Sepia Restaurant Cover

Sepia | Festival of Flavours

Think special, think Sepia, it’s really that simple. Having retained its third chef’s hat for this year’s Good Food Guide, Sepia’s still doing things right. My third and latest visit to this three-hatted gem was for a catch up with a good friend – a suitable occasion, having not caught up properly in over 7 months.

Without further ado, let’s get into it.

Date Last Visited: 25/7/13
Address: 201 Sussex St Sydney, NSW 2000
Recommended Dish(es): bonito sashimi, King George whiting, Japanese stones

Unlike other three hatters I’ve been to (just Quay to go now!), I’ve had prior experience at Sepia before embarking on this latest visit. I sort of knew what to expect, but what I didn’t expect was that my friend telling me that she wasn’t hungry! This puts a rather large dent in plans to get their (ever-changing) degustation, which, for a brief second, left me (exaggeratedly) devastated.

But then, blessing in disguise – Sepia has an option for a seasonal four course menu for $135pp. What’s so good about this? Well, there are actually two options for each dish…you thinking what I’m thinking?

The same level of variety as the degustation, but for $25 less per person? No wonder the degustation is becoming a thing of the past for many restaurants.

Butter at Sepia
That’s one impressively round sphere of butter

We start off with some bread (below) and a sphere of insane roundness. It’s a standard start, but a good start. Sourdough is pretty much always in my bloodstream now – Blood Sourdough Content (BSC): 0.01.

Sourdough bun Sepia
Sourdough bun
Amuse bouche - egg yolk film (?) w/poached scampi tail Sepia
Amuse bouche – egg yolk film (?) w/poached scampi tail

Seeing this amuse bouche land on the table immediately takes me back to that egg yolk film dish at Momofuku. I always automatically associate anything filmy/transparent as experimental, when the usual serving method is anything but. Perhaps it’s something I should get used to now.

The texture is indeed film like, and somewhat gelatine in nature. Just the slightest hint will stick to your teeth if you don’t wash it down. I liked the scampi tail inside more – it was so incredibly soft it pretty much melts apart in my mouth when the slightest pressure is applied. I can imagine this texture to be off-putting for some, so YMMV.

Sashimi bonito, flavours of roasted chicken, umeboshi, upland cress green tea, nori Sepia
Sashimi bonito, flavours of roasted chicken, umeboshi, upland cress green tea, nori

A long strip of bonito that spans the plate with everything in between, this dish is a visual feast. It was also a rather confusing dish. See that part about “flavours of roasted chicken”? Yeah that really got my senses in a knot. It was the incredible texture of that sashimi (a little resistant, but falls apart nicely), but somehow tasting more like chicken than fish.

Whoa.

But it’s awesome. This isn’t your usual scandalous butchering where you try and make cheap meat taste like something else – this is just a great example of flavour fusion. Having been to Tomislav, I’m very keen.

New Zealand whitebait, braised ox cheek dashi, heart of palm, yuzu hijiku, mitsuba Sepia
New Zealand whitebait, braised ox cheek dashi, heart of palm, yuzu hijiku, mitsuba

A mountain (okay, more like a molehill) of whitebait sit in a deliciously savoury & hearty dashi, garnished with Japanese herbs I’ve never heard of. Mitsubishi? LOL.

This kind of dish takes me back to the consomme I had at Aria, in that it’s just a bit salty – as an Asian, I’m used to having this kind of stuff with rice, so without feels a little salty to me.

The whitebait on the other hand, were a little hard to chew if you go by mouthfuls. Eat them one by one, and savour the umami from each, liberally dipping them back into the dashi. Don’t worry, there’s plenty to go around.

Butter poached King George whiting, Tasmanian black truffle, zucchini brown butter & toasted milk crumbs Sepia
Butter poached King George whiting, Tasmanian black truffle, zucchini brown butter & toasted milk crumbs

Oh no, I see butter in this dish, must, but can’t avoid! But yes, this is such a decadent dish. Butter poaching, great fish, truffles, it’s the whole shebang for sure.

There’s really nothing wrong with this dish for me, the flavours are there, the texture is there thanks to the fish and the crumble, it’s executed without a hitch. Easily and quickly gobbled up, no problems there.

Spanner crab, walnut, sudachi, pomelo, buckwheat, water chestnut, shellfish mousse & sorrel Sepia
Spanner crab, walnut, sudachi, pomelo, buckwheat, water chestnut, shellfish mousse & sorrel

I’m in love with the presentation on this one. The focal point is the entire dish, concentrated awesome.

Overall, the shellfish mousse provides the congealing action for all the elements of the dish, bringing them together into a buttery, umami smoothness. Every other component thus contributes to this creamy concoction. Softness – spanner crab, crunch – walnut & buckwheat, tangy edge – sudachi.

See? It all works.

My main critique of this dish was that it tends to blend together the flavours and textures a little too well, where it feels like I could just be tasting a mishmash of everything. Not sure how to describe it, but it’s what prevents this dish from being “great” in my books.

New Zealand scampi cooked over charcoal, broad bean blood orange & shellfish emulsion, caramel & shiso Sepia
New Zealand scampi cooked over charcoal, broad bean blood orange & shellfish emulsion, caramel & shiso

The first of the two mains have arrived, and this one goes full hog on the yellow/orange but with a very smart inclusion of analogous colour harmony with the green broad beans. That seems like I’m reading too much into it, but I’ll say this – I wouldn’t be surprised if Martin Benn knows a little something about colour theory.

In terms of taste, I found it all to be a little flat. At least, in relation to the amuse bouche (yep that!). Flavours in this dish were a bit spread out, where a key element – the shellfish emulsion, fell over. Any other individual element in this dish however, was done great, no doubt about that. It however, doesn’t make the dish for me.

Seared rolled David Blackmore wagyu beef, chestnut mushrooms, roasted red onion juice, wasabi fried potato & kombu crumbs, citrus soy Sepia
Seared rolled David Blackmore wagyu beef, chestnut mushrooms, roasted red onion juice, wasabi fried potato & kombu crumbs, citrus soy

Good beef, is my response to main number #2. It was more raw that I’d have liked it to be, but I found it to be quite tolerable once you have every piece of beef with every other element on the dish. As such, I kept trying to eat a chunk of beef, dippsed in the mousse with a slice of mushroom, covered in crumbs and then a scallion to garnish WOW.

Needless to say, it was difficult. BUT I MADE IT WORK.

If anything, get the beef with the mouse – while the beef is tender, it lacks its own flavour as it seems to be just seared without any seasoning of its own.

Comes with a side of steamed broccolini  Sepia
Comes with a side of steamed broccoflower

Did I mention this dish came with a side of broccoflower. Is it weird for me to say that I actually enjoyed this part of the dish as much, if not more than the main it accompanies? It’s just steamed so well, and the flavouring is that slight buttery saltiness that’s a treat of the simplest order. Almost makes me want to get into the whole “steamed vegetables” thing, if there ever was one.

Pre-dessert: blackcurrant shell & cherry sorbet Sepia
Pre-dessert: blackcurrant shell & cherry sorbet

Sepia is more well known for its desserts than anything, so it was with a degree of anticipation as to what I would get. I absolutely loved the winter chocolate forest in the deg I’ve had before, so I was wondering what we would receive this time.

Even the pre-dessert was amazing – the sourness of the blackcurrant shell was superb at cleansing the palate, while the cherry sorbet on the inside…sets up the best of what’s yet to come!

Caramelised apple, house made clotted cream, malted meringues, salted buckwheat toffee, muscovado blackcurrant & sorrel leaves Sepia
Caramelised apple, house made clotted cream, malted meringues, salted buckwheat toffee, muscovado blackcurrant & sorrel leaves

What, a salad for dessert? This is an outrage!

Or is it? Look closely.

Hmm…those leaves look…interesting…perhaps just a little fake?

Oh wow, it ISN’T. Surely it ISN’T. Yeah, those are leaves made out of various caramelisations. This is ridiculous. Sepia, what are you doing to my eyes!

Actually, the green sorrel leaves are real, but even their veins have been sugar-coloured into something much more than your mere herbivore greens.

They’re all crunchy, with various levels of resistances, stickiness and sweetness. It’s like I’m eating a kid’s dream of a garden salad – with no salad, all sugar. There’s a generous amount of salted caramel at the bottom that ties it all together. Wow.

Hachiya persimmon, coconut yoghurt, salted goat milk sorbet, shichimi pepper, ganache chocolate crumbs, coconut meringue, rum & milk jelly Sepia
Hachiya persimmon, coconut yoghurt, salted goat milk sorbet, shichimi pepper, ganache chocolate crumbs, coconut meringue, rum & milk jelly

A very 3D presentation, this second dessert option is more down to earth, flavours as well as textures. The dominant flavour for me was the coconut meringue and the chocolate ganache crumbs. It’s a great dessert for sure, with a greater focus on creaminess and comfort chocolate excess.

This is really clever of Sepia – you can either choose a very unique, out-of-this world dessert if you’re feeling adventurous, or you could choose a more standard option, but one that’s sure to give you a sensual taste sensation.

Japanese stones - cocoa butter shells coloured w/bamboo charcoal powder, w/chocolate, coconut, cherry & passionfruit centres on a bed of yuzu jelly & green tea moss Sepia
Japanese stones – cocoa butter shells coloured w/bamboo charcoal powder, w/chocolate, coconut, cherry & passionfruit centres on a bed of yuzu jelly & green tea moss – $36 (added to your bill)

Or you know, you could get THIS.

Sepia’s desserts come and go, gaining fame and then vanishing back into the annals. Its Japanese stones however, have been forever etched into its claim to fame. No longer found on the menu, you have to ask for it specifically at the end. You can thank me later (jokes).

I’m not sure why it’s off the menu, maybe it’s really hard to make and they really cannot be bothered? I suppose that could be a reason – those shells are meticulously made using liquid nitrogen and have to be very, very thin to boot. They must be brought up to room temperature so the various fillings inside are still runny when you crack them open. Divine.

The overall look is spectacular – probably one of the prettiest desserts in existence. Almost perfectly smooth pebbles really make you question what you’re eating – and whether you’re going for a nasty rock-hard surprise. Alas, they crack open so easily, it makes creme brulee seem like granite. As for the fillings, gooey, delicious, all of those adjectives.

No pictures of that – frankly, I’m too busy enjoying them.

Sepia Restaurant
Hope you enjoyed this one :)

Sepia is my favourite three-hatted restaurant of them all (well, with the exception of Quay as I haven’t been there yet). It shows, as it’s the one I just keep coming back to.

Beautiful work guys, keep it up.

Btw, the service is awesome. Just saying. If you get an Asian waiter, be sure to banter with the guy – he’s awesome.

As usual, feel free to leave a comment or three :D

Awesome: Sepia’s desserts are second to none, superb starters and entrees, service is fab-tastic

Not so Awesome: mains were somewhat of a letdown

8.5/10 Caesars

Sepia on Urbanspoon

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