For the most part, blogging is an activity that induces great happiness. Sounds cheesy, but it’s jubilating to know that there are people out there who take away something from food blogs.
Lamentably, this post is anything but cheery.
I blog about a restaurant with a confirmed life expectancy of only 20 days. Indeed, in another blow to Sydney’s fine dining scene, the vaunted Ocean Room will trade its last day on April 12. This Japanese-themed restaurant scored 9 caesars on my first visit. It’s not the quality of the food that’s forcing its shutdown.
Over the past few years, Sydney’s cruise traffic has increased more than ten-fold. As such, Sydney Harbour’s overseas passenger terminal has required serious re-thinking. That is finally about to happen, but as a result, two restaurants have to go – Wildfire, and Ocean Room.
While one can expect Ocean Room to reopen somewhere else in Sydney, such an event is not guaranteed. That said, it’s not too late to visit if you haven’t tried, or if you want to pay respects one last time. Read on to discover what delights await at this last supper.
Ocean Room occupies a special place in my heart. Head chef Raita Noda puts a spin on Japanese-style seafood influenced by artisanal French culinary methods, and serving it all from an ultra-modern restaurant facade that draws gasps whenever a newcomer enters. Indeed, I was wowed by it all to the point that I awarded it one of my highest scores ever. Now, this second visit doesn’t get quite as good of a rating, but I’ve become incredibly well-travelled (or should I say, eaten) since my first visit, and I come back with a changed palate. That’s the nature of the beast.
Still worth visiting? Heck yes.
Even the decor itself is worth a look at – I have not seen another restaurant like it. It feels awfully unsafe, as those wooden poles are free to swing, but I’m assured that a fall has never happened.
You have three dining options at Ocean Room – a la carte, an $80, 8 course degustation, or a $120, 12 course degustation. Guess which one I went for. Oh wait, I already spoiled that.
I didn’t pay $120 though, thanks to a (now-deprecated) offer, I was able to get 30% off via restaurant.com.au which worked out to only $84pp. This easily gives Ocean Room the best value proposition for any fine dining in Sydney. The same is true even before that discount.
So what do you get if you visit Ocean Room in the short time it has left?
Ocean Room changes its menu every season, an incredible effort for a restaurant that already offers such a varied menu, but at the same time expected of any restaurant with fine dining aspirations. My first meal at Ocean Room was very different as a result, straight from the starter.
The first course, an amuse bouche of sorts, is simply named kaki. It works – oysters. That’s what it is. Upon first taste I had to immediately conclude that I didn’t like it very much. The oysters were served lukewarm, which is a terrible temperature in my opinion – either piping hot or icy cold does it for me. At this tepid temperature, there’s very little going on in terms of seasoning flavour and a little too much of the pungent sea flavour getting in.
It’s not great, but I kept my mind open.
This brings me back – ochazuke is a dish that was served on my first visit, albeit in a different configuration. This time, the presentation is less elaborate, relying on just the one oversized shot-style glass.
You really have to eat this dish correctly and my suggested method is to mix everything together. If you don’t, that umeboshi sorbet is going to rip into your tastebuds – it’s very strong. By itself, too much so, but mix it into the green tea mix and you’ve got a very bizzare amalgam of tea, sweet and salty flavours that actually works to a great degree. Hoorah to sugar plums (umeboshi)!
Yes, there actually latchet in there as well. You will taste it as a smoky fish, naturally cold, and brings the meatiness back into the dish in savoury style. The “coco puffs” as I’d like to refer to them provides a crunchy element to the dish that would otherwise leave it sorely lacking.
A unique offering that’s not really duplicated anywhere else.
Goodness, tomato chips? That’s what “Maguro” gives you. Oh don’t worry, there’s tuna there as well. Need I comment on the quality of Ocean Room’s pure seafood? I don’t think I do – it’s damn good, there’s not much more that needs to be said.
The condiments are more interesting – the tomato chips features a heavy concentration of flavour, to the point where if you ate nothing but itself, it will almost taste bitter. Pair it with the various emulsions on hand and you have a more pleasant experience.
I would have eaten this dish for the tuna alone, but solid props to the extras included, even if they are a little superfluous.
This dish has been featured on more blogs than I can remember. Generally, canned tuna doesn’t inspire us to salivate, but with this set down in front of you, anything but canned tuna is expected.
This is cool as sh*t – canned Ocean Room is truly something unique. The effort to prepare the dish, then seal it only to have the diner reopen it is serious effort. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of it all.
As for the food within, you eat it by wrapping up the canned goods within the seaweed and applying soy sauce to taste. It’s all a great deal of fun. You’d have to be a fan of cold seafood to enjoy this, but if you’re at Ocean Room I hope that’s already a given.
It gets a bit samey after awhile, but I’d say the portion size is just right.
Salads don’t really get fancier with onsen. This is a dish where the vegetables on the side get dipped into an anchovy & garlic dip that’s heated by the candle. There’s a line of shichimi pepper along the other side of the plate for an added spice kick, should you feel the need to amp it up a little bit.
While pretty, my overall thought is that this dish is extremely glorified. In the end, it’s stock standard veggies with dip. The presentation is what sells, but boy does it sell.
Killer taste profile? The anchovy dip for sure. That level of oily umami is irresistably tasty. I want to put noodles in that dip. Dang.
For a seafood lover, sashimi courses are what I visit restaurants for. Indeed, I’m totally geed for these and the restaurant provides. The biggest sell of this dish (apart from the svelte plating) is the smoked ocean trout. You can’t see it yet…
…but now you can. Ocean trout and smoking. What is it about the two that just works? I don’t know and I don’t care – I’m just glad I get to eat it. The rest of the sashimi ain’t slouches either, as expected.
Oh hello French, I didn’t expect to see you again so soon. This dish is literally French resting on top of Japanese. How often does foie gras and daikon share the same place? First time for me.
Shockingly, I don’t actually like daikon very much unless it’s served in a preserved/pickled form. I actually gave the dish up to my parents, but I did have some foie gras. It’s a softer than usual way of cooking it, but nothing particularly noteworthy.
If you’ve read my first post on Ocean Room, you may recall me bowing down and kow towing towards this dish. There’s good reason for that, the same reason why this is Ocean Room’s signature dish. Buttery sweet fish cooked in paperbark, a delicious, crunchy & cheesy zucchini flower makes this dish a simple but effective winner.
Oh, you should probably take a look at it unwrapped.
Here you go. Quite possibly one of my favourite ways to eat a fish. I want to be able to cook this myself. When I do, several fish will become one dinner.
By now, the heavier stuff begins to come in and a deviation from seafood becomes the norm. Ocean room generally doesn’t do as well here, but the following dishes have my mind reconsidering.
The butabara pork belly dish is sublime cooking in a rustic package (literally). The pork is simmered along with the tofu within the wrapping, which is then cut open on the table, preserving its aromas for as long as possible. Upon opening, take a whiff – it’s a porcine delight.
You may also use the provided “test tube” of chilli soy sauce (may be a bit hard to see in the background) to season to taste. I know I certainly did.
The pork belly is thoroughly well cooked – even the lean part chews so easily, and the fat is more buttery than butter. The tofu doesn’t quite melt as they say, but I doubt there’s any major complaint to be made here.
A really heartwarming dish to kick off the mains!
While I was impressed with Ocean Room’s meat dish from a presentation perspective on my last visit, I didn’t particularly like the flavours or textures. This time, they’ve stepped up the game a lot with the deconstructed ‘burrito’.
First, the wagyu – it’s a fine piece. It’s not true blue steakhouse quality, but it’s surprisingly tasty given a restaurant for which the focus is meant to be seafood. It’s pink, it’s soft, and it’s delicious.
The chilli con carne is the weak point of the dish – it was served too cold, it’s not particularly flavourful, thus it doesn’t make much of an impact. A shame, since it’s kind of critical, if you’re calling your dish a burrito.
A surprisingly delicious element of the dish is the potato tornado – you may have seen potatoes served like this before by street vendors. Ocean Room does something similar here – the result? It’s like you’re eating wedges with delicious sweet chilli & sour cream – which is exactly what is provided. A carby treat, that does surprisingly well here.
Not sure how apt it is in a fine dining environment, but hey, these guys are closing – they can do whatever they want.
The last savoury dish of the meal, Edo-Mae sushi is a stalwart on any menu Ocean Room offers. Its nigiri is always fantastic, no matter the fish on top. In today’s menu, classic tuna, yellow tail and trout (middle) make the plate. Trout is my favourite as usual – it’s hard to overcome the inherent godliness of fatty trout.
Three is never enough.
Dessert can be described as “all things strawberry”, which is totally the hotondo ichigo. Red is the dominant colour here. Taste-wise, we’re all over the place. All I really remember was “strawberry, strawberry, strawberry, OHHH beetroot! Strawberry”.
Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that – the mascarpone is the element with the most impact. That creaminess, dear lord. The lemon air…well I’ve never been a fan of foams. Doubt I ever will be. But this dessert has it for you if you’re into it.
And that wraps up a meal at Ocean Room, and definitely my last, at least while it’s operating in its present location.
Sydney’s fine dining scene just cannot seem to get a break. The signs were there several years back when two-toqued Becasse shut its doors. Then things began to escalate – Quarter 21, Claude’s, Assiette, Bentley’s, Guillaume at Bennelong, and so on. Many of these establishments have since reinvented themselves in one way or another(e.g. Chur Burger [review pending]). Whatever the reason, one theme is consistent – fine dining is getting hammered. Only you dear reader, can decide whether that’s a good thing or not.
But hey, at the risk of losing a seafood giant, give Ocean Room a try. It’s worth it.
As usual, feel free to leave a comment or three 😀
- That same level of awesome dishes that Ocean Room is unique for
- Fantastic location and design
Not so Awesome:
- It’s closing, possibly to never return
- A fair few dishes have minor flaws that add up