When you spend $290 per head at Sydney’s most lauded restaurant I think you’re allowed to expect something truly special. Unfortunately special isn’t quite the word I would use to describe our meal at Quay, which we had just before Christmas 2020 to celebrate my partner’s brother’s med school graduation.
The amuse-bouche, a small and delicate tart filled with oyster cream and topped with seaweed, was in my opinion the best morsel of the night. The oyster cream had a very intense fresh oyster flavour, packing an almost illegal amount of umami in this tiny morsel. The pastry was extremely thin and delicate, however still able to provide a nice mouthfeel and also the structural integrity required to hold the tart together. If the entire meal had been up to the quality of this amuse-bouche then this would have been an entirely different review altogether.
The raw hand harvested seafood, virgin soy, aged vinegar was our first listed course of the eight-course degustation menu, and our first encounter with Quay’s interesting array of custom crockery. The “hand harvested” seafood alluded to in the dish’s description included raw scallop, octopus legs, and pipis. The bottom layer of very thinly sliced raw scallop was very nice, with a subtle sweetness and no bitterness. My partner remarked that this was the only time she has ever enjoyed pipi, and one of the few times she has ever enjoyed octopus (apart from as takoyaki). The flavour created by the combination of virgin soy (pre-tainted soy would be far too “common” for this kind of restaurant) and aged vinegar was unexpectedly and delightfully light. This was a good dish.
This is the poached marron, green almonds, pomelo, flowers. Our waitress described marron as a kind of crustacean “native to the shores here in Australia”, which if I’m being honest kind of offended me, as if weren’t also from the shores here in Australia. The dish itself was quite small. Marrons aren’t really that small, but I guess baby ones might be. The flavours of this dish were very mild, with very little being added in terms of taste by the almonds or flowers. I just wonder if she introduces the dish the same way to the Caucasian Australian diners.
My partner’s brother isn’t a big fan of crustaceans and is allergic to some. His plate was three different types of radishes. He did not look impressed.
The bread course was unlisted, but one of the better ones of the night. We were each served a toasted crumpet with house cultured cream and Yarra Valley salmon roe. I really liked the warm butteriness of the crumpet. It was quite crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and obvious that no butter had been spared in the name of health. The cream was the better of the two accompaniments. I couldn’t help but feel like the Yarra Valley salmon roe was a bit of a skimp. Yarra Valley salmon roe, while fitting with the “locavore” local food trend, is well known to be heavily marinated and salty. It doesn’t really compare to salmon roe used by the better sushi restaurants which is more buttery and lighter tasting.
The smoked eel cream, seaweeds, agretti, ice plant is one of the differentiating factors between the $240 tasting menu and the $290 tasting menu. The story told to us is that the chef boils five eels in five litres of cream, and reduces the mixture until it is boiled down to just one litre. The final result is sweet and creamy, however it was difficult for any of us to really appreciate the eel flavour. At most we could appreciate a hint of smoke. I think any concept of eel flavouring was more imagined than actual, and I’m sure that if Quay’s diners were not told of the presence of eel beforehand it wouldn’t even be a consideration. The three types of seaweed atop the cream provided a nice sour tanginess which contrasted well with the richness of the cream.
The shittake and squid noodles, sour koji butter was hyped by our waitress in exquisite detail but left us feeling disappointed. We were told how the buckwheat noodles were infused with shittake mushroom, and how the koji butter was poured in to give it an additional umami kick. Though the plating and presentation were good, the flavours in this essentially mazesoba dish were too light and subtle. The umami kick which was promised didn’t really happen. Our waiter later told us that this was his favourite dish, which is an opinion that I don’t share.
The meatiest dish of the night was the slow cooked pig jowl, umami custard, black pig salami. Chef Peter Gilmore has apparently been using Berkshire pig jowl in various dishes for over a decade. Berkshire pig is breed known for high intramuscular fat content, which helps to create more tender, juicy meat. We found this dish to be quite juicy and flavourful, and enjoyed the fatty meat, as well as the salami on top. The layer of “umami custard” actually lived up to its name this time, and did provide a rich depth of flavour to the dish. Yummy. I might pick up some Berkshire pig to cook with myself.
I wasn’t a big fan of the Maremma duck, orach, gooseberries, onions, Kampot pepper. We were told that the chef breaks down an entire duck just for this little piece of meat, discarding the rest. Our waitress mentioned with glee that the skin of the duck was replaced by the orach, gooseberries and onions, which was kind of bewildering to me as someone finds the layer of crispy skin and fat over duck meat essential. Ever worse than the concept was the reality – the dish had a strong caramelised onion smell and taste, which I think unfortunately overpowered the taste of the duck as well as that of the sweet gooseberries. This dish was a great way to completely defeat the purpose of eating duck. Tetsuya’s duck course was much better than this.
The white coral dessert. made of liquid nitrogen frozen white chocolate coral atop peach and vanilla ice creams was definitely a standout of the meal.
The Moo dessert was part of the extended menu, featuring salted caramel, Dulce de Leche, prune jam with aged Madeira, jersey milk ice-cream, whipped jersey cream, dark cocoa tuile biscuits. The most striking things about this dessert was the quite extreme custom crockery (non-edible) that it came in as well as the surprisingly cheap and plastic dessert spoon given to us to eat with. The prune jam was the strongest flavour within the dessert and unfortunately the tanginess of the jam did take over a bit. This was a house specialty that, while special to the house, wasn’t great.
A petit-four, a nice little berry tart featuring the greenest strawberry I’ve ever eaten.
The Apple Island Fog ($30), served with liquid nitrogen, was not great. Don’t eat the petal.
Quay has two separate dining rooms, one lower level which is a bit more spacious and quiet, and one upper level offering 360 degree views of Sydney Harbour, which was more crowded and noisy. We were not given a choice of where to sit, and were led to the upper floor on arrival. While the views are nice, it definitely pays to either have lunch or a Summer dinner at Quay, as there’s not much to see once the sun sets.
I do want to make a special mention to the one Asian guy who was eating his $290 meal in a T-shirt and shorts all by himself. That’s real money.
I couldn’t help but feel – given the quality of the meal – that we paid as much for the view and the restaurant’s name as we did the food. Quay’s signature nine course degustation really wasn’t as special as I thought it would be, and was really comparable in quality, taste, and execution to many of the much cheaper ($100-150/head) meals we’ve had recently. If you’re looking to spend over $250 per head on food alone in Sydney I’d easily recommend Tetsuya’s instead.
My first introduction to fine dining was at Sepia after I had just finished med school, and this was the kind of experience we were trying to replicate for my partner’s brother. My meal at Sepia is an experience I’m constantly trying to recapture, but I think if my first ever fine dining experience had been at Quay I would’ve given up on the concept entirely.
I probably won’t go back to Quay unless someone has a wedding here.
3/5. I’m allowed to be price conscious.
Level 3, Upper Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks NSW 2000
(02) 9251 5600