Three chef’s hats is the highest accolade an Australian restaurant can earn. Not only has Quay Restaurant held onto three hats for more than a decade (longer than any other restaurant), it has also held a position in the S. Pelligrino’s World’s top 50 since 2009, though it did drop to 60th place for 2014. Ostensibly, it, along with Attica Restaurant in Melbourne, are considered the best restaurants in Australia.
That’s a tall order to fulfil.
While I may be taking a grand liberty, I’d like to think that this post has been more than three years in the making. Ever since seeing the now iconic snow egg dessert, set as the final challenge in the 2010 run of Masterchef Australia making its entrance…I was set on visiting Quay.
But it took a long time for it to happen. You have to make a booking 6 months in advance if you want a Friday/Saturday dinner, you have to shell out $225 for the tasting menu (going a la carte on a first visit to Quay is not up my alley), and you have to find the right time.
After three cancelled bookings throughout the years, I finally landed a visit – and what occasion for which is more suitable than my 23rd birthday? Yeah, I’m getting old, but my culinary journey is only beginning.
I expected to be surprised by Quay, but the manner in which I was taken aback were themselves, unexpected. Sit back and get comfortable, you’re about to take one hell of a ride.
Many thanks to the wonderful Lady for the meal 😀
Date Last Visited: 10/5/14
Address: Upper Level Overseas Passenger Terminal, 5 Hickson Rd, The Rocks, NSW
Recommended Dish(es): snow egg, eight texture chocolate cake
As with anything labeled the “best” of anything, Quay is likely not your favourite restaurant. Such is the fallacy of statistics, but nonetheless, it is considered great by many. Few, if any would truly hold the opinion that Chef de Cuisine, Peter Gilmore, doesn’t cook great food.
There is a certain air of apprehension dining at a restaurant that has been so heavily hyped, especially with some of my own, reliable sources claiming it’s overrated. Beware though…overrated does not equal bad. Quay is overrated, but that’s really because you tend to expect something unimaginable from a restaurant that is repeatedly labeled Sydney’s, and often Australia’s best.
So imagine our anticipation then, as we arrive outside 15 minutes before. The facade is strikingly beautiful as it is modern. With a view of the Harbour like no other, I sense a good vibe.
As one would expect, the immaculate setup of the restaurant leaves a genteel, but not overly assuming impression. It’s the kind of atmosphere where you tend to talk in a lower register. We had one of the earliest seatings, so the restaurant was deserted. We get the worm first!
We end up with a seat that has a direct view of the Opera House (if you can make it out in the background). The only table accessory is an egg-shaped light. I love how minimal it is. May seem like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but having dined at Italy’s 3-Michelin Starred La Pergola (review pending) – where half the table was littered with candles and other, non-functional adornments – one appreciates the table space.
A la carte is an option at Quay. If you’ve been reading I’m Still Hungry for some time, you’ll know I default to the degustation on the first visit to a fine dining restaurant every time. To reiterate the simple reasoning – a degustation menu is meant to showcase the absolute best of a restaurant. Would you not take up the offer of a chef’s recommended menu?
It’s expensive though, at $225 a head. This comfortably makes Quay’s tasting menu the most expensive of any restaurant I’ve tried in Australia. Tetsuya’s comes close, at $220 a head.
Word of warning, if you want to take food photos at Quay, go for lunch. You may be lucky enough to get a table that has a ceiling light, or you could end up getting a table like the one The Lady and I were seated at. Let’s just say that even ISO 6400 won’t help you…much. You could use a flash, but then I’ll judge you. Sorry, no takebacks.
As such, our amuse bouche of pumpkin seeds in pumpkin jelly and sheep’s milk yoghurt has no accompanying photograph. It was an bizarre amuse, to be sure – I’m not used to pumpkin seeds being so soft, nor pumpkin jelly to taste so moreishly sweet. Overall, it worked well, as the sheep’s milk yoghurt brought along that deliberately “off” taste that makes it so delicious.
In hindsight, the amuse was one of the more experimental dishes of the meal.
Oh sorry, I hope I didn’t scare you, dear reader, for implying that I took no photos due to terrible lighting. After some gentle encouragement from The Lady, I manned up. Pictures ahoy!
Flavours of quail and egg yolk are the first order of the night, with the saltwater poached quail w/takuan pickles, fermented shiitake, salted egg yolk, smoked parsnip & kailan blossoms. It looks like…well not much, does it? But I was convinced looks are not what matters when I took my first bite.
It is really, the best quail I’ve ever had. Such birds usually have issues with dryness or not having any flavour (or both!). This quail was the softest, most tender and moist quail I’ve ever had. It was consistent throughout the entire sliver. I would really want to take a chomp out of a whole breast of the stuff.
The consistency of the quail is supplemented by salty and eggy yolk, which is set over many hours (perhaps overnight) to give a hard but still somewhat gelatinous texture. Crunch is then the finisher with the vegetables. An incredibly delectable starter, as delicious as it is simple.
Gilmore’s Asian influence makes no attempts at subtlety with a congee of Northern Australian mud crab, fresh palm heart & egg yolk emulsion. While I hesitate to extol on something as basic as congee, which many Asian restaurants already do quite well, I can at least confidently reverse track, and say that I haven’t definitively had a better congee.
The temperature was just right – above warm but below scalding, allowing for immediate consumption. It was at the right level of saltiness and creaminess, with a solid portion of shredded crab, which was perfectly tender throughout. The texture was in fact consistent with the rest of the congee. Summed up, it makes for a portion that I wished were the size of a 1L bowl, because I think I could have drunk that and have been happy with calling it a meal (albeit at a much cheaper price).
Only problem? A piece of shell from the crab. I was lucky I didn’t cut my teeth with it, and I accept that this is a freak occurrence – given the quality control that must go on at fine dining establishments. Still, a warning to be careful – you can never exhibit too much responsibilty, especially when the rest of the meal is ahead of you!
The Asian influence continues unabated in its most brazen showing yet. Oddly named, the XO Sea dish is Gilmore’s take on a classic Chinese style of Sautéing seafood (or anything, really) with the iconic (and often stereotyped) XO sauce. Our waiter describes it as a medley of five different seafoods for five different textures. I didn’t catch what the five were, but I made out octopus, cuttlefish, squid, shrimp and scallops.
So far the dishes at Quay have unconditionally pleased me. This one fell just short of the same standard, but it was nonetheless very enjoyable. Flavours were strong, the XO pungent. Takes me back to the days spent in China living off this stuff. The dish seems quite basic, but delivers texturally given the varied melee of seafood.
The standout issue is that it’s quite salty, as XO-based dishes tend to be. In China, rice is always an accompaniment. We haven’t actually received bread at this point yet, so there was no carb to soak it all up. A balance issue.
At this point, we received bread (no pictures), which was unusual given how late it came. Ah well, better late than never! The two options were black sesame seed on rye or sourdough. Served warm, a great carb filler.
Ah, boudin noir, perhaps a bit reviling if you know what it’s made of, but the taste is anything but repulsive. Such is the case with the black pudding w/walnut floss, brioche cream, green walnuts & raw mushrooms. The dish suitably impresses a gothic look, with the dark brioche(!!!) cream, and deliciously soft and delicate mushrooms. These are morels, by the way. It’s great stuff even for my attitude towards mushrooms.
Make no mistake, this dish is quite heavy, with salty creaminess that’s permeated by the effluvious aroma of the black pudding. Sweetness is induced by the brioche which acts as a balancer. I’ve never had it as a cream before, but I totally take to it.
Crunch is finally provided by the walnut floss. Strong dish.
A dense cut, but that which is so full of uniform umami flavour, the Tasmanian Trumpeter is imbued with fishy goodness cooked no-fuss. The crust is a crunch-tastic delight on the palate.
Further, the native coastal greens (i.e. sea succulents) are my new favourite vegetable companion to seafood – their juicy crunch is most welcome on my plate.
Other than a bit of oiliness with the overall dish, ’twas magnifique.
Rouding out the last of the savoury dishes is the classic red meat. Roasted grass fed pure Angus w/mushrooms, grains, miso & eggplant gracefully sets down on the table. The beef is uber soft and served rare. The result is a level of softness that is a far cry from your $10 steak. With a miso glaze, it’s almost like eating umami butter.
My only issue was that its rareness actually made it far too chewy, which spoilt the dish for me. It was weird trying to chew each chunk, as I had to make a lot of effort. Oh, and those who are hemophobic need not apply.
Not the strongest main, but it served a great prelude to what Quay is most famous for.
This is what you came here for, isn’t it? Half of you guys probably skipped down here just to find this dessert. Well, you’ve arrived at your terminal stop.
For those who don’t actually know what the fuss is, the “snow egg” (the fruit changes seasonally) is a dessert of legend at Quay, one of its signature desserts. The short of it is that it’s a ball of LN2-treated apple custard ice cream that’s coated in a blowtorched maltost praline biscuit ball, sitting in a bed of apple granita & apple fool. To eat, you tap (with some force) the ball to crack it open, revealing the egg “yolk”, and the fun really begins.
This dessert blew its way onto everyone’s radar in the 2010 series of Masterchef, where the two finalists had to make this extraordinary dessert. They were given three hours, which didn’t seem to be enough time. Props to the chefs who have to make many of these on a daily basis.
How does it taste?
I sound like a broken record, but I do hate to say I’ve had the “best” of something. But I’m afraid I must put it out there – this is unequivocally the best dessert I’ve had.
The sweetness of the ice cream, balanced out by the creaminess of the custard is essentially perfect. It isn’t too cold either, so it didn’t freeze my teeth off. This textural and flavour sensation is then fleshed out by the crunchy maltose biscuit, which elicits memories of an ice cream cookie.
If it ended there, then the dessert would already be excellent. You know when you eat a really heavy dessert, you wish you had something light (but still sweet) to contrast the richness? That’s where the granita steps in, delightfully fresh spoonfuls of icy crunch with absolutely no sour and all invigorating sweetness. Eat it all at once, and all worries are forgotten.
I’ll admit, I made a lot of noises at the table while eating this. We both did.
DO NOT SHARE THIS DESSERT. You have been warned.
Let me repeat it again, with no shame: it is the best dessert I have ever had, and should not be shared.
It’s kind of hard to follow an act such as the snow egg, but Quay will try anyway. We weren’t expecting it to be better, and of course, the Chocolate, almond, muscatel, oloroso caramel took a backseat.
Given as a finishing dessert, this was a combination of saltiness, crunchiness and also pillowiness from the marshmallow-like texture of the caramel. I have to say, this dessert is really good all by itself, but having it right after the snow egg unfortunately does make it the uglier sibling.
And that, ladies, gentlemen and everyone in between, is a meal at Quay.
Just kidding, did you really think we’d leave Quay without trying their other signature dessert? Gilmore considers the eight texture chocolate cake to be Quay’s chocolate signature, and boy, we can see why.
Without going into it, many different layers of chocolate, made in different ways, are layered on top of each other at different consistencies and temperatures. Near the top, a hole is created which is then covered with a dark chocolate coat. At your table, hot chocolate sauce is drizzled onto this coating, which then melts said coating, and through the whole. The effect is most theatrical, and you can check it out in the video below:
So how does it taste? Impressive, really. I only had the words “omg, this is so good” to say, because I was otherwise too busy eating cake. Life’s too short to do much else.
It may truly be a king amongst chocolate-based desserts.
By the way, this cake is not part of the tasting menu, so we ordered it separately. If you have the stomach for it, I most wholeheartedly recommend you do the same.
Without petit fours, how would we know the meal is done?
Left: a lamington-like truffle. Quite dense, quite good
Back: a bittersweet chocolate truffle. This one wasn’t so good.
Front: pistachio truffle, yummo!
Right: my fave, a crunchy chocolate truffle 😀
Finishing off with a view
If you are the kind of person who has the “I can get similar for cheaper” mindset, then Quay is not for you. Dishes like the XO sea and the fish can indeed be found as simulants in other restaurants for much less, but that’s a matter of preference, as others do yearn for the fine dining experience. Whichever way you swing, that’s cool. Importantly however, it does not make Quay a bad restaurant, or one that isn’t worth visiting.
If you have a genuine interest in visiting, but have held back for whatever reason (especially hesitation due to potentially damning reviews), here’s my take: just go. For me, Quay surprised me in being consistently good with every single dish, which would already earn plenty Caesars in my books. While the downside is that those looking for something more experimental or gastronomic will be disappointed, the overall savoury fare is solid, and most importantly – tasty.
What propels Quay into a class of its own are its desserts. I’ve said enough on those, I will say no more.
As usual, feel free to leave a comment or three 😀
- The desserts are some of the best you’re likely to ever have
- Remarkable consistency in all dishes
Not so Awesome:
- Not good for those looking for theatre or experimental, nascent gastronomy
- Some dishes may feel a bit too homely for a fine dining setting
- Rated 4 stars
- Quay Restaurant
- Reviewed by:
- Published on:
- Last modified: