The most difficult part of your meal here will be deciding between the opulent (and oft-restocked) buffet and Executive Sous Chef Julien Pouteau’s rather spectacular a la carte.
Everything else corners like it’s on rails - from the surprisingly stunning room, to the battalion of eager to please staff. Needless to say, they do please; and by golly, so will the prices!
On this visit I allowed myself to be guided by Julien’s knowing hand. A truly great potato foam on this amuse bouche assured me I was correct to. If you get to experience this particular dish: pick up the olive crumbs and sprinkle them in. Julien's held back (only slightly) by diners' conservative palates, but the dish really sang as the chef conceived of it.
I enjoyed it with a decadent glass of NV Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut ($32/glass) from Reims, a pleasure to drink both alone and with the dish itself.
The Binnorie Feta Mousse ($22) took the (possibly tired) combination of beetroot and feta and ran rings around it - acing both presentation and taste. With this dish the I partook of the waiter's recommendation, triangulated from my description of the type of Chardonnays I most enjoy (new-school, elegant oak, light in colour, no butter). He came up with a lovely 2007 Craiglee from Sunbury ($65/bottle) that I would have been happy to sit with for the whole meal - clean but not insipid.
Char Grilled Yamba Prawns ($25) teamed with lime ricotta, sea urchin and fresh horseradish was easily the best sea urchin dish I’ve ever eaten (I’m nearing forty). I thought it was imaginative and showed off the produce nicely.
While we've been dazzled by the dishes, the restaurant around us has filled. It's reasonably evenly split between a mostly-Asian audience who seem bent on enjoying heavily laden plates of seafood from the buffet; and an 'absolutely Macquarie Street' audience taking in the modern French menu items.
In an ode to beta-Carotene that had me suspecting a small army of apprentices pureeing and pipetting their fingers to the bone, the Line Caught Barramundi ($32) with puffed wild rice and mussel emulsion was a triumph!
It was beaten though by the Tajima Wagyu ($34) - my portion was a small one to allow me to fit in a third main. It was a sample of an upcoming Tinder Creek Duck dish with Jerusalem artichoke puree and blue cheese parchment (wafer thin) - quite a meaty bit of duck it was too.
It was nice to see chefs getting a chance to play with new season produce at length before putting on the menu, one of the advantages of working in an international hotel restaurant. As an aside, in conversation at the end of the meal, Julien mentioned he had watched A Day in the Life of El Bulli (premiered in Australia this year at the Sydney Film Festival) with interest. I inferred that the environment he is cooking in now allows him to enjoy the opportunity to really examine new produce carefully and thoroughly before conceiving of a dish. It shows on the plate.
The closing Mandarin Mille-feuille ($12) came with honeycomb, meringue, a saffron sorbet that I now dream about (thanks Julien), and a savvy tea sommelier. The Classic Pai Mu Tan ($7/pot) was such a delight, I am going to seek it out to drink again.
I also tried the more delicate Pear and Champagne Sabayon ($14) with almond crumble and Poire William granita... hard to top saffron sorbet though. Your buck here sure buys a lot - even on the epic wine list! The hotel clearly has a commitment to old-school quality with the bottom line being that the customer is happy.
In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, "I'll be back."
Intercontinental Sydney, 117 Macquarie Street, Circular Quay
Ph: (02) 9253 9396