The sublime evolution of captivating cooking
Claim to fame: Defining New World dining
Reason to go: Maximum Sydney
Look out for: Particularly exquisite desserts
“The biggest small restaurant in Australia.” Or was it the smallest big restaurant in Australia? In any case, when Quay undertook a total renovation in 2018 that involved many months of work and millions of dollars, it wasn’t merely going to plump the pillows and give the place a lick of paint. The Fink family and chef Peter Gilmore wanted to rethink what made a fine-dining experience special from the ground up. Intimacy and personality were the keys to their plan. The Quay that had won the hearts and palates of diners over the previous decades was many things, but intimate was not one of them: the restaurant commands a peerless stretch of the Sydney harbor, capturing the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and the water before it.
None of those assets are lost at Quay 2.0. The new orientation also goes some of the way to remedy that modern-day affliction of occasionally making diners feel like they’re being pushed through an assembly line. Service today is more personal, wine choices more interesting and the outlook generally fresher. Out with the tablecloths, in with beautiful timber tabletops.
Most importantly, Peter Gilmore’s food continues its sublime evolution. The menus are new, but his style is unmistakable. His obsession with rare vegetables has only grown all the more captivating. Fresh pin-stripe peanuts make the striking topping for a tart of roast peanut-custard and pork crackling,
The sea remains his other source of bounty. “Hand-harvested seafood” equals briny Victorian vongole, Double Island Point scallops cut into fine sheets, and tiny, tender Coffin Bay octopus tentacles, brought into dewy focus with a dressing of aged vinegar, seaweed and virgin soy. Mudcrab, sweet and firm, makes a treasure of steamed custard with sea greens, while black-lipped abalone, and fan-shell clam in tandem with shiitake creates a slippery cascade of textures to play off a clean slice of pork jowl.
And dessert? The bad news is that the signature fan-favorite snow egg has gone (kudos to the Quay team for pushing forward, though). The good news is that in its place comes a no less singular replacement, an almost entirely monochrome sculpture of white-chocolate mousse layered with prune ice-cream, prune jam and an Oloroso sherry whip and caramel. Gilmore calls it “coral”; we call it a sensation.