It’s the sort of place you would walk past without a second thought. The naked brick, corner terrace proffers not a hint at what goes on inside, and the name Sixpenny does little to help. That one of Sydney’s best fine dining institutions lies behind the diminutive door? Unthinkable. Yet, that’s exactly what Sixpenny is: one of Sydney’s best.
Well, better late than never, right?
Date Last Visited: 3/Sep/17
Address: 83 Percival Road, Stanmore NSW 2048
Highlight Dishes: yesterday’s sourdough, potatoes w/oyster mushrooms, mead vinegar custard
Price Guide (approx): $155pp plus drinks
Daniel Puskas (and ex-co-owner chef James Parry) do things in sixes: the private dining room seats six, the base degustation menu is six courses, and Sixpenny itself is named after the so-called ‘six penny’ restaurants of old, where a meal would cost you – you guessed it – six pennies. At $125 and $155 for the 6/8 course menus respectively, inflation’s definitely taken its toll.
But in this and many other ways, Sixpenny pays homage to the old and the new – the food is undoubtedly delicious, fanciful – and evoking the envious feeling of ‘ah, I wish I could do this at home’; but at the same time, it’s also highly recognisable, relatable, and welcoming fare. A huge part of the core product revolves around the seasonality and locality of produce, keeping the kitchen inventive and the plates ever interesting, whilst avoiding the haute gastronomia that is all too at risk at being overdone in this day and age. The chefs personally deliver all plates to the table, explaining each dish with brevity – as well as soul. This Noma-esque approach to Sixpenny’s food, spearheaded by Puskas and Parry over the last three years – that’s the new.
And it’s awesome: Puskas has worked at Chicago’s Alinea, as well as Tetsuya’s; while Parry’s worked stints at Mugaritz and Noma. Though Parry departed Sixpenny in early 2017, quality has only gone in a northernly direction. At least, that’s my working assumption – if it used to be even better when Parry was around, I’ll have to begin work on a time machine.
The meal begins with a miscellany of snacks, explained by Puskas himself: crunchy pickled cucumbers, with an airy touch of rose geranium vinegar to open up the palate; followed by flavour bombs of hearty green tomato gougeres (an Irish cheese) with its guaranteed pocket rocket umami hit. A deep fried pumpkin scallop: sweet, crispy, yet also salty from a housemade ‘pumpkin seed’ salt rounds things out, gone in a bite that’s over all too quickly.
It is almost a truism that the first course ends up setting the tone for the rest of the meal. I had a strong feeling the going was going to get good.
Bread is supplied by none other than Sixpenny’s own oven – a rare sight for a restaurant at any level. Served warm, Sixpenny’s sourdough came replete with fluffy centres, satisfying crusts, and creamy, soft mascarpone butter with which to soak it all up. It’s quite honestly one of the best breads I’ve been served at a restaurant this year – right up there with Eleven Bridge (now closed) and LuMi.
The first dish ‘proper’, a spanner crab w/clam butter & Yarra Valley trout roe, is one that I couldn’t forget all the way through till the meal’s end. Crab meat that achieved a perfect score on its texture exam, umami-packed clam butter and fulsome bulbs of Yarra Valley trout roe made for a three-bite morsel that could hardly be improved – save perhaps, for including enough for a fourth bite; though dialling down the salt levels also comes in as a recommendation.
An almost alien-looking swirl of carefully mandolined, al dente strips of beetroot, baked with the punchy and slightly minerally tang of boudin noir is a black hole that, much like the real cosmological phenomenon, exerted its gravity and commanded complete attention. At the centre was a layer of carefully-prepared venison tartare, topped with toasted shaved hazelnut. It was as Nordic as it got; it was as delicious as Nordic gets. It was also a lot more balanced than the saltiness of the spanner crab; bonus points.
Of course, you’ll have to enjoy game meat and beetroot to apply, but feel free to call me up – I’ll happily clean your plate.
A highlight amongst highlights, the dutch cream potatoes were a most hearty note on which to end winter. I don’t know what evolution did to produce potatoes of such texture, but Dutch creams are potatoes that are already halfway mash – and for that, I am forever grateful (though my waistline might not be). Sixpenny’s treatment of the humble tuber involves a scrape-your-plate-clean, moreish rye butter, raw oyster mushrooms with kombu to soak up some of the creaminess, and in the case of my lunch – the option of black truffle from Manjimup WA shaved on top.
Lol. It ain’t optional.
A mid-meal interjection of a second slice of sourdough was received with pleasant surprise, which quickly turned into unadulterated glee – especially given just how good that first piece of sourdough was. Except this isn’t just a carbon copy: this is yesterday’s sourdough.
Not one to waste anything. Sixpenny breaks down any bread left over from the previous day’s service, mixes in used coffee grinds from its aeropress coffee – also from the day before – and then bakes it with a small amount of golden syrup infused. The result is a twice-baked bread that tops even the freshly-baked stuff, and I might have to call it: best restaurant bread of the year. The earthiness and subtle sweetness of the bread meant that while it may have been yesterday’s trash, it was definitely today’s treasure.
The hapuka with Chinese Broccoli and salted red cabbage was a combination of flavours as vivid as it is colourful – super tart and salty cabbage, a well-respected leaf of broccoli and a golden crust on the fish itself. I didn’t fully agree with the interplay of flavours, and the hapuka – from Esperance – was somewhat overcooked; thus this dish was merely good, not great.
As far as savouries go, the technical climax of the meal was also its anticlimax. Hickory smoked duck breast, aged for 8 days was full of promise, but smoke was all I got – there was little flavour in the duck, and the strips of fat that lined the meat ramped up the unctuous factor too fast, and too far. A saving grace was the duck heart katsuobushi, which in contrast was full of savoury, earthy flavour – and a great pairing with the duck meat itself, sans the fat.
One more oddity – for all the use of fancy (and expensive!) Laguiole cutlery, you know the knives sure could have used some sharpening when something like spring onion was a piece of work.
Where Sixpenny stumbled with its savoury finale, it quickly more than made up for in its signature dessert: a house made mead vinegar custard w/frozen ruby grapefruit & citrus consommé. This was a magical experience – not something I say lightly. It’s a dish that packed an implausible amount of flavour: the natural sweetness of honey, the balancing act pulled off by the acerbic vinegar, and bitterness of frozen fruits and the citrus reduction. Texturally, it was rich, creamy – totally decadent – but because of the flavour profile, completely refreshing at the same time. A dessert that made me go ‘surely this is the last bite’ with every bite, yet somehow I managed to clean the bowl wishing for yet another bite.
Magical; easily one of the best desserts I’ve had this year.
If the mead vinegar custard made for an incredible beginning of the end, it’s not too far of a stretch to say lightning struck twice with the next dessert of passionfruit granita w/white chocolate & caramelized white chocolate. If the honey mead dessert was an exercise in surgically inserting moments of WOW by expert execution of in-house preservation and fermentation technique, this granita is Puskas given complete carte blanche to go nuts with straight out REFRESHMENT. It’s cold, it’s sour, it’s sweet, but still delivering plenty of mouthfeel with the white chocolate. So much fat, so much sugar – worth the waistline getting bigger.
I could fault the dessert for being simple. I really could – it’s a granita with some chocolate. But when it’s just banging with so much flavour, that would be savage.
Sixpenny’s final act is a third dessert – a rarity amongst 8 course degustations. Most diners might be in a sugar-induced coma by this point, but it would be poor form to tap out on the poor man’s caramel w/cocoa nib ice cream & candied kumquat. Besides you don’t want to relinquish yet another dish to me, do you?
The richest of the three, the focus was all on that caramel. Made with molasses (as opposed to straight sugar), it’s thicker, darker, and with slightly more bitter undertones than straight caramel. It’s awesome, to be sure; however, it’s how it pairs with the cocoa nib ice cream that brought an overall shine to the dessert. The ice cream, by itself, is a clever use of cocoa byproducts – another sign of Sixpenny’s ‘waste not, want not’ mantra. It’s tasty too, but the caramel is what really kicks it up a notch – this is a dessert you definitely need to eat with careful ratio control. The candied kumquat? A bit too hard and chewy for my liking – a pass.
That it was a good dessert is not in doubt – Sixpenny has definitely pulled a hat trick. I do wish they would have started, rather than ended, the meal with this dessert – I personally prefer a lighter finish to a meal, leaving me refreshed than sugared out.
The term ‘hidden gem’ gets thrown about a bit too much these days. I know – I’m a contributor to the problem. But when Sixpenny’s been around since 2014 and I only made my first visit this year, the ‘hidden’ part’s definitely been lived up to.
And as for calling it a gem? Oh goodness, how brightly does it shine. One of Sydney’s best restaurants, discovered at last.
This post is based on two independently-paid visits to Sixpenny
- Sixpenny channels Noma right: respect the produce, minimise waste, preserve and re-serve
- Desserts are some of the best in the business
- The quality is so good, even small issues are noticeable (e.g. over-salting)
- The low key ambience of the small dining room can be somewhat confining
Would I return: hells to the yeah
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.
F8 | S4 | A2