Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar?
Memento Mori is one of the spookiest cafes in all of Rosebery. The constant reminder of our impending deaths is something I usually only experience while hanging out with one of my senior intensive care colleagues. I never thought that such a feeling could be distilled into a cafe, but the wizards behind Mentmore and Morley named their restaurant just so.
Wow. Let me tell you about these textured plates. They’re from IKEA, but I couldn’t identify them on IKEA’s online store. Again wow.
While I cannot quite tell you the name of this veal scaloppine style dish with assorted vegetables, I can tell you that it was quite good. I especially enjoyed the tomatoes.
The seasonal special, pork knuckle with Vietnamese slaw was around $30. It was a whole pork knuckle, slow roasted with skin on. The skin was quite crispy and delicious, and the meat tender. I was initially skeptical of the Vietnamese slaw, but the acidic flavours helped cut through the fat perfectly. A good pairing.
Coffee was no better or worse than standard.
While the name of Memento Mori was spooky, this did not extend to the food, which was a mixture of Italian and Vietnamese cuisines. I can recommend going to get spooked.
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.
Arthur is one of the few – if not the only – Sydney fine dining establishments to be named after an animated aardvark. Located within what looks to be a converted house on a street corner Surry Hills, Arthur offers an ever changing and reasonably priced tasting menu with a focus on fresh domestic produce.
We dined in mid-December 2020 and took the liberty of adding on a few of the essential options to make a full menu at around $138 per head.
Arthur’s Sydney Rock Oysters with grape granita ($5.50 supplement) are on the pricier side for the Sydney restaurant scene. They were fresh, delicate, and of good quality, but we would usually not expect to pay more than $4 per oyster of this size. The grape granita added a new sweet and sour taste that I’ve not had with oysters elsewhere.
Both the bread and butter in Arthur’s sourdough and cultured butter are made in house. The bread had a nice solid crust but was light and fluffy on the inside. The cultured butter was a bit saltier than I expected, but still nice. One of my friends in particular was very keen on this butter, though in general I am more partial to unsalted or more lightly salted butters.
This kangaroo, tendon, and bush tomato tartare was quite good. I enjoyed the strong tomato flavours, and while one of my colleagues had initial misgivings about the gaminess of the kangaroo he too grew to like it. Kangaroo, for those not familiar, is quite a lean and somewhat gamey meat that can be had at very low prices. While the produce itself is not considered gourmet in Australia, it is certainly rare to have it served as a tartare.
The zucchini flower, scallop, shallot was a delicate dish of scallop and shallot stuffed inside a steamed zucchini flower. The flavours were very subtle, so much so that one of my colleagues did not realise there was scallop within his zucchini flower, even after he had eaten it. I think this was quite wholesome and healthy, though agree that the scallop was a bit hard to find.
I didn’t really like the calamari, macadamia, and daikon radish. The calamari was raw, fresh, and creamy, and all of the flavours worked well, except for the fact that certain mouthfuls had an unexplained bitterness that I could not reconcile. I don’t know what the bitter elements of the dish were, but they really hurt its quality for me. My partner who ate from a separate serving did not taste any bitterness at all. I wonder if it was an intentionally included flavour or rather a problem with quality.
The Moreton Bay Bug in carrot and saffron ($32 supplement per bug) is one of Arthur’s house specialties – a dish that persists throughout multiple iterations of the menu. The bug was large and generous, with all non-edible arms and other bits picked off and the cavity opened for convenience of eating. Another slight complaint with Arthur’s QA again here – the quality of meat was a little inconsistent, with some bugs more meaty and others a bit too soft. The sauce had a delicious strong seafood taste, quite similar to the prawn head sauce at Moxhe. We fell into the trap of only ordering three bugs between five diners as suggested by our waiter, but I think we really could’ve gone for one each. They are a high value add-on.
This is a little deep fried dough ball which comes with the Moreton Bay Bug to help soak up the sauce. The dough ball is very tasty, a little bit sweet, and very fresh on its own. I wish we could have had more of these. They’re little donuts.
We returned to the base set menu with the Grilled kingfish, nasturtium, green tomato. The kingfish was really delicious, with a tasty crispy skin and soft flesh with a delicate internal taste and texture. The natrutium, green tomato, and green sauce I thought was a bit unnecessary but in no way offensive. My one complaint with this dish is the miniature size of the serving we got to share between two. It was around one third of the serving our other colleagues received between three. Kingfish is really not an expensive fish and I think a bit more (or even a bit more care in portioning) would’ve gone a long way.
The third “bread” of the night was a potato scroll with silverbeet and black garlic sauce. I liked this. It had a nice savoury taste. The sauce which looked like chocolate was not.
The dry aged borrowdale pork loin was really good. The pork had a little bit of crispy fattiness around the edges, and was otherwise tender throughout. The sauce it was served in was full of umami flavours.
The plum and cherry with cultured cream was a tart little side dish served with the pork. Not super memorable.
Lettuce was even less memorable.
The tart of bruny island “tom” (apparently a sheep’s milk), apricot, and cultured cream ($7 supplement per tart) was really good. The cheesiness and the sweet and sour flavours of the apricot really melded together well. The pastry of the tart was thin and light, yet held its structural rigidity well.
The dessert of mango, raspbery, yoghurt was phenomenal. The mango and raspberry, with different crumbs dried to different degrees, provided a broad spectrum of sweet and tangy tastes to the yoghurt base. This was widely enjoyed by all colleagues around the table. Really special.
The final course was this housemade wagon wheel. It was a bit darker and less sweet than the wagon wheels from the supermarket but apart from that not really something to write home about.
We shared a bottle of Ngeringa Uncultured Cider ($50) around the table. It was pretty good, quite dry without much sweetness, but refreshing.
VERDICT I think that reading through this blog post I’ve indicated a few hits and a few misses, but ultimately the dining experience at Arthur was very good and cohesive with all aspects taken into account. It’s probably been one of our top meals of the year. I would definitely recommend splurging for the Moreton Bay Bug as it is one of the shining stars of the meal.
We paid $138 per person including drinks and it was money well spent. The base price for the meal is $90 per person but doesn’t include oysters, the bug, or the cheese tart.