Sepia, Sydney

http://www.sepiarestaurant.com.au

201 Sussex Street Sydney 2000

Celebrating our 3rd anniversary and time to reflect on a momentous year, so we had to head somewhere decent – the recently 3-hatted Sepia. I’d been here before for a couple of good martinis, but had yet to experience what many people had raved about. A restaurant with a reputation for inventive food with a seafood bent.

I do like the room. It’s all dark woods, clubby and masculine. It’s the ground floor of a building that houses a bank and accountancy company, so they’re clearly appealing to a certain clientele. Nothing hip here. I like it.

We sit down and mindful we have baby-sitter decide not to linger on the decision-making and go straight for the degustation. It’s a no-brainer with a menu heavy on quality produce.

Straight in: Good warm sourdough rolls. Decent, salty butter.

It’s not the sort of place that’s going to sell roses to dining couples, but the nearest equivalent nowadays is the ‘oyster up-sell’. If you don’t go for the champagne, then it’s hard to go past the nelson bay oysters.

The fine citrus vinaigrette is superfluous with such fine, meaty and mellow oyster. A worthwhile choice.

The menu starts with a thoroughly decent amuse-bouche: Sea-urchin custard

Clearly fresh, it’s salty, rich and sweet. It’s a really pleasant taste.

Our first course: “Scallop sushi” Nori rolled scallop, pickled ginger, puffed sushi rice, avocado cream

A deconstructed sushi-roll. It’s a dish with verve and beautifully clean flavours. The scallop  is warm, almost translucent, covered immaculately in nori with accompanying creams and jellies. It’s so much more interesting than the run  of the mill sushi/sashimi courses often served (I mean you Rockpool).

Next up: Tartare of yellow fin tuna, poached egg yolk, soy and wasabi, sprouting caviar lentils, amaranth grains

A zeitgeisty dish. Slow-cooked egg yolk, sprouts & grains are so 2011. The tuna tartare is seriously meaty and it’s all really rather heavy. The egg yolk is gelatinous and there’s no lightness that calms everything down. It’s the sort of dish I generally love, but actually a little too intense.

The intensity continues with Queensland spanner crab and buckwheat risotto, mustard butter, shellfish essence

Of course, no rice, we’re continuing the seed theme. This is a kind of signature dish, capturing the ‘essence of the sea’ (of course). One is asked to mix the foam into the risotto for maximum flavour. It’s marvellous. Rich and satisfying without being overbearing.

Our 6th seafood course is roast hapuku (if I recall), scampi, shellfish custard, crystallised wakame, fennel, wild rice, licorice, shiso leaf

The cooking is excellent. It’s got the makings of a good main course. The fish is sweet and succulent, especially the scampi. The accompanying vegetables offer excellent contrasting flavours that keeps the dish constantly novel. Yet the shellfish custard is bruising. It seems you can have too much of a good thing….

And so on to the mains proper and we’ve got two (count them) hardcore meat courses:

1.Char grilled miso beef tenderloin, nameko mushroom, braised barley, smoked bone marrow, miso mustard white Barletta onions

Again, excellent quality, really interesting ingredients. The beef is perfectly cooked. We’ve got another foam and more grains. All good.

2. Cocoa and sansho seared Mandagery creek venison, baby beetroots, rhubarb, chocolate, beetroot

Venison with chocolate and beetroot. Love a bit of venison. Dark, intense with some much needed sweetness. With what’s come before it’s difficult to finish. We persevere.

Pre-dessert: Gin ‘n’ Tonic jelly

Whimsical and a bit jolly. Cutely British – Cubes of gin and tonic with cucumber ice (if I remember). It’s a much needed palate cleanser and brings us to the piece-de-resistance:

“Summer Chocolate forest” (deep breath) Soft chocolate, chestnut and praline, lavender cream, sour cherry sorbet, blackberry candy green tea, licorice, chocolate twigs, berries, crystallised fennel fronds

It’s a smorgasboard of a pudding – the detritus of a forest floor designed with cavalier nonchalance. Every spoonful discovers a new combination of tastes. It’s easy to applaud the imagination and effort, but not everything in forests taste that great, especially when there’s a huge menthol flavour that lurks like a crocodile in various parts of the plate. (It lingers for hours, even after wine & espresso). But there’s something about the textures at play…. the bits, the twigs that’s not altogether appetising. I’m not sure the idea of eating a forest really appeals. As much as I admire the concept, it’s not an idea to sow….I compare this to the chocolate textural pudding at Marque, which ticked all the boxes.

In summary, we had a lovely evening here. The cooking is certainly accomplished, and it was good to enjoy fine seafood cookery which is not as common as it should be in Sydney. The quality of ingredients were first class and clearly represent good value-for-money against other high-end places that are trying to reinvent secondary cuts. However, the cooking could lighten up. It was a sledgehammer meal with huge over-the-top intense elements, that occasionally made the food a bit of a challenge. However it’s better than the opposite of insipid lightness and it’s good to see a big heart on the plate. I would certainly go again, and try light(er) a la carte choices.

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