Sam Miller kicks Sydney dining up to the next level with a casually sophisticated 17-course degustation ($175/head) that had me cooing about intuitive pacing, the epic wine list, and personable staff delivering just the right amount of food.
It starts with a flurry of snacks, designed to appease gnawing hunger.
Kohlrabi dip topped with explosive grenades of ‘Neptune’s Necklace’ (bubbleweed); and...
...whole baby turnips with malt tempura leaves dipped in macadamia nut milk, set the stage for vegetarian dishes being meal highlights.
A skeletal red-spot whiting offsets crunchy fish bones with lovely green leaves, before...
...an achingly beautiful bowl of baby peas in wakame broth with seaweed jelly and beach plants, rams home that this degustation will be a balanced meal with plenty of greens.
The latter dish coaxes minerality out of the excellent value 2014 A. Rodda ‘Smith’s Vineyard’ Chardonnay ($70) – a good accompaniment to the early part of your menu.
After vividly pink salt-baked beetroot wafers in wood oil sorrel, chamomile and blackcurrant emulsion conduct a surprise assault on your palate, it’s time to switch to red.
Star Sommelier James Audas nails my personal pinot noir preferences to a wall with the mushroomy 2014 Ochota Barrels ‘Impeccable Disorder’ Pinot Noir ($135/bottle). It’s so good I bought two bottles the next day. And when the neighbouring table expresses they had a bad experience with biodynamic wines, he says (with utter chutzpah): “I’m going to change your mind.” Believe him.
You’ll also notice a generosity with technique – the kitchen staff (who group to farewell you) are happy to explain the mysterious sheet turning your fennel into a jellyfish accompanying black cobia (salted, cured pork lard that has been frozen then sliced finely on a meat slicer), or take you on a tour of the open-plan kitchen.
Proteins, from juniper smoked lamb leg to blue eye trevalla are all well handled, with the highlight proving to be...
...the oxtail with Swiss chard and beetroot compote. Handing us a sheathed dagger to carve them, our personable Pommy waitress says: "We are starting to trust you a little bit. I don't want you to exploit that trust..." She’s dry and funny, great considering you’ll spend a fair amount of time getting to know each other over the seventeen courses.
My go-to dessert is peaches and cream, which celebrates the tomato-like aspects of a peach - curiously until today I didn’t know they existed - by combining them with sorrel. Our waitress calls it “semi-peculiar” which is pretty good description of whole menu.
Yet, that being said, there was only one course that didn’t quite please my palate: a dessert combining barely ripe mango and caramel ice cream using salt as the only bridge.
Good meal pacing means time virtually flies by in this comfortable, relaxed space; but for those inclined to restlessness, you can always spend your time spotting cleverly placed Silvereyes like good little twitchers.
Upstairs, Old Clare Hotel, 20 Broadway, Chippendale
Ph: (02) 8277 8520