I’ve never really liked Grounds of Alexandria. While the sunny garden environment and the petting zoo is nice, I’ve always found that the actual food offered is overpriced and disappointing. This was again true during my latest visit, this time to The Potting Shed, one of the mini-restaurants within the complex.
I did not enjoy the steamed buns ($17-19 for 3). This was an open bao with a filling of tempura oyster, slaw, and sauce. What could have been great was truly disappointing. I thought that the tempura batter was too bready, and took the limelight that the oyster should have had. The oysters themselves were tiny and unflavourful – what you see in the images is mostly batter. I truly enjoyed some battered oysters on Miyajima Island in Japan, but also from local joint Kibuna in Mascot. These Potting Shed oysters were awful in comparison and not at all what I expected. The filling to bread ratio was ultimately inadequate, with much bun left over after the tasty bits were done. Truly a dish to be avoided – and looking at their online menu the evening of our meal – it’s not there any more.
The Potting Shed Duck Sausages with colcannon mash, burnt onion, glazed carrot and thyme gravy ($29) started strong but it didn’t last. They were much more flavourful than the oyster bao that preceded them, but ended up far too flavourful. The salt really hit me in the sausages, to the point where towards the end of the meal I started wondering why I had the finish these expensive sausages and just stopped. If the sausages weren’t so salty they would’ve been good. The mash was buttery and smooth, and I enjoyed the fried greens (I believe they were kale). Ultimately the absolute saltiness of the dish ruined it. Avoid if you’re watching your blood pressure.
The Seared Mooloolaba Swordfish Loin with pickled mushroom, tarragon and cauliflower veloute with buttered and pickled white asparagus ($32) was actually quite good. A mild flavoured fish dish which was the highlight of the meal. My partner didn’t like that the fish was a bit tough, but I thought that it was probably just the right texture for swordfish, and gave it a steaklike texture. The buttery sauce was nice and mild, and I also enjoyed the large and thick white asparagus. Yum.
I wasn’t about to complain about the Chips with tomato jam and aioli ($8) until I saw that it was called. What is the difference between tomato jam and tomato sauce, apart from a few dollars in price? The chips were actually quite good, and looking at the bits of skin left on the edges, cut straight from the potato. A sleeper hit.
The other star of the show was this Macaw (uncooked). She was beautiful and well natured.
Overall brunch at the Potting Shed was a big disappointment. We spent just under $100 for the above meal and two coffees. Money (and sodium!) that could’ve better been spent elsewhere.
We recently had a late dinner after a run of days at Nick & Nora’s, a rooftop bar on level 26 of the SKYE Suites building in Parramatta. Nick & Nora’s is beautifully decorated inside, with a wide bar backed by an extensive collection of liquor and beautiful amber lighting throughout. The view of the (limited) Western Sydney skyline is equally lavish, and on taking everything in we felt immediately underdressed in our scrubs. Perhaps noticing this, our waitress did her best to make us feel welcome with a couple of flirtatious comments directed at my junior colleague DTC.
A side effect of waiting ten days to write this review is that most items that didn’t stand out at the time are merely forgotten. This baller board ($100) of the chef’s selection of cheese and charcuterie was memorable mostly for the pricing. Whilst in fairness the board is quite large and extensive in its selection and it’s difficult to please everyone, nothing on this board really wowed me.
We ordered three servings of the feed me menu ($55 each) to go along with our giant cheese and charcuterie board. Whilst I normally like to go through each item in detail, most of the elements of this tasting menu were simply not that memorable, though special mentions go to the:
Moreton Bay Bug Sliders with cellariac rémoulade and rhubarb sambol in toasted brioche , which were really creamy with an excellent bug to bread ratio. These were a standout of the meal, and probably better than any other lobster or crustacean roll I’ve ever had, not the least owing to the fact that the bug was actually intact and not some minced monstrosity (cf. 101kissa)
Crispy Prawns with lime aioli and finger lime, which were large and juicy, and enjoyed so much by my prawn-averse girlfriend that she actually had 2 instead of her customary 0.
Tequila Compressed Watermelon, which was just a fun new concept that I hadn’t experienced before.
VERDICT I think that while we visited Nick & Nora’s as a restaurant, it’s more of a rooftop bar with food as an afterthought rather than a focus. The Moreton Bay Bug Sliders were great though, and at $11 I would not hesitate to get them as takeaway in the future.
COOH’s Bourke Road restaurant has long been on my list of places to eat at this year. We’ve driven past it countless times on our way to the other restaurants, but it’s taken us over nine months of living in the area to finally pay a visit.
COOH is situated in a high-ceilinged warehouse on Bourke Road. There is no parking available, and minimal street parking in the area, so we did a sneaky and parked at Grounds of Alexandria around the corner. It is a beautiful, large room setup, with a large bar and kitchen area on show. We had lunch on a Wednesday, the same time as what appeared to be a local mum and bubs group.
The potato chips with aioli ($8) were salty and ultimately unsatisfying. It is difficult to pinpoint what was wrong with them, and it was probably more a constellation of things that did not quite meet the mark. We found that we were quite aioli dependent with these chips, and ran out of the aioli early. Luckily we were able to get additional aioli at no charge.
I ordered the seared tuna with a spice crust, spiralised salad, jalapeno salsa, and avocado puree ($26). This was a dish I was quite excited about – there are some beautiful photos online of essentially sashimi tuna with a seared crust, and that’s what I thought I would be getting. I was wrong. The tuna that I ate today was almost fully cooked through, nowhere near as rare or raw as expected. While I enjoyed the flavours in the spiced crust I felt like the overcooking lead to a strange and unpleasant texture – no better than what I could make by myself at home. I enjoyed the spiralised salad, as well as the avocado puree, and thought the plating was quite nice. I could not identify any jalapeno salsa, and indeed didn’t realise it was meant to be part of it until I took another look at the menu whilst writing this review. I would not recommend this dish.
The Morrocan lamb and quinoa ($28) I enjoyed even less than the seared tuna. Most disappointing was the inexplicable lukewarm temperature of the lamb, almost as if it had been cooked and left to rest for far too long. The quinoa was also cold, which I just don’t feel goes well with a meat such as lamb, which is meant to be served hot. I enjoyed every other element of the dish – the plating, the mint yoghurt, the sweet potato, currants, and pomegranate seeds, but unfortunately the two title ingredients were a let down.
My trip to COOH was ultimately a let down. I didn’t really enjoy anything we had, despite the restaurant having generally good reviews online. My partner had good things to say about the space, and even considered it for some kind of formal occasion in the future, however the food was such a let down that it would be a veto.
My partner and I had a late post-work dinner at Clove Lane recently after a difficult and scary medical procedure. While we were tempted to order their $99 per head tasting menu, we ended up choosing more granular control and picked some of our favourites from the a la carte menu. Any savings we might have gleaned by skipping dishes we weren’t interested in were immediately negated by the Clove Lane’s expensive but delicious Clovemopolitan cocktails.
The amuse-bouche, a very small pancake with baba ghanoush and capsicum, was an unexpected treat, though not very good. It was a soft and floppy pancake with very mild flavours that didn’t amuse the mouth but rather disappoint it. Luckily this amuse-bouche was not indicative of the quality of the rest of the meal.
The warm sourdough with whipped burnt butter ($8) was a wholesome start to the meal. Whilst not in-house, the bread was good quality, soft and warm, having being sourced from Iggy’s. The whipped burnt butter had a caramel-like aftertaste which I wasn’t a fan of but my partner enjoyed.
I enjoyed the stracciatella, confit cherry truss tomato ($18), especially eaten with the aforementioned bread. The stracciatella was nice, light, milky. While I was drawn in by the concept of confit tomatoes, it was difficult, when eating them, to differentiate these tomatoes from other tomatoes cooked in more traditional methods. The stracciatella was ultimately good, but I don’t think the confit process added anything special to the dish.
The seared scallops, almond, golden raisin, cauliflower ($37) was excellent. The base dish comes with three scallops for $28 though we added an extra scallop for $9. The scallops were huge, full and plump, though I thought their flavour was a bit mild on the seafood side. The sauce of chopped almonds, golden raisin and cauliflower was salty and sweet with a lot of umami. Though $37 for just four scallops the taste and presentation excelled and ultimately justified the price. I can recommend getting this dish.
My partner – a huge potato fan as readers of this blog will know – couldn’t walk past the roast kipfler potato with capers, shallot, truffle cured egg yolk ($12). I personally didn’t really like them. I thought they were too potatoey and not flavourful enough, however she thought that the capers provided enough variety and flavour to the dish and ultimately enjoyed five out of seven potatoes.
The roast pasture fed sirloin, green beans, butternut pumpkin in red wine sauce ($45) was another star of the night. The beef was soft, juicy, and tender, rested for 45 minutes prior to serving but still warm inside. There was very generous amount of the beautifully savoury red wine sauce, enough for the steak as well as the pumpkin and greens. I would strong advise against leaving Clove Lane without having had a serve of this sirloin.
The saltwater barramundi, du puy lentil, green apple, kohlrabi ($42) was the weaker of the two mains, with its light and subtle flavours. The fish was a little dry and had a very light taste only. It was only when combined with the lentil and kohrabi cake that the meal had any real taste to it. While more suitable for pescaratians I’d definitely pick a different main over the barramundi were I to go again.
My partner enjoyed the clovemoplitan ($20) so much that she got two. It was a bit tangy and not too sweet.
One negative aspect of our meal was that we did feel a bit conned into donating $4 towards DineSmart. The $4 donation came directly onto our bill without us being asked, and it was framed in a way where we would’ve had to ask them to produce a new invoice to remove it. While I have a no problem donating to social enterprises like DineSmart it did feel like our hand was forced in this, and that wasn’t really OK.
We had a good meal with good service and good food. While a 2% donation on our bill was definitely a very small amount of money, the way it was sought left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.
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.