Sunday, 27 April 2014

Sepia

Sepia menu and matching wine list (for the night we dined).

For years now Mark and I have gone for a fancy dinner out for our birthdays and anniversaries instead of giving each other gifts. We find the experience more valuable than a token item, and sitting over a degustation menu for hours, with matching wines indulges our passion for food and our joy of talking about flavours and textures of dishes together. That said, my appreciation of the matching wines has had to become much more refined over the past year and a bit since I was making a baby and now breastfeeding a baby, but I'm pretty chuffed by the satisfaction that I can get out of one mouth full of an amazing wine.

This year Mark not so subtly hinted that he wanted to go to Sepia for his birthday, so I made the reservation (that is another story). The evening started off with a bang as we savoured every bite of Hiramasa kingfish, tonburi, citrus soy these flavours were so light and fresh. They got our taste buds dancing and eagerly awaiting what was to come. It was followed by an equally enjoyable dish of sashimi Yellow Fin tuna which melted in your mouth whilst the crackling provided a perfect contrast.


Sashimi Yellow Fin tuna, Jamon Iberico cream, Hatsuka radish, ponzu, crackling.

The next dish looked lovely and colourful, and quite unlike anything we had eaten before, yet after a few mouth fulls Mark and I rather comically glanced at each other sideways and discreetly mentioned that we weren't impressed. A sip of the Gruner Veltiner saved the dish and yet again re-established our respect in our cheerful and knowledgeable Sommelier, Rodney Setter. Many a time we have experienced the benefits of food making wine take on a new characteristic, but this was the first time a wine had so significantly improved a dish for us. We finished the dish and remarked that we were left with bits in our teeth.

House made chevre, rhubarb, beetroot, rye, native violets.

Our next course was butter poached Murray Cod, kabu and chrysantemum, daikon, baby gem, nori, again it was  a lovely light dish with well balanced flavours and textures. It was Mark's favourite course of the evening.

Butter poached Murray Cod, kabu and chrysanthemum, daikon, baby gem, nori.

Then along came the New Zealand scampi grilled over charcoal, sudachi, mitsuba, fried battera kombu. It was life changing, the delicious smell of a good cigar wafted up towards my nose and I couldn't wait to taste the dish. The scampi was cooked to perfection with the outside skin being lightly crispy whilst the inside flesh was gooey and melted in my mouth. I wanted more of this dish.

New Zealand scampi grilled over charcoal,
sudachi, mitsuba, fried battera kombu.

As our Somellier brought Mark his next glass of wine we knew we were moving in to red meat category and were looking forward to a dish with some substance (we were feeling a little pecky). What we got was juicy duck that had been sous-vide to perfection but was missing the distinct flavour of grilled meat.

Roasted Aylesbury duck breast, blood plum umeboshi, pickled cucumbers, sansho.

Then along came the wagyu and our thought was 'this is going to be good'. But when they say layered wagyu it means they have stripped the meat apart and haven't really added anything to the flavour, we would have been happy with a simple piece of meat. The best part of this dish was the fried garlic chips which was sweet and crispy.

Layered David Blackmore wagyu beef, great ghost mushroom,
Tasmanian wasabi miso mustard, fried garlic.

The cheese course was an optional one, and since we were still seriously hungry (and I can't say no to cheese) we opted for it. Our waitress told us that it wasn't a typical cheese plate and that it was in fact a cheese course, so I was intrigued. I thoroughly enjoyed this dish, as unique as it was, the closest I can get to describing it would be cheese soup, yet that does not sound tempting at all. However, Mark made a very valid point, a quality cheddar is his favourite cheese, mostly because of the way it crumbles in your mouth, so by grating this cheese to make this dish the chef had destroyed the best thing about cheddar....a bit of a reoccurring factor here after having a dish of layered wagyu. Please, just let the quality ingredients speak for themselves, don't over complicate things. It was becoming very apparent to us that this menu was a classic display of style over substance.

Pyengana cheddar plum wine and apple pctin, sheep yoghurt and pear cream.

After our cheese course came pre-dessert, a light peach cream dish that was perfectly sweet and smooth with the mandatory crumbly bits. I thought I had an obsession with crunch, but obviously the chef has more of an obsession. This dish was a treasure to look at and savour, and was just the right portion size, I thoroughly enjoyed every fluffy mouthful.

Peach cream, raspberry, yukari, shiso.

The first dessert course arrived at the table, looking and smelling divine as the sweet caramel aroma drifted in the air. The little 'sails' on top gave the dish a lovely height and visual balance, but that was all they did as they tasted like plastic and the texture wasn't any better. The pumpkin and miso caramel ice cream was deliciously smooth and creamy, I could have eaten a whole tub of it. And the popcorn had such a unique texture, it was thoroughly enjoyable. However, I don't ever want to try buckwheat with my dessert ever again, it was so, so wrong, blurgh! That said, Mark enjoyed it.

Pumpkin and miso caramel ice cream, buckwheat cream, popcorn, yuba, sorrel.

By the time the final course of the night came I was feeling full and finished. This is the first time that I've sat down for a degustation menu and haven't eagerly awaited every dish and still longed to taste more deliciousness even after the meal was finished. The Autumn Chocolate Forest dish was delivered to our table and announced as "our famous dessert" yet it was another exercise in combining too many flavours with too many textures-you can't forget the mandatory crunch. I'd describe myself as a sweet tooth, but even this dessert was too much for me and I simply couldn't finish it.

Autumn Chocolate Forest.

All in all Mark and I had an enjoyable evening, sitting side by side on a bench seat, chatting away and watching the buzzing scene of the waiters and somelliers going about their business. Perhaps the sommeliers were so much happier and friendlier than the waitstaff because they needed to taste test their products frequently, and the three of them obviously enjoyed discussing the flavours of different wines together. The food was enjoyable, but after the first three courses it flat lined and simply didn't get us excited, it became rather repetitive and the dessert was just too much. Out of all the fancy restaurants we've dined at and all the degustation menus we have enjoyed, this is the only place we aren't interested in going back to. I'm sad because I was really looking forward to spoiling Mark with a lovely birthday dinner with lots of delicious memories and inspiration for him to cook new things. What we got was a lovely date night which we could have gotten at many other venues for a quarter of the price. For years we have questioned the Good Food Guide judging panel as we compare restaurants at similar price points and cuisine and have often found that we enjoy the lower rated restaurants more. After dining at Sepia, which they have awarded best restaurant of 2014, we will be taking their recommendations with a grain of salt. If you regularly splash that much cash on dinner then by all means try Sepia, but if your budget means that that night out is a special occasion that you savour, there are plenty of better options.


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