Wow, where do I even begin? Perhaps with a geographical bent. Here goes:
Copenhagen: home Noma, one of the world’s best restaurants. You may have heard of this place. Or if not – Rene Redzepi? Possibly the most influential chef in the world right now.
What do Copenhagen and Chippendale have in common? Nothing….except Silvereye. Welcome to Noma alum Sam Miller’s take on world-class cuisine, right here in our own backyard.
Date Last Visited: 2/10/2015
Address: L1, The Old Clare Hotel, 1 Kensington Street, Chippendale, Sydney
Highlight Dish(es): parsnip, beetroot & blackcurrant, cherry blossom & pumpkin, milk tart
Sam Miller isn’t just some random upstart who happens to have Noma on his CV. The man was Redzepi’s 2IC for five years, so to say there is savvy talent in the kitchen is a foregone conclusion.
As per the restaurant’s own description:
The food at Silvereye has a strong natural aspect, focusing on herbal, vegetable, floral and creative elements that is product driven and respects the original ingredients. Traditional techniques such as pickling, fermenting, salting, curing and smoking are used in modern ways.
What Silvereye doesn’t carry over from Noma is its produce. Miller’s isn’t about to turn Silvereye into Episode II: Attack of the Clones, he’s all about showcasing the best of what’s in our own backyard. This isn’t a trend – it’s the way we should eat.
The kitchen? An on trend, open affair. We had the best table in the house, my parents being able fully peer into the kitchen’s machinations. As for me, I only need to turn my head to do the same.
Open kitchens aren’t going away anytime soon – if farm to table visibility is a thing, then chef to table is naturally its logical evolution. Plus, the hustle and bustle of the kitchen means that there’s none of that hush-hush, fetid atmosphere that so many European greats still entertain – it’s great!
The decor is decidedly restrained, but with a strong showing of nature’s own building material – wood. It’s moderate in impact and doesn’t overstay its welcome on the eyes. I’d be a fan, except I found the seats were extremely slippery, to the point where both my mum and myself had several near-misses with the floor. Seriously, what kind of magic grease is this?
That silky-smooth finish applies to the chair’s legs as well, as it’s almost as easy to slide the chairs around as if they had wheels. Never stand still, eh?
Silvereye is named after a species of bird, a lesson for me that night. As such, you will see several drawings of the eponymous creature along the walls, in various positions. It’s pleasantly charming, and adds some character to what is otherwise a rather bland wall finish.
That’s the restaurant itself characterised. As for the food, Silvereye’s menu comes as a choice between two degustations (no a la carte), one “short”, the “long”. The short menu comprises 11 courses, +6 for long.
That sounds like a lot, but before you worry about portion size, not so fast – snacks do count, so it’s not a deluge of food. Miller is channeling Noma’s multi-course experience for sure, but with a scintillating Australian colour.
Let’s get to it, the food of Noma – uhhh, I mean Silvereye.
Naturally, the meal starts off with snacks, though the frozen mango cocktail isn’t so much a snack as it is a pre-snack, if that were a thing.
A bite of “frozen” the size of my pinky is served to prime the palate for what’s to follow. I expected a chilling, icy hit of sweet mango, with perhaps a bit of acidity and bitterness from alcohol. Instead, I only got the coldness and crunch. In terms of flavour, it was oddly sour, with a bit of a spicy aftertaste. There was virtually no sweetness; I would not have thought it to be mango, at all.
In all honesty, it’s not a strong start, but in this many courses, some were bound to be less than impressive. Let it go?
Up next, pig & wattle. Each diner receives an impressively-sized hemisphere “biscuit”, actually made from pig trotters & fat, dusted with wattle seed powder. It’s crunchy, it’s got a spicy kick, and has the texture of a very thin & crispy wheat bread, but with a tangibly wholesome mouthfeel from that lard.
Once again, flavours are very subtle, a bit bushy, and just a little bit weird. I can’t say I fully enjoyed this, but I’m always a sucker for crunchy things.
The next course, for reasons perhaps best explained by theatre, comes in as shrimp in a box. Not that you’d know, as it’s certainly no shrimp on the cover.
Leaving the hard work up to our diners, we dutifully lift the box…
…to reveal three little parcels of what I’d call “shrimp san choy bao”. Mini lettuce cups of raw shrimp, roast shrimp butter, burnt cream & dulse powder. Plump, creamy & umami pockets of pleasure. The dulse powder on the top was an unfortuante detractor, as it added an unwelcome chalky texture. Nevertheless, one of the better snacks on the menu.
Silvereye’s prettiest dish is awarded to the sunflower & geranium crisp bread. Flowers are a proven way to amp up the allure of a dish. Here, geraniums star. These flatbreads sported a wholesome crumbliness that stays with you well after the flavour dissipates, with zucchini providing an added element of vegetal crunch.
Here’s the thing though, there just wasn’t much flavour. The zucchini is supposed to be pickled, but I hardly detected the fact. The crisp breads are meant to be coated with a roasted sunflower mayo, but that barely registered. A shame really, as the last thing I want to say about a dish is that it looks prettier than it tastes.
Unfortunately, this snack really was more a feast for the eyes than anything else.
Wait, we’re still on snacks? Oh yes indeedy, and next up is simply titled parsnip. It’s parsnip skin that’s been rolled up and deep fried until golden brown, enclosing a parsnip & mushroom creme fraiche. As far as Silvereye’s mostly flavourless snacks have been so far, this one’s a cut above – the cream is fragrant, carries a hint of spiciness, and pairs well with the delectably crispy and insanely delicate skin. An absolute delight, a pity it’s one of the smallest bites on offer!
We were bound to see a dish that looks like it’s been pulled right out of the ground, Tommy’s Turnip Tempura is just that. Featuring – you guessed it – baby turnips, this dish goes from cooked to raw, all within the same stalk. The turnip itself is served raw, covered with macadamia butter, while the leaves are dipped in malt tempura and deep fried for that delicious, delicious chip-like crispiness. Yep, that’s the best part of the dish!
The turnip themselves are pretty much what you expect raw turnips to taste like. Hard, crunchy and so very root vegetable. The butter is slightly sweet, and cuts back the rawness of the turnip a little, but overall it’s the tempura’d leaf that win me over. If not for that, this would have been an underwhelming snack.
I can say that so far, I’ve had mixed experiences, with a few better dishes amongst a bevy of so-so plates. If there has to be a worst offender, it would be the artichoke & brown butter.
The good: sweet, deliciously juicy artichoke hearts. That surprisingly light & airy burnt butter emulsion does absolute wonders in pairing.
The bad: the stems. These are one of the most bitter things I’ve ever eaten (yes: ever), fully unpleasant, utterly distasteful. I like to give a balanced view, but I have no positives to say here – the bitterness was so intense, it lingered for the next three courses. And yes, even the wine we ordered couldn’t immediately wash it away.
The ugly: the leaves that fill up most of the plate are inedible. Well, that’s a bummer…
Our last snack (wait, we’re still on these?) is the red spotted whiting. Whole whiting skeletons are deep fried, topped with a variety of sea vegetables – succulents, samphire, warrigal greens and so forth. It’s all about fifty shades of crunch here, though the head does sport a strong savouriness that’s the best part of the dish.
Unfortunately, as per trend, flavours just don’t show through, and to add – both myself and le father found bits of bone and sandy bits that could not be chewed, no matter how much teeth-work we put in. Additionally, we were told the smoked meat of the whiting is also meant to be present with the dish…this was clearly not the case.
Ultimately, the story of Silvereye’s snacks is one of mediocrity. While other publications are lauding the variety and finesse of technique, I found insufficiency of flavour to be the dominating movement. Also, the fact that we didn’t receive cutlery for eight plates of snacks resulted in very dirty hands by the end – inappropriate when more than half of the food is covered with butter, oil, or some other sauce that must be wiped off.
At this point, the menu shifts a gear – not the least of which is the introduction of silverware. After an all too generous measure of hands-on action, this simple change is a huge relief!
As if to balance out the savouriness of the anchovy snack, a plate of what represents Spring itself is brought to the table. It’s a bowl of beans (broad beans + peas), ice plant and green almonds, presented with finesse. Seriously, the beans are chopped in exact halves, because of course, knife skills must be shown off, right?
This dish is about mouthfeel over flavour. A spoonful of the dish will yield crunchy, chewy and mushy textures all at once. Flavours? Very, very subtle. I can’t say I’m surprised at this point, but I had hoped for a greater kick to leave the snacks behind. As things stand, it’s a very faint wakame seaweed broth that was more watery than flavoursome. Think of an underdeveloped dashi. I think of this as something I would eat for health reasons, not necessarily because it’s an actually delicious dish.
Now this salt baked beetroot w/blackcurrant is more up my alley. Super soft, brilliantly dark red beetroot sheets yields sweet, lemony flavours that part to reveal a good earthiness in aftertaste. There’s also a floral aspect that’s very refreshingly sweet and calming, kept in check by the salt that reminds me that this is a savoury dish.
I quite liked it, and I would have quite happily traded any savoury course on the menu for this beetroot.
Cobia is a species of kingfish that, amongst other interesting names, is sometimes known as the “prodigal son” fish. Wikipedia, you’re awesome.
On a plate, the prodigal son (hehe) is served on a bed of fennel & spinach vinegar, alongside a sheet of salt-cured pork lard that encases a bed of fennel. It’s one of the more interesting dishes of the meal, especially as there’s an intense divide in flavour. The left side of the dish – the lard & fennel – contain 90% of it, with the right side taking up the rest. You definitely must eat the Cobia with the lard, otherwise you just get the texture of the fish itself – which was unfortunately a tad on the tough side. That lard however, WOW – it’s a flavour explosion. This is what I’ve been waiting for when I keep on hearing “salting, curing & pickling” – it’s all about flavour, and I’m so glad it’s present in spades, if only drastically imbalanced to one half of the dish.
The waiters could do with a little cue to inform customers to eat everything together. This isn’t immediately apparent, even as seasoned fine diners know that it’s the default action.
My favourite seafood dish of the night goes to the blue eye cod w/mushroom broth. At this point, I can’t escape the fact that there’s very little flavour to talk about – just a hint of mushroom in the jus, and that’s pretty much that. What is appreciated is how well that cod is grilled – to tenderness on the inside, while maintaining a delectably burnt and smoky char on the outside, which itself could almost be taken as flavour. The crunch of brassicas greens seal the textural deal.
But as usual, my broken record is broken for a reason – there needs to be more flavour.
This isn’t really letting up anytime soon, is it?
You and I would both think that a tried-and-true pork belly dish would definitely be the flavour saviour, but we would both be proven wrong. Alas, a good slice of pork belly, cooked in brown butter, is served with almost nothing but its own meat to back it up in taste. Have you ever tried pork that hasn’t been flavoured? It’s not a particularly wholesome taste, to say the least. The fattiness and almost unprocessed nature of the swine really go through, and the fact that there’s no crunchy element (hello, crackling?) on the pork means there are no distractions from just how flavourless it is.
Crackling may be cliche, but I’ll take it. What of the radicchio? About that…
…It’s incredibly bitter. Not quite at the level of the artichoke stems earlier, but still to the point where both my parents and myself were unable to hide our grimaces – and we are the type of diner to try and make as little fuss as possible.
Fortunately, wine was at the ready to quickly wash away the astringency. Hopefully, a better dish is on the horizon.
A diminutive piece of juniper-smoked lamb shoulder attempts to sets the record straight with a superior meaty finish, at least relative to the pork belly. The little bits at the top? They warrant a story.
Sam Miller and his team go foraging out in the NSW surrounds every fortnight to find ingredients to use in their dishes. On one occasion in Braidwood, they found – of all things – pine cones, which Miller thought would be an excellent idea to serve with lamb, as their earthy aromas would be a most pleasant accompaniment when pickled in vinegar for a month.
He’s right about that – the pine cones taste quite the part, bursting with zingy, foresty flavour. Just as well they did, for the lamb itself fell to the same folly of the pig – it’s tender and well-cooked, but lacks its own flavour. Even so, I would much rather prefer two plates of this – it’s one of those times when I’m bearing witness to a creative genius that actually works.
That lamb seals off the savouries, and we move onto what I presume is an acting palate cleanser of fresh cheese & lemon myrtle. I’ve never had a palate cleanser in living memory that I’ve not liked, but Silvereye’s would be the untoward first entry.
My main issue? You guessed it – where’s the flavour? Yes, the granita is chilly & crumbly, melt in your mouth. Yes, the lemon myrtle oozes slight citrus notes with every bite, but there was almost no sweetness to the rest of the dessert, and the cheese made little impact. It was far too close to plain shaved ice for my liking. Literally.
In a rather poetic turn of events, the most visually unassuming dish of the night is by far the most delicious. It’s truly just a cherry blossom & pumpkin ice cream, and it really delivers on its namesake!
The milky ice on top? Delicious – and yes – bursting with milky sweetness with a hint of cherry. Upon contact, it dissolves into a satisfying creaminess, reminiscent of Bennelong’s strawberries & cream dessert (seriouus compliment, here). That’s already great news, however, Silvereye makes this dessert its very own with a smashing pumpkin cream at the bottom of the bowl, its earthy sweetness beautifully complementing the milk ice on top.
Had all of Silvereye’s dishes been this good, it would be an instant winner. Will the final dessert carry the banner?
You’ll be forgiven for scratching your head when you read celeriac & beer on the menu, especially taking into account that it denotes a dessert course. Fret not, there’s more to like about this dessert than not. On the left, we have a salted liquorice biscuit underneath a dollop of beer cream. On the right, a slow-cooked celeriac compote that’s infused with honey & miso, topped w/dill and what I think is coriander.
These are unlikely pairings.
However, it works, if a little quizzically. Individually, the components are haphazard – the beer cream tastes like carbonated air, the liquorice biscuit a super salty crumble with a funky sweetness. The celeriac compote is incredibly sweet and strangely umami (thanks to that miso), and it all looks like it would go to hell.
It doesn’t – combine a little bit of each element, and it magically all works. It’s still quite strong in flavour (now it’s too strong? Man, moderation is overrated these days…), but the overall experience is quite pleasant, but don’t be fooled – it will still be a bonkers experience.
Not exactly your classic ice cream for dessert, is it?
While the meal is “officially over”, the “unofficial” last course – petit fours – arrive in the form of milk tarts. These are mini pastries filled with milk sorbet and topped with fennel dust. I really digged these, and on a relative scale, are one of the best dishes of the night. Refreshing, milky, and brilliantly crispy pastry make a great way to top off the meal.
Usually, if a dining experience is destined to score low, I will not blog about it. That’s why you don’t see many 6/10s or below. Why bother with my time, and why cast negative light onto the restaurant?
That’s why this was not a comfortable review to write. I really tried to like Silvereye – I really did. A celebrated chef who worked under one of the greatest names of our time, dishes that truly do show technique and execution, and of course – raving reviews by all the major publications. This kind of story usually means instant hatted material.
But on my visit, so very little went my way. There can be a million factors – maybe the staff had an off day, maybe I was sick that day (I wasn’t). The most likely reason? The food is not to my palate. It’s rare to experience a 17-course degustation and have 17 winning dishes, but it’s also just as rare to experience the inverse. Perhaps this kind of food really isn’t my cup of cured tea. Slippery chairs and the lack of bread during service added to my dissatisfaction.
Yep, a restaurant that doesn’t do bread…
Maybe things will be different in a year, maybe they won’t be. Let’s see how this Silvereye flies.
In any case, should you visit? If you were planning to, then yes – definitely. Never forget – no two experiences are the same.
This post is based on an independently paid-for visit to Silvereye Restaurant
Alright, lay it on me – what did you think of your dining experience at Silvereye?
- A solid demonstration of cooking technique in the kitchen, particularly around curing & salting
- Two standout desserts go far to amp up the meal
- Effusive and cordial service, greetings from the chefs are standout
- A paucity of flavour across the board
- No bread service in a $$$-class Western restaurant is a real shock
- The first – and I hope only – fine dining experience that for the most part, does not agree with my palate
I have a new scoring system! Read all about it here.
Most important takeaway – three separate scores for food, service and ambiance to give the final score. The new system is not compatible with any score given prior to 11/11/2014.
F4.5 | S4 | A2