I have to begin with a statement that this review was a very, very difficult one for me to write. By no means this is because I was being challenged by the quality of the food, or the service.
Rather, it’s that in terms of tastes, the complexity of the dish’s aromas and the depth of flavour of almost each of the dishes had, was executed to such a degree that made it difficult to put in words.
To put it another, much more obvious way, one-hatted Tomislav is a very viable challenger for the title of my favourite restaurant of 2013.
Well, that was much easier wasn’t it? Let’s see what the fuss is all about.
Date Last Visited: 20/7/13
Address: 2/13 Kirketon Road, Darlinghurst, NSW 2010
Recommended Dish(es): Roast veal sweetbread w/poached quail yolk, grilled mango & crumbled foie gras
Tomislav Martinovic is the name behind the game here. He wields a long history with gastronomy; producing food with flavours that are so alien, yet the conbinations just work. Indeed, Tomislav is perhaps the most Heston-style restaurant I’ve been to in Sydney yet. Granted, I can’t fully qualify that statement until I’ve visited The Fat Duck, but that’s a story for another day.
The restaurant that seats no more than what appears to be around 50 people, the setting is most intimate.
There is an outside section which has 3 tables that can seat 8 or so people each, while the inside comprised of tables to seat 2/4.
The immediacy and intimacy of the restaurant becomes apparent – tables are spaced fairly close together, with the kitchen overlooking it all. Spaciousness is not what you will find here.
So what’s the occasion? The Lady’s 21st dinner. Most definitely special enough to warrant a long-awaited visit to Tomislav, and most worthy of their signature 8-course degustation, with plenty of goodies to boot. Without drinks, this worked out to be $120pp. For a hatted degustation of this quality – it’s a relative bargain.
Though The Lady and I don’t really drink, our waiter informed that he was able to whip up a lemon & lime bitters of his own concoction. We gladly accepted, and didn’t regret it at all – it’s an extremely refreshing drink, with bundles of sweetness (it may be a bit too sweet, actually) that really gets the appetite going. I finished mine all too quick (before the first two courses!).
Ah, the rice crackers. Every blog post I’ve read on Tomislav that date back to even before 2010 feature this starter. A definite staple of theirs, and what a staple it was! These delicate – and I mean delicate – rice crackers came in large sheets with a shallot-encrusted dip that packed a hell of a sour cream punch. The flavour is quite delectable, very reminiscent of your favourite pack of potato chips – the feeling you get when you just want to complete the packet.
I knew when I ate into the first one that I would want more when the platter finished, but am thankful that there is a limit – I can only imagine how far my blood cholesterol would be pushed. Yes, the crackers are quite oily, but that’s to be expected, no?
Unfortunately, the crackers didn’t come with the vinegar dip I’ve seen other diners get, but I didn’t really miss it, as the flavour by itself was enough.
Heading off to a positive start.
Similar to the rice crackers, this dish is also not actually even course #1 yet. More than one amuse bouche? No complaints here!
To impress, degustations really have to bring to the table something that is rarely replicated elsewhere, or not at all. Indeed, I’ve never had a starter like this anywhere else. I can only describe the taste as S&S – sweet & savoury. Little did I know that this would be a continuing trend across almost all the dishes at Tomislav.
Some of you would immediately twist your nose at this (mentally, I hope), as sweet is surely the antithesis of sour? Ah, but we sure do enjoy our sweet & sour pork, our lemon chicken, and perhaps even pumpkin soup? When it works well, the effect is excellent.
Aside from the cheddar, I do not profess to being enough of a cheese expert to be able able to detect any of the cheeses in that little bite, all I can say is that the flavour just works. It’s sweet initially, then savoury and wholesome, then leaves a sweet aftertaste. The texture is quite marshmallow-like, though much less chewy, and more melt in your mouth. It’s not an effect I imagine everyone will like, but one that pushes the buttons for me, and even for The Lady, who usually shies away from cheese-based dishes.
Oddly enough, our bread came only after the initial two amuse bouche dishes. The bread is of good standard – bites welll, is toasted (yes!), and is generally satisfying. The part that makes it special is that salted caramel butter. Mere seconds after you put it on the bread, it melts splendidly, to delicious effect.
I think I’ll just leave that to you to imagine how it tastes, given our almost universal love for anything salted caramel.
So we now begin the degustation proper. The Lady was feeling full already (not sure if that was a joke or not).
Polenta is really just a fancy name for cornmeal (a much less inspiring name, no?). This dish is pretty awesome in that it combines the savoury polenta, BBQ sweetcorn (themselves a lovely item to eat as a snack due to their bite-sized bursts of flavour), with the sweet elements of apple granita & caramel ice cream. Indeed, the gastronomic journey has begun.
Did it work? You already know my answer – yes, yes it does. The thickness and heaviness of the polenta & ice cream are balanced well with the sour and freezing granita, enhancing the flavours through this colder sensation. Each element of the dish could be its own thing, but the sum total is greater than its parts.
Does this dish look small, or is it because the plate is massive? Actually, it’s a bit of both. We noticed there was something up, but when this second dish came out we were sure that they loved using massive plates. Most plates are easily 30cm across, which is mighty grand looking, but also does a good job at making what we eat seem very little. Try to use the quail egg for a sense of scale
I wasn’t able to tell that the prawn cracker was actually a prawn cracker from looking at it. The textures on its surface is highly non-uniform, and I had no idea what to actually expect in its taste. Ah, but yes, upon tasting the pseudo-prawn flavour definitely comes through. A super classy prawn cracker?
More attention-grabbing is the mackerel carpaccio – it’s absolutely loaded with chopped veggies on top that almost remind me of tabouleh (if it had tomato). Chiefly, this gave the carpaccio a very crunchy textural element that I maintain is almost always necessary with carpaccio. Well done! Additional flavour is brought from the mackerel mousse, which has a very fishy (surprise surprise) aroma with a sweet aftertaste.
So far, so good – the textures and flavours of the dish continue to impress.
The instant this dish hit the table, I was screaming “Chinese!” Truth, it’s very, very rare that I see Chinese cabbage used in Western cooking, much less Modern Australian, so the recognition was instant when this dish came down. Its taste is resistive, with the fibrous nature of the cabbage holding it together quite well when chewing. The taste is burnt, which is very deliberate, but you could be divided on whether you like this or not.
The tuna? Gorgeous, I couldn’t ask for (and probably won’t be able to taste) a finer lean cut. Subtle, but packs a unique flavour hit – both sweet and a bit of umami!
A “standard” dish for Tomislav, though it could well be a standout dish at other restaurants.
A definite weak point of this dish is that I wish they wouldn’t just give one scallop! An extreme tease whenever it happens, this is no exception. Its texture is uniform all the way through (hallelujah poaching!), with a deliciously sweetish buttery taste.
I don’t know anything about crystal bay prawns, but I never would have expected a prawn to be so small. Either way, they packed a lot of umami in them, which serves well to contrast the flavours of the scallops.
A downside is that if you eat the prawns first, the flavour of the scallops may be overwhelmed. A dish design concern? Definitely.
I see Kurobuta, I think back to the benchmark pork belly at Aria. No, Tomislav’s pork belly does not surpass it, rather it puts its own unique spin onto it. Look to the right of the dish – if you guessed those brown cubes are chocolate, you are correct.
Pork belly with chocolate? Whoa, this is doing my head in! Does it work? Well I’m not sure actually! Does it not work? I also can’t say! This dish is sure to stir opinions. The pork belly itself is cooked excellently – you can see the delineation of the four layers between fat, lean meat, slightly fattier meat, then the leanest layer in the belly, each with its own definition that can most definitely be discerned. Usage of anchovy sauce was a bit odd, a combination that didn’t totally stick with me.
As for the chocolatey bits – surprisingly the effect when combined with the pork belly was minimal. The chocolate itself wasn’t too strong, which probably explains it.
Oh, one last thing – I don’t think cuttlefish works with pork belly, the textures don’t match well, just my opinion.
Hmm, how do I put this. Best veal of 2013. Okay, that pretty much does it. Yes, it’s a case of S&S again, but my, you know how they say the meat is so “sweet”? This is a literal interpretation but also figurative – it is truly sweet, but is amazing as a result. The veal, as it’s meant to be, is so tender, so full of flavour…the foie gras wasn’t even needed, really. That said, the foie gras is pretty good in and of itself – works quite well with the grilled mango actually!
Dish of the night, and naturally, it’s the one with fewest words to describe it.
S&S strikes again!
There was an awkward point here where we didn’t know if there were any more dishes coming up, because there was a massive (perhaps 40min) wait between that veal dish and this one. If that was deliberate, I question the wait. If accidental…um well that’s a missed service opportunity.
Granted, I was already getting full after that last dish, but the wait did give me the opportunity to get a little bit hungry again.
Who’d have thought – onion rings for a fine dining degustation. Naturally, it isn’t just onion rings – some serious meat in the form of tongue makes its way onto the huge bowl/plate along with malt ice cream!
The onion rings were lightly battered and not too oily when compared to how your regular diner would do them. That said, they are still quite oily, but so delicious I didn’t care at all. The tongue’s flavour is sharper than a normal cut of beef, with a drastically more granular texture, though not to the point where it’s like liver. It’s nice, though not a preferred meat texture for me. Topping it off for a sweet finish is the malt ice cream, which actually tastes more like cream than sweetness to me.
Let’s top off with dessert now!
So you have an idea of the kind of cuisine Tomislav specialises in – thus it’s not so surprising that he’s actually a very well renowned dessert chef?
For dessert, I expected something out of this world, though it turns out it’s actually something very simple. I didn’t mind it, though I had hoped for a more Heston-esque crazy dessert (though no need for the liquid nitrogen).
That said, can’t fault a dessert’s flavour based on its outlandishness – indeed this cheesecake is more or less perfect. The texture is soft, but won’t fall apart, with a delicious crumble base. It’s really too small for my liking. In addition, the froyo – yeah – froyo, is not like the usual Moochi-style froyo, rather it’s far creamier, like MooBerry‘s, though with a greater flavour hit.
Good dessert, but it won’t be the dish to remember for tonight.
To finish off, the restaurant gives its own spin on petit fours (petit threes?) – lollies of their respective flavours. They all have a chewy, jelly-like texture to them – halfway between a jelly bean, and actual jelly. It’s spot on, really. Flavour-wise, a sugar hit, no doubt.
Rare is it to find a restaurant that impresses on so many dishes. But what can I saw, Tomislav delivered the goods for me. Restaurant of the year? Hmm, not yet – Sokyo, Chophouse & Ocean Room are all valid contenders too. But, let’s see how Quay and Melbourne’s Attica fare when I visit them later this year
Competitor to my favourite restaurant of 2012, Gastro Park? Yeah, they’re on the same level. I did not expect a restaurant to seriously challenge Gastro Park, but…it’s happened.
I love it when my culinary experiences take me to new heights, a most worthy experience to be considered for The Lady’s 21st. Happy Birthday!!
As usual, feel free to leave a comment or three
Awesome: virtually everything
Not so Awesome: small nitpicks in certain dishes, an uncomfortably long wait between some dishes