Upper Level Gastronomy with a View
Claim to fame: A singular voice in cuisine sourcing extraordinary ingredients
Reason to go: A lavish study in texture conducted in one of the world’s most advantageously located dining rooms
To look out for: Days when cruise ships are berthed in front of the restaurant. They’re serious when they describe the address as “Overseas Passenger Terminal”. Not a plus.
Pity the poor waiter working in the modern world-class restaurant. There was a time when simply having a reasonable working knowledge of French and paying a bit of attention during the menu briefing was enough to get you through service. Today, if the carte at Quay is any guide, far more study is required to get through just the canapés – and that’s before the guests start asking questions.
Even the most seasoned of diners can rely upon Peter Gilmore to stay one step ahead in his search for ever-more heirloom vegetables and smaller, more caring primary producers. Terms such as Arkady (a sought-after West Australian lamb farm), Blackmore (the last word in Australian wagyu beef), shimonita (a leek) and hatsuka (a radish) litter his dish descriptions, where they find themselves mixing with the even more intriguing likes of scorched amaranth, fermented mushroom custard and milk-skin threads.
Texture, too often a casualty or an afterthought in contemporary restaurant cooking, is one of the primary concerns in the kitchen at Quay. The bounce of fish maw complements raw ama ebi prawns and sea urchin roe in “umami” broth, and pickled bamboo and kombu jelly provide a fittingly elegant backdrop for the meat of the mudcrab, lovingly hand-picked and teamed with sour Mexican cucumbers.
Gilmore, a true citizen of Sydney in his deep appreciation of the city’s Chinatowns, delves deep into the Cantonese repertoire for some of his most elegant effects – the lotus seeds that connect the dots between saltwater poached chicken, pickled cabbage stem caviar and a cream of smoked eggplant, for instance, or the poached blacklip abalone and pearl meat that, along with heart of palm, elevate congee far beyond its humble rice-porridge roots.
The best thing about Quay’s setting is the vantage it provides. That doesn’t mean the room isn’t comfortable, the cloths aren’t ironed or the waiters undrilled. Far from it, though the hospitality, given the size of the operation, does lean more rote than felt. But when you’re in an aerie set over Sydney harbour, with the Opera House and the harbor bridge at arm’s length, and ferries running hither and yon, it’d be churlish not to glory in the view.
But then dessert brings it all back onto the plate. Whether it’s the gloss of the eight-textured chocolate cake, the play of textures in the signature snow egg or the confluence of flavors when walnut, muscatels and muscovado are joined together by an oloroso sherry caramel, each option for the sweet finish makes it abundantly clear why Peter Gilmore stands with the ranks of the world’s great pastry chefs. And, for that matter, the world’s greatest chefs, period.