When I visited Marque Restaurant in 2012, I realised why Mark Best is almost as much of a household name as Neil Perry. While I wasn’t fully entranced by the degustation there, I acknowledged that the food very much pushes the envelope, even if sometimes the “experiments” didn’t work.
Though Marque may be out of reach for some (financially or otherwise), Mark Best has always had a more accessible ace up his sleeve – Pei Modern. A cheaper, more down-to-earth Modern Australian bistro that’s much more relatable to the average, but still discerning diner.
There was a problem for Sydneysiders: Pei Modern only existed in Melbourne. Awkward. Well, that was the case, until October 2014. Read on…
Date Last Visited: 17/11/14
Address: Four Seasons Hotel – 199 George St Sydney, NSW 2000
Recommended Dish(es): holmbrae chicken, the desserts
I’ve visited Pei Modern on two occasions now, courtesy of Liquid Ideas and Four Seasons Sydney. As such, The Usual Disclaimer applies in force. Further, I’m unsure of the true portion sizes (as specified by the price) for several of the dishes, as they were presented to us in non-standard quantities. Just keep that in mind.
Located in the ever-stylish lobby of the Four Seasons Sydney hotel, Pei Modern has the advantage that they will always get some complementary business from hotel guests. You wouldn’t really expect that this is something they would need to rely on. Like Neil Perry, the name itself sells.
If you have actually been to Marque before, know that the food at Pei Modern does not resemble Marque’s at all. Just saying!
Bread that’s delivered in hessian sacks seems to be getting more and more common. I would assume it’s in an attempt to capture the raw spirit of the baker, and I admit that to an extent, it works.
I wished the bread would be served warm, which would complement the rustic image of in-the-sack presentation. Alas that was not to be the case.
Nevertheless, a good start to the meal.
I seem to have taken a liking to ordering oysters at almost every opportunity I get these days. Done right, they are mysteriously delicious little bits of flesh. The oysters at Pei Modern are no exception and continue the trend. They go down nicely, with none of the “gaggy aftertaste”. You know exactly what I’m talking about.
A good way to start off!
I’m no prosciutto expert, but when something is labelled the “king of prosciutto“, it had better be the best prosciutto ever.
I’m not sure if I’m meant to find a lot of unchewable fatty globules in the prosciutto, but I found them often enough that they became a bit of a nuisance every now and then. That spoils the texture a bit, which is unfortunate. That said, flavours were very impressive – there was almost a butteriness to the meat that was incredibly delectable. Porcine flavours remained robust and consistent, but never gets too heavy or salty. The sweet and slight acidity of the fermented pear cuts through, and keeps the palate from getting overwhelmed.
It really is marvelous.
Pei Modern also offers Cecina, which you may recall from my post on Movida.
The Cecina here is already going to be good if you’re into salumi. That much is for sure. For me, I’m a bit more on the fence, as I found that there isn’t as much complexity in taste – the texture is straightforward, not chewy or buttery, and the flavour is straight beef without much more to it.
Then again, why get this when you have Culatello to choose?
If memory serves me right, this was a pork salumi. I actually preferred this the most out of the three cured meats I got to try. The reason is simple – when chewing, those pockets of fat practically explode in your mouth, and the flavour delivery is godly. So good, but so bad. You just have to keep eating these. Nevermind that it’s going right onto the hips.
The salt cod croquettes make for a more approchable starter for those who aren’t into the cold stuff. Warm and crunchy, these are tasty as any cod croquettes you’ve had before. I’m more adventurous, so I wouldn’t necessarily order such a generic entree, but if you love your croquettes you can’t go too wrong here. One issue I had was that they were a bit too salty. I mean yeah, “salt” cod croquettes. Expect it.
“Yet another beef tartare dish”, so I thought. I like tartare, but it’s just such a…standard thing to serve, you know? Where’s the excitement? Where’s the stuff that nobody else can do?
Well, you could put sea urchin on it, for a start? That definitely makes for a tartare that dares to be different.
The result is not as drastic a departure from the norm as you would expect, but that’s not a bad thing. The urchin’s slippery and buttery texture adds to the beef tartare’s rawness. I the best tartare still comes from Ormeggio, but Pei Modern holds its own with this unique rendition.
The downside? The bread it comes on is too hard and inconsistent. I struggled to bite into certain parts of it, yet other areas came apart easily. It felt overdone.
Grilled asparagus is something that just should always be a safe bet. A basic vegetable but with one of the best textures out there. If you love your asparagus, then I’m happy to report that there is every reason to order the La Luna goat cheese custard, asparagus. Grilled nicely, with a heady flavour from the goat’s cheese. Decide on whether you like goat’s cheese or not before you get this dish!
Probably one of the most unique savoury dishes Pei Modern has put up, the burrata, kohlrabi & egg yolk jam is unexpected in almost every way. Kohlrabi with burrata? Egg yolk “jam”? What is all this?
Think #yolkporn, but taken to a new level with sweet and citrus-like flavours that taste like jam but has the texture and consistency of egg yolk. It’s hard to sell this with words, but it’s good stuff. I almost forgot about the burrata to be honest. This dish is all about the jam, and the crunchy textures of the kohlrabi.
My favourite dish of the night, these tiger prawns w/slow-cooked pineapple, vadouvan are boss. The secret is that vadouvan. It’s a spice I only recently discovered at Cafe Paci, and I was floored by how good it was. There’s definitely an affinity between it and seafood.
The prawns themselves were actually cooked very hard (not a good thing), resulting in a tough chewiness that wasn’t too great. The vadouvan really saved it though. Cannot get enough of the stuff.
So this is how Western cuisine deals with pippis, eh?
Nothing will change my mind about pippis in spicy XO sauce (they have no peer), so the mild-mannered surf clams w/smoked butter & fermented corn is a drastic change from what I’m accustomed to. I can’t say I liked the dish too much – it’s just too light on flavour.
Everything is pared back just a bit too much – the sauce wasn’t flavourful enough, the pippis didn’t really shine through enough, and the corn felt more decorative than anything else. That said, I still love corn, so I ate it by the truckload. As for the dish? It’s average – but not bad – this is a matter of the palate. Just a bit too bland.
When I first heard at Flanagan’s Dining Room that cooking fish “on the bone” is because it pays respect to the fish, and preserves flavours better, I was a little cynical. They never really used that reason in Chinese-cooking, where more often than not fish is cooked on the bone by default. These were the thoughts that went through my head as the salmon tail cooked on the bone, samphire & rouille was plated before us.
I’ll be the first to admit I don’t actually remember much about this dish. It’s because it didn’t really do much to leave much of an impression on me. Yes, the salmon was pink and texturally spot-on, but there wasn’t enough flavour to make it stand out from the thousand other cooked salmon dishes out there. Perhaps I’m getting jaded, but an unmemorable dish more or less speaks for itself. Funnily enough, I do remember the samphire on the fish – I loved the crunch!
One of our hosts was vegetarian, so this ricotta ravioli dish was prepared specially for her. I wish it were an actual menu item though – it’s very delicious. Soft and buttery, exemplifying what a good ravioli should be. Sure, it’s vegetarian, but ravioli is one of the few dishes that work well, regardless of the presence of meat.
I would never order the young dandelion & blood orange, as I see it more as a side rather than a dish. For what it’s worth though – Pei Modern does take care of you if you’re a salad-lover. As for me, I learned today that I do not like dandelion stalks – the bitterness is shocking. This dish is for a someone else!
The holmbrae chicken, yams & saltbush is one of the
best dishes Pei Modern has to offer. You wouldn’t know it, but a lot of effort goes into this chicken. It’s brined for 5 hours, steamed for two hours, then smoked for three hours (see below), and then roasted in their custom wood-fire oven.
All this is served up with soft, potato-like yams and crunchy saltbush in a massivesaute pan, and the results speak for themselves.
Yes, you taste everything – the softness of the chicken, the crispiness of the skin (my favourite part actually), the char of the roasting and the smoky flavours of the meat.
Just beware that some parts of the chicken look worringly pink, though I didn’t have any problems eating those portions. Trust. Also, mentally prepare yourself, because the chicken remains whole – head and feet included. Feeling a bit Asian yet?
One of the highlights of both of my visits to Pei Modern.
The Milly Hill lamb shoulder is a monster. It’s meant to be shared between two people. Though can you believe me and The Lady (on my first visit) finished this and a half holmbrae chicken, plus two entrees and three desserts just between the two of us?? Anyways, my voracious appetite aside, the lamb dish has me torn.
I tried to like it, I really did. The texture of the meat is soft for the most part, and for the post part it fell off the bone. This was however inconsistent – on the second visit, it was much tougher, and excessive force had to be made to cleave the meat off the bone.
But the biggest problem is the flavour itself. There was just not all that much of it. Cooking in a tea-based sauce does impart a lovely aroma – the dish smells really nice, but in terms of actual flavour there…really wasn’t all that much going on there. A shame, really, because lamb is such an incredibly aromatic meat it would be a real letdown if it didn’t deliver on flavour. Sadly, that’s what happened here.
The sentiment isn’t an isolated case either – as I had the lamb twice on my two visits, and it was the same each time.
Probably Pei Modern’s biggest letdown, as it was spruiked as one of their signatures. I could not bring myself to agree.
Not all news is bad – the story now moves into sweeter territory, and here, Pei Modern puts up a strong showing.
The meringue, white chocolate ganache, blueberries is a very basic but very tasty dessert. It’s actually one of the simplest sweets I’ve come across in awhile, but it adds further credence to the mantra “simple is best”. Naturally, if you don’t like meringue, you will have a problem. I’m all for sweet things so this pushed my sugar buttons all the way into overdrive. The crisp, airiness of the meringue is contrasted nicely with the thick white chocolate ganache. Naturally, it is itself a huge sugar rush, so sharing this dessert is wholeheartedly recommended. You want to save some space for the below lovelies!
Yes, it’s just vanilla ice cream, but it’s a really good vanilla ice cream. Actually, probably one of the best I’ve had in recent living memory. The texture is perfectly creamy. It was very difficult not to hog it, especially with a whole bunch of other bloggers on scene.
Once again, it’s a very standard dessert – but simplicity is clearly a theme that’s working well here.
We ordered the same dish when I was with The Lady, but the fruit was tamarillo instead of apricot. It was this day that I learned that I don’t like tamarillo (I’m learning a lot at Pei Modern!). It’s way too sour!
But since the apricots were in and tamarillo was out in a week, expect the fruits to change often.
We would not have actually ordered the vanilla ice cream dessert if it weren’t for these spiced donuts. It’s commonly established that donuts and ice cream make for delicious bedfellows, and we felt we may have needed the ice cream to offset the richness of the donuts.
Looks like we didn’t need to. These donuts were really good – I basically don’t have any complaints about this dish. Thoroughly enjoyable, I didn’t even mind when The Lady couldn’t eat more than one which led to me eating two. No problems there!
Having said that, ordering ice cream will still help out with the richness that inevitably comes with deep-fried, maple-soaked goodness!
The dessert that put Mark Best on the map, the sauternes custard is, to say the least, extremely polarising. To truly understand why that is, you absolutely have to try it out.
The Lady did not like it, my dining partner I was with when I dined at Marque didn’t like it. I love it.
When you take a spoonful of the custard and put it into your mouth, three things happen:
1) within seconds, it feels like it has evaporated into your mouth
2) a powerful, alcoholic semitrailer of a kick is delivered via the sauternes (a sweet wine)
3) the bitter caramel and sugariness of the custard make themselves known to your taste buds in force
These things happen at once, and it’s an amazing experience that no other dessert has ever been able to duplicate. The bitterness and alcoholic nature of this dessert is what turns many people off, but for me, it is wondrous.
What to make of Pei Modern? What I can’t get my head around are the veritable number of generic, uninspiring savouries. There are a few standouts, but for the majority, they are literally the definition of “OK”. OK is not bad, but it’s not exceptional either. OK is not Mark Best.
I feel Pei Modern isn’t really doing much to distinguish itself in terms of the innovation in its savouries. The food is either standard fare you can find in most middle-class bistros, or are flawed in some way. As a result, it can be quite boring at times. I was looking for a twinge of excitement, of something that makes me go “wow”. For the number of dishes I got to try, I was not getting that feeling more often than not.
Clearly, their desserts are something else entirely. There’s no argument that there is great work done here. But desserts alone do not make a great restaurant. There is work to be done yet.
Have you been to Pei Modern? What do you think of Mark Best’s latest venture in Sydney’s dining scene?
- The use of vadouvan with prawns is killer
- Holmbrae chicken is as unique a dish as it is delicious
- A strong showing of desserts
- Most savouries were average
- For the prestige of Mark Best, and for the hype, the genericism of the dishes is startling. Where’s the edge? The innovation?
F5 | A3