Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Gourmet Traveller's Restaurant of the Year, 2012 - Marque, Sydney

Marque Restaurant

Last Thursday, I got straight off a plane from Singapore, had a micro nap, did some shopping/repacking and returned to the airport for a CPD conference in Sydney. Although the conference was work-related and hence quite a contrast from the 3 weeks of relaxation I'd been enjoying prior, it was a great chance to catch up with old friends and I was also looking forward to being in another city that wasn't Toowoomba.

Being the food enthusiasts we are, Mochi and I started planning the dinner trips months in advance. Apparently that's what you have to do in this town too! I had tried Quay but it was fully booked so we scratched that off the list. Marque Restaurant has a much smarter booking system that allows you to get an instant confirmation online, rather than enquiring via e-mail and getting rejected (as with Quay) so we were happy to secure our booking there.
The dinner was planned for the evening of our first lecture day. We were all a bit tired from hours of brain usage. I was especially tired from weeks of sleep deprivation but I perked up for dinner time.

We caught a cab to Surry Hills, home of many of Sydneys best restaurants. Marque has a very understated exterior and I think that if I wasn't looking out for it, I would've walked straight past.

The interior is simple, elegant and very dim. My decor photography is appalling. I used a flash for the food photos but didn't think I could get away with flash-photographing other diners who were probably trying to eat in peace.

Regular readers will know that I often complain about being confused and indecisive about what dishes to order, especially when there are multiple offerings that catch my eye. This problem is eliminated at Marque - where there is only one option: an 8 course degustation. I've been to restaurants like Rockpool where you can choose between the full degustation or a smaller number of courses but here, you don't even get that option. It might be daunting to some but I was relieved. Yes! No thinking. We were asked about food allergies etc so I believe they would be accomodating to anyone who has special dietary requests.

We got the ball rolling with some drinks. Mochi ordered a mojito and I got a gin and tonic for myself (with many more to come).

Yellow fin tuna with foie gras, potato and olive truffle

The amuse bouche was yellow fin tuna and foie gras, sandwiched between 2 glass-thin potato crisps. This was a very impressive start to the meal. Though the serving was bite-sized, this just emphasized the level of detailing and technique involved.

Almond jelly with blue swimmer crab, almond gazpacho, sweet corn and avruga 

Our first course was the blue swimmer crab. Though it looks a bit strange and snow cone-like on the plate, this dish was delicious. Jack and Tanya gave positive remarks of 'this is really good' and Mochi and I agreed so much that it later became one of our favorite courses.

Beer, bone marrow sea urchin and coral

Next came a 2-part course. First was a strange frothy broth described as 'beer, bone marrow and urchin'. As though that's not strange enough, Jack and Tanya both heard 'bear' and were even more stunned with what was being offered. I wasn't a huge fan of this broth as I found it too fishy.

Rottnest island scallop with lemon balm, yuzu and broccolini 

The second part of this course was the scallop and broccolini. I know people who are nuts about scallops but I'm not one of them. The best I could say about this one is that it was fresh. Oh and the plate looked nice.

Blackmore grain fed wagyu with cabbage, mustard and garlic 

The next course was the first of our 'mains' and comprised of wagyu with cabbage. The plate looked simple and I suppose ultimately, it wasn't a fancy dish. The star was definitely the wagyu. The meat wasn't over-dressed or disguised. The quality of the wagyu spoke for itself. Delicious. This ended up being my favorite course.

Salt and vinegar potato with saltbush, vadouvan and chicken hearts 

We progressed to a potato dish with chicken hearts. I wasn't blown away by this. Tanya made a comment 'I can make this at home' (indicating the potato strips) and although they were more delicate and had more elements, I recall my mum makes something similar at home too.

Rye with butter 

Mochi had been eyeing off the bread for ages. We watched waiters floating around and offering bread to other tables but not ours. Where the confusion lies is that normally, bread is offered at the start of the meal. At Marque, it is offered bang in the middle. So no, we weren't forgotten about... we just weren't up to that yet. There were a few varieties offered and we 3 girls chose the rye whilst Jack went with the white bread. I heard several complaints about how sour the rye was but hey, it's rye! It's supposed to be sour. I was getting a bit full by this point and didn't finish the bread for that reason.

Murray cod with leek, fish milk, pomelo and roe 

The next course was cod with leek. Despite my relative fullness distorting my tastebuds (everything tastes better when you're hungry), I liked this dish. I don't usually like fish as served in Western restaurants but this fillet was so soft and buttery - it was lovely.

Rosewood pigeon with boudin noir, pickled corella pear and native hibiscus

We were getting overwhelmed with the number of courses by this point. Yet still, another main was to come - the pidgeon. I was surprised half a pigeons head was placed bare on the plate. It's amusing that back in my day (and even nowadays, depending on who you're with and where you are) the Asians are so often critisized for eating strange animal parts and offal... yet here was a tiny bird head on the plate of a fine dining restaurant. The gourmet movement has made the public more accepting, which is nice to see. That aside, I didn't actually eat the head. The breast was nice though.

Being the dessert fanatics that we are, Mochi and I were keen to see what Marque's dessert offerings would be like. Our table forwent the optional cheese course (everyone getting excessively full/tired).

Macadamia soup with soubise and rye 

A plate was brought out to us, described as macadamia soup and rye. We were expecting something sweet but the rye was very savory. It was explained to us that this course was to transist us from savory to sweet so I suppose it was intentional, but the bottom line is I didn't enjoy eating this.

Charred lemon with white chocolate and tarragon 

 Our first dessert was charred lemon with white chocolate and tarragon. The lemon sorbet was intensely sour. Each one of our group tried some and pulled a face. Just about the only thing I really liked on this plate was the white chocolate, because it tasted like white chocolate.

Sauternes custard

We were feeling disappointed with the dessert but ready to head home when it was announced that there was yet another dessert to come: the last course. Spirits soared again. This dessert was presented in a plain eggshell (innovative but visually does not make me drool the same way as oozy chocolate does). It was described as a sauternes custard. The sauternes sauce was incredibly bitter. As bitter as the lemon sorbet was sour! I gave up at that point but the others said that the custard underneathe was actually quite nice.

Although it may sound like we ended on a bad note, I must say that my overall experience at Marque was great. There were a couple of outstanding courses (the blue swimmer crab and the wagyu) but each course succeeded in bringing forward taste and visual sensations creatively assembled on a plate. I won't deny being disappointed by the dessert. Whilst I support the notion of stepping outside the box, I think that sometimes what you really want is a dessert that just tastes good and it should be possible to achieve both criteria. Marque on Urbanspoon

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