of them replied “we’re students who’ve just finished high school.” And ta-da, a customised message on the petit fours! This was a lovely detail that I appreciated a lot. It was a great finishing touch to the night.

Both the tea and coffee were disappointing though – the earl grey wasn’t aromatic and didn’t have a bergamot fragrance, so we were confused as to whether we’d received earl grey at all – perhaps it was english breakfast. The coffee was the standard Vittoria stuff, and at this point I had already begun my adventure in becoming a coffee enthusiast, so it didn’t taste very special at all.

We had yet another moment of awkwardness when we were asked if we were ready for the “paperwork” to which we said yes, only to order a macchiato afterwards to offset the confusion of the tea. However, we did tip! Generously! So I hope that made up for a tiny $3.50 out of the approximately $250pp we paid for the dinner.

Whether it was the timing and or the occasion/company, Tetsuya’s felt like a much formal setting than Quay, though I now attribute that to my initial bewilderedness in my first fine dining experience. I believe that Quay has a greater revisit value due to its a la carte menu, for I was highly tempted to go back to order Jewels, while Tetsuya’s only had a set menu. Quay also had more windows and that million dollar view of the harbour, so it felt brighter, lighter.

Would I go back? Anytime! Peter Gilmore’s flower decorated food is so gorgeous!