From the moment you’re welcomed through the entrance to Sepia Restaurant in Sussex Street, you realise that you are in for something memorable. The restaurant was recently awarded two hats and the prestigious Chef of the Year award to Martin Benn at the 2011 Good Food Guide Awards.
Dark tones, plush carpet and comfortable banquettes against the wall create a warm and comfortable ambience. The dining room is dimly-lit with a high ceiling and down lights which seem to miss our table.
Laurent Perrier Brut-LP NV and Sepia dining room
Offering a la carte dining, a 10 course dégustation and a 4 course Spring Menu with two options per course, we choose the latter. We order both options of each course and swap plates to try everything on the menu.
READ OUR LATEST REVIEW OF SEPIA RESTAURANT
We begin with an additional starter and toast to our wedding anniversary with a celebratory glass of Laurent Perrier Brut-LP NV.
Additional Starter: Oysters from NSW South Coast with lime and rice vinegar dressing
Freshly shucked Sydney rock oysters from the South Coast of NSW are served on a bed of ice with lime and rice vinegar dressing.
The oysters have a natural briny flavour which is perfect on its own. The sauce is equally good with hints of citrus and sweetness. Only a few drops are needed as not to overpower the flavour of the oysters.
Amuse-Bouche: Scampi jelly with Wasabi and Soy
We are presented with an amuse-bouche of Scampi Jelly with Wasabi and Soy served in a small tumbler with a tiny wooden spoon. The jelly quickly turns to liquid in the mouth and releases a blend of delicate flavours.
When the first course is served, we begin our usual habit of swapping plates half way through the tasting.
Course 1, Option 1: “Scallop Sushi” – Nori Rolled Scallop, Pickled Ginger, Puffed Sushi Rice, Avocado Cream
Resembling truffles in low light, the scallops are plump and supple, complemented by the pink pickled ginger in jelly form. Beneath the leaf lies the avocado cream with speckles of puffed rice for texture. Overall, a pleasing dish that goes down well with a glass of Saiya Yukinobosha Junnai-Ginjo Saké.
Course 1, Option 2: Marinated Yellow Fin Tuna, House Made Ashed Goat Milk Fromage Blanc, Yuzu Jelly, Pickled Heirloom Carrots, Rhubarb
At first, I am not sure what to make of this dish, and what I mistake for a scattering of mushrooms over yellow fin tuna is the ashed goat milk fromage blanc. The cheese is mild in flavour and I can detect a hint of sweetness from the rhubarb.
For this course we choose a glass of the Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling. Before we get to taste the wine, our sommelier presents us with complimentary glasses of the 2008 Tasca d’Almerita ‘Leone d’Almerita’ from Sicily. The white wine pairs very well with both dishes, compared to our original choice.
Course 2, Option 1: Queensland Spanner Crab and Buckwheat Risotto, Mustard Butter, Shellfish Essence
I can smell the shellfish aroma permeating the air before this dish is presented on the table. The instructions from the chef are to mix the ingredients together to maximise taste. The dish packs a lot of flavours and I like the soft texture of the buckwheat risotto against the foam. Tempted as I am to continue with this dish without swapping with Mr G, I take note of how much he is enjoying his dish.
Course 2 Option 2 – Sake Braised Green Lip Abalone, Ginger Scented Egg Tofu, Chestnut Mushroom, Garlic Sprouts, Rocket Flowers
The Saké Braised Abalone is undoubtedly a sensual dish. It has a texture so soft that it falls apart in the mouth releasing delicate flavours. While the garlic sprouts and rocket flowers add another dimension, I am content to enjoy this dish without their hint of bitterness.
Course 3, Option 1: Roasted Scampi Tail, Poached Coral Trout, Leek, White Miso and Sea Urchin Emulsion, Beetroot Infused Trout Roe
Under the poor lighting, the intricate presentation of this dish is lost on me. Once I start editing the photographs, I come to appreciate the care taken in assembly, particularly that of the erect white asparagus. The Scampi and the coral trout flavours work well together and I like the creaminess from the sea urchin.
Course 3, Option 2: Sansho Roasted Pasture Fed Angus Tenderloin, Braised Short Rib, Buffalo Milk “Tofu”, Roasted Quinoa, Garlic Flowers
The grass-fed Angus is tender and moist with well-balanced flavours and complemented by the buffalo milk tofu. Our sommelier recommends the 2007 Gaia ‘By Gaia’ Agiorgitiko from Nemea in Greece to pair with this course. Not knowing what to expect of this wine, we are pleasantly surprised by the finesse of this drop. It has mild tannins and hints of red fruit and spice.
Palate Cleanser Crystallised witlof granita St-Augur and mascarpone cheese
I have a little taste of the palate cleanser and tell Mr G to prepare himself for an icy cold sensation followed by sweetness, saltiness and a hint of nuts. The dish has an amazing texture and the cold crunch coupled with the cheese makes it an unusual palate cleanser.
Pre-dessert: Rose jelly, pink grapefruit, thyme shortbread
I love the concept of pre-desserts although at times, they can out perform what is to follow. This dish is a little misleading at first. Take a spoonful of the pink grapefruit and you miss the deeper layer of the delightful rose jelly. It has a gentle sweetness offset by a hint of thyme. I can easily eat more of this jelly that. It reminds me of warm Mediterranean summers.
Course 4, Option 1: Strawberry Bavarois, Iranian Pistachio, Yoghurt Sorbet, Basil Seed and Elderflower
When desserts arrive with ‘Happy Anniversary’ in cursive writing on the plates, I am reminded of last year’s anniversary dinner at Le Jules Verne in Paris. There is always a moment of excitement when we are celebrating a special occasion. Light and smooth, the strawberry bavarois is encased in a crunchy white chocolate and the addition of pistachio to the yoghurt sorbet adds another element in texture.
Course 4, Option 2: “Chocolate Forest” Soft Chocolate, Lavender Cream, Sour Cherry Sorbet, Licorice
Meanwhile, I notice that Mr G is very quiet and I start to ponder if he’s going to share his “Chocolate Forest” with me. Complex flavours of Soft Chocolate, Lavender Cream, Sour Cherry Sorbet, Licorice, fennel, praline make this dish an exercise in discovery. Amazing textures leave a lingering taste and memory. This is the dish that is a thrill to eat and leaves you with a desire to return for more.
Petits fours: Mini macarons and apple jelly
We end with a plate of petits fours with apple jellies and mini macarons, and being a celebratory dinner, a Delord Bas Armagnac 1961.
Delord 1961 Bas Armagnac
There is nothing monochrome at Sepia. The restaurant offers the type of dining experience that engages all the senses. Service is welcoming, exemplary and the courses are perfectly paced. Although it is running at near full capacity on a weeknight, the staff are attentive and more than willing to answer any question and share in our excitement as we discover each dish. Our sommelier is particularly knowledgeable and his suggestions added to the overall enjoyment of the meal.
Sepia not only offers the kind of experience that delights and leaves a lasting impression that is shared with friends long after the moment. It begs the question why haven’t dined here before.
Sepia Restaurant and Wine Bar
201 Sussex Street
Sydney NSW 2000
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