Review: Sepia, Sydney 2017

I don't know if I really need to introduce Sepia - it's won awards and has been named restaurant of the year a few times in the past few years. But yeah, 3 chef hats in 2016! I think it's quite impressive. I can't remember how I found it.. might have been just me trying to google nice restaurants to go and try and after seeing their menu, I was intrigued.

Because of the exorbitant price ($220 per person!, not including drinks!), we decided it would be for a special occasion. And what is a special occasion if not the birthday of yours truly? :P

So the date was set and booked. At the time, since the restaurant was just opening after New Year's, they did not offer the 5 course meal and only the 9 course was available. But we would have been going for the 9 course anyway. If we're going to splurge, might as well go all out!

On the day, we arrived 15 minutes before they opened so we just stood waiting outside until they opened the doors and ushered us in. I was a bit flustered when all the waiters gathered and stood in a row while we all walked in. Our waiter ushered us into a corner of the restaurant - very intimate and dark. I'm not sure if I'm a huge fan of the decor - dark wood furniture, panels, dim lighting and you get a tea light on your table to let you see what you are eating. 

We were sat down and offered the drinks menu - they have a tea selection for those who don't want to partake in alcohol. You can even choose to have teas as your meal accompaniment instead of wines. We decided to just try out two of the teas - bamboo leaf and sobacha. The bamboo tea came in a glass pot and a glass teacup while the sobacha came in a heavy metal teapot and a traditional Japanese tea cup.

The bamboo leaf tea was very grassy and light. Really refreshing. The sobacha had a lovely roasted aroma to it - kind of similar to mugicha. 

And then our appetizers finally arrived! 

Clockwise from the top: Hiramasa kingfish, dashi cream, water chestnut, nori, dashi jelly.                                                                                                                                                Saikou salmon, smoked roe, sudachi, chrysanthemum.                                                                                                                                                                                                     Tempura oba, smoked amaebi, shell powder.

Clockwise from the top: Hiramasa kingfish, dashi cream, water chestnut, nori, dashi jelly.                                                                                                                                                Saikou salmon, smoked roe, sudachi, chrysanthemum.                                                                                                                                                                                                     Tempura oba, smoked amaebi, shell powder.

It's really hard to describe the taste of each morsel as they all have so many flavours going on. The menu itself probably describes it the best by listing every ingredient. If I didn't have the menu, I would have had absolutely no idea of what was in each item. My favourite of the three was the kingfish wrapped in nori. It had this amazing umami flavour going - I'm guessing it's from the dashi cream and jelly but omg, soooo yummy! I wouldn't have minded having a few extra pieces of these.

The salmon was good too - a burst of roe and citrus as you bite into it since sudachi is a type of Japanese citrus that's a specialty in Tokushima. I'm amazed at how they managed to source all these ingredients. No wonder you have to pay fricking $220 per person! 

The tempura shiso leaf aka oba was ok - crisp with a subtle prawn flavour from the amaebi mayonnaise on top but otherwise didn't amaze me.

Close up of the salmon morsel with chrysanthemum petals~ Pretty!

Close up of the salmon morsel with chrysanthemum petals~ Pretty!

Our next course is the dish below: Tuna, egg yolk, fromage blanc, black bean soy sauce, wasabi.

The yellow fin tuna was super thin like sashimi and the yolk was wrapped inside like a gift! The wasabi flavour was very faint so it's good for those who don't enjoy wasabi. This was very hard to eat in a neat way - the yolk kind of oozed everywhere once you break the tuna parcel. But it was delicious. I may or may not have licked my plate clean.

Then we moved on to the spanner crab, heirloom tomato, brown butter emulsion, sake vinegar jelly, pea and horseradish. This dish was brought to us and then the waiter sprinkled the frozen green pea powder on top of the tomato- kind of like snow falling. Very artsy.

This was an interesting dish because the top was frozen cold while the bottom part was warm. The jelly was a thin layer under the tomato which is the red covering which gave the dish a burst of tartness. You can definitely taste both the tomato and the peas even though they're frozen. The crab on the other hand was deliciously warm and creamy with the browned butter sauce. I loved the crab portion of this dish! Would totally eat more of it!!

Somewhere along the way, we were served a Japanese milk roll with butter which was in the shape of a perfect sphere. The roll was still warm, very fragrant but heavier than I expected. It was a good filler though because all these fancy dishes come in the teeniest portions. I actually decided to not eat my entire roll because I knew it would fill me up too much (More for the other M!). 

Moving on to the charcoal grilled black lip abalone, eggplant, nori and miso, sweet bamboo samphore and buckwheat. The eggplant was blended into a puree with the miso like a Japanese baba ghanoush. The abalone was tasty - even M agreed as he's not the biggest fan of abalone. It went well with the creamy eggplant and the grilled buckwheat pieces gave it added crunch and texture while the bamboo and leaves added more flavour.

The next one here is probably the one I was most disappointed in. It's imperador, sushi rice, yuzu kosho, gooseberry and battera kombu. To be honest, it didn't taste of much and the sushi rice was still warm so it was falling apart as you picked it up. I don't remember tasting much of the other seasonings.

In other words, I've had better pieces of sushi than this one! #sorrynotsorry

Scampi, jamon cream, pickled Barletta onions, cured pork cheek, sobacha.

Scampi, jamon cream, pickled Barletta onions, cured pork cheek, sobacha.

I'm glad that this dish made up for the disappointment of the previous one - the scampi was fresh, juicy and very sweet. Cooked perfectly with just a bit of bite to it and the onions gave a crunch and sourness to the dish while the sobacha added that roasted aroma.

Fancy looking steak knife. Maybe from Japan?

Fancy looking steak knife. Maybe from Japan?

The steak knife brought us to the meatier portion of our meal, the first of which was the lamb. To be honest, I was a bit sad that we didn't get the duck as the menu has had it on other times. This was one of M's favourites - he really enjoyed the crispy skin topping and the lamb melted in your mouth as you chewed. It was that tender. Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy it as much as he did. Although the lamb was very tender and soft, I didn't feel it had much flavour. Most of the flavour seemed to come from the small leaves dotting the dish which gave each bite a citrus-y almost numbing flavour. My other gripe was that the steak knife wasn't very sharp at all and couldn't slice through the crispy bit without causing the rest of the lamb to crumble.

Charcoal grilled lamb breast, celtuce, cucumber oil, macadamia nut cream, sansho pepper

Charcoal grilled lamb breast, celtuce, cucumber oil, macadamia nut cream, sansho pepper

And then we had wagyu with shiitake mushroom and what looked like a branch of caramel. I was expecting it to be sweet and was surprised to find that it was savoury. We described it as 'caramelised meat sauce' in my notes. It was a bit overpowering and a bit chewy rather than brittle so didn't dissolve well in the mouth. The steak itself was good but nothing like Japanese wagyu. I think I've been spoiled with Japanese wagyu and nothing I've had in Australia has compared. The meat had subtle flavour but did not melt in the mouth which is my expectation of wagyu. I wouldn't say it was sinewy but you definitely need to chew on it.

David Blackmore wagyu, shiitake mushroom, roasted onion and mustard, horseradish leaf, shiso

David Blackmore wagyu, shiitake mushroom, roasted onion and mustard, horseradish leaf, shiso

We skipped the cheese course as I wasn't really interested in it so we moved straight to desserts and ordered one of each type that was available. The Chocolate forest is Sepia's signature dish so we had to give it a try. 

By the time we got to the desserts, I was starting to feel full so I don't have a full recollection of what it was like. I did not find the one below all that amazing. There were lots of textures - creamy, crunchy and sweet but I would not choose this again.

Chocolate, caramelised apple cream, artichoke, blackcurrant, cocoa nib pecan brittle

Chocolate, caramelised apple cream, artichoke, blackcurrant, cocoa nib pecan brittle

The Chocolate forest on the other hand, is a work of art. Everything is edible and it does look like twigs and moss and leaves. The blackberry sorbet was probably my favourite part because everything else again is a mish mash of different flavours and textures - salty, sweet, liquorishy, and crunchy and soft all at the same time.

Summer Chocolate Forest: soft chocolate, hazelnut and almond, white rose cream, blackberry sorbet, strawberry and salted shiso jellies, green tea, licorice, chocolate twigs, bronze fennel, elderflowers.

Summer Chocolate Forest: soft chocolate, hazelnut and almond, white rose cream, blackberry sorbet, strawberry and salted shiso jellies, green tea, licorice, chocolate twigs, bronze fennel, elderflowers.

And that's the end of it! I have to admit that by the end of the meal (which took like 2.5/3 hours?) I felt quite full. Definitely an experience to be had but I doubt we will be going back there anytime soon.

8.5/10 - Gourmet experience. Worth at least a try for a special occasion/treat!
— M&M food rating

Till the next meal or snack...