I will start with the disappointments, for I felt them keenly. The major one is that I do not think that a 10% surcharge on groups of 8 or more people - particularly where they are all having the SAME degustation menu ($150 with matched wines) - is a reasonable charge, even if you pre-advertise it. With our party of 10, it left me wondering what our $150 had bought. I could not come up with an answer.
My second major gripe was that whilst the degustation menu itself was superb, the matched wine package ($55 of the total degustation price) felt rather poor in comparison. It contained lots of average wines, all presented in consistently the worst pours I have ever received with a degustation menu in Sydney - 30ml. Yes, that's right - for your money, you got 270ml of wine. I note that I could have enjoyed a whole bottle of the nicest wine on the degustation menu - 2005 Delatite ‘Dead Man’s Hill’ Gewurztraminer Mansfield, Vic 45.00 - and still kept $10 in my pocket if I had been a little wiser. For the mathematically inclined, that would have also meant about 2/3 of a bottle more wine in my glass too.
So if you go to this restaurant (and I reiterate, my opinion is that you should, the food alone is worth the trip) do not take more than 7 people in your party, and do not order the matched wine package. But that said, let's move to the fireworks...
The brightest star in the 10 course menu for me was the 'Salmon baked potato’ with brown bread, sour cream and caviar - a luscious concoction (served in a shot glass), combining a gritty brown potato infused dressing over some simply divine salmon tartare with globes of caviar. Sex on the tongue. This dish also represented one of the best wine matches in the menu, bringing out the best of a 2005 Theodore de Varcharmes Petit Chablis, Burgundy, France. The wine started as a delicate (but likeable) drop, and became bolder with the food, intertwining with and complimenting the bold mix of flavours very well.
The produce used in the menu was superb. The Confit chicken caeser salad with roasted prawn and parmesan wafer is a shining example with the use of a giant, sweet, steak-like Yamba Prawn setting off this 'surf and turf' style dish to perfection. The parmesan wafer needs a mention too - the thinnest pastry, the boldest cheese, and a great match for the creamy caeser salad. The chicken was slightly lost, but all in all, this dish was memorable, clever, and produce driven.
My failure as a food documenter is highlighted by me missing a photograph of my other favourite course. I supply the almost empty plate as evidence. What you should be seeing is Cutlet and braised neck of lamb with roasted pumpkin, rosemary gnocchi and toasted pumpkin seeds. Now this dish again felt like a celebration of good produce. The lamb cutlet was tender, and beautifully cooked. The rosemary gnocchi was a perfect foil, as was the puree of pumpkin. Personally I found the intensity of the braised neck of lamb difficult, and could have done with less of it, but I did enjoy and understand why it was included in the dish. I liked the wine presented with this dish (though I suspect that I am just addicted to reds (mainly Grenache) from the Cotes du Rhone) - a 2004 Ferraton 'Samorens' Cotes du Rhone, Rhone Valley, France.
As an aside, I am running a quest for Australia's best lamb. According to the waiter,
the chef was cooking lamb from south-western NSW on the day we dined, but for
Australia's best lamb, he recommends Aurora from Tasmania. I will be sourcing
some forth-with! I will measure it against my current top contendor - Limestone Coast Lamb,
sourced from Pino's Dolce Vita (Kogarah). The lamb itself (pictured below) is South Australian.
I must also mention the terrine, as I thought it represented one of the best terrines I have tried to date, eclipsing the wild boar terrine we recently tried at Tabou. The dish, Terrine of pork and apple with boudin noir beignet and Pedro Ximenez was well plated, and represented a good way of 'dressing-up' a terrine. I liked the boudin noir beignets presented on smears of apple puree, but the stand out garnish was of course the Pedro Ximenez sauce - the only comparison I can make was it was like a Christmas pudding. It was a perfect foil to the terrine, which also included boudin noir, and lardons, as well as beautiful pork. This dish also had a reasonably good wine match, with a 2005 Albert Mann Pinot Blanc Auxerrois, Alsace, France.
A nod to the Seared scallop with carrot and cardamom puree and saffron fairy floss served with my second favourite wine on the Delatite label - a 2005 Delatite Gewurztraminer, Mansfield, Vic. The 2004 Delatite Late Harvest Riesling is my preferred choice. The scallop was perfectly cooked (no mean feat with 10 diners) and the house-made saffron fairy floss was a novelty that worked with the dish.
Of the remaining courses, nothing blew me away. In the savoury courses, there was a briny Sydney Rock oyster with Vietnamese dressing and baby coriander which did taste recently shucked, and had lost none of the essential juice;
and a dish of Roasted Barramundi with shellfish tortellini, spinach puree and herbed emulsion which contained the expected foam. (While I roll my eyes, of course my hat is off to Ferran Adrià Acosta, the creator of this now-common element to most degustations in Sydney!)
In the wind up of the meal we enjoyed a blue cheese course; a pre-dessert of Grape petal and mint salad with sparkling cabernet sorbet ('grape petal' turned out to be a glamorous way of writing chopped up grapes);
and a Spiced brulee with poached pear, ginger and coriander, which was notable only for the coriander sauce - an interesting (and successful) addition to a dessert course.
The service at Assiette started cool, and gradually warmed throughout the meal. The restaurant itself has a lovely ambiance, low lighting, muted shades, and is not too noisy - even on a busy friday evening where at one point, every table was filled. The à la carte menu was well covered by the degustation menu, and there was possibly only one additional dish at this time that I wished to try. Entrees were $20, and mains were a flat $30, making it a very reasonably priced food menu indeed, especially considering the quality and innovative nature of the food we enjoyed.
48 Albion Street, Surry Hills NSW 2010
Ph: (02) 9212-7979
Pino's Dolce Vita (for Limestone Coast Lamb)
45 President Ave Kogarah NSW 2217
Ph: (02) 9587 4818