A very close friend of ours moved away from Perth to the central NSW coast nearly ten years ago to be with the love of her life. Although Facebook has allowed us to both stay in nearly daily contact, we haven’t cast eyes on each other since she left many years ago. She is one of those kindred souls that when you are lucky enough to cross paths in life you never want to let them go. There is just one thing about her that we both hate; she has cystic fibrosis. Not that in the past that ever seemed to stop her living her life to the fullest. She is by far and by large the most positive, brave and strong willed person I know, occasionally to her detriment! But there is only so much a pair of lungs can take and since the birth of her gorgeous doe-eyed daughter, her lungs have been on a slow and steady decline. She has been on the transplant list for the better part of a year now and we are all crossing every finger and toe that some beautiful brand new shiny lungs will be on her doorstep soon.
My conference lectures were held at the Sydney University which is conveniently located right next door to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital where my dear friend was currently staying. The luxury of being able to pop “next door” and see her after lectures was a privilege I didn’t want to waste so I tried to get over there as many times as possible. After our initial tears of joy in seeing each other for the first time in so long, we easily slipped into our old habits as we joked and laughed the afternoons away. This wasn’t without receiving a few frowns from the surrounding patients in the ward as we are invariably very loud together.
The Boy arrived on the Friday ready for a short weekend city getaway and was able to join me for my last afternoon hangout with her the following day at the Hospital. It was so sad to say farewell as I had been having such a fabulous time seeing her but I have vowed to myself to not leave it so long between visits. What better reason to return to Sydney!?!
In a delayed Valentine’s celebration, I had made a reservation several months ago at Marque knowing it to be in San Pellegrino’s World’s 100 Best Restaurants. Over the years, we have enjoyed visiting a wide range of fine dining establishments all over the world. Much of this has been prior to the first seed of Chompchomp being planted. There are some attentions to detail during these experiences that I have come to expect as standard, especially when consider the cost of your meal. One of these details is the execution of unfaultable and impeccable service. The wait staff should literally gush over their guests and make them feel like royalty. Having this above and beyond approach to customers forms nearly as big a part of the wow factor as does the food and is a vital part of the whole experience.
Upon arrival to Marque we were greeted with just a stern nod by a staff member that the Boy and I later named “The Matron”. She left us standing in the doorway nearly on top of customer’s tables long enough to be a little uncomfortable. We were ushered to our seats after a brief delay and started to take in the atmosphere, or lack of it. The dining room felt fairly barren and clinical however I tried to look past this detail as I have found some incredible restaurants where the dining room is very simple and basic. For example Restaurant Amuse; where each of my three visits has left me completely awestruck with the fabulous experience.
I started the night off with the only type of Champagne available by the glass; some René Geoffroy Purete Brut which was quite vibrant and crisp with a dry finish. The perfect way to start a meal! Our amuse bouche looked a bit like a clam shell and consisted of two truffled potato crisps with bonito and foie gras inside. Unfortunately as I was trying to photograph it I was sternly told off by The Matron like a naughty little school child that there is to be no flash photography. Consequently my photos for the evening are nothing short of horrendous – I am so sorry dear readers! (For the full album see my Flickr account.) Now I understand that some customers may find a flash disrupting to their meal and accept this request is totally reasonable. However for the remaining duration of the evening on several occasions I caught “The Matron” giving me disapproving looks across the dining room. This made for a fairly unpleasant vibe. To add to this the remainder of the wait staff were cold and almost snooty giving an air of pretension that in no way added to the experience.
The sommelier of the night was the only exception to the team and I was drawn to a heightened level of excitement for each wine he introduced as he described it and why it complements the food so eloquently.
This first course dish was quite amazing having quite distinct separate layers of flavours almost like you get with some macarons! The initial strong flavours of the soft crab were lifted by a layer of light almond foam, progressing on the palate to the salty fresh sea taste of the avruga and ending with the sweeter butter popcorn aftertaste. Magic! The wine was matched beautifully (as were all the wines of the evening) and its oily aftertaste lingering on the palate with the corn flavours was divine.
The marron course was the Boys favourite. The marron was so tender and was lightly dusted with tomato dust. Each dollop of accompaniments on the plate were absolute delights in their own right and individually married with a morsel of marron to create its own little world of taste sensation spanning from dulcet sweet to buttery and ending with an acidic tomato flavour.
The Wagyu was marbled perfectly and was accompanied with tiny little pencil thin dill cucumbers which were sliced into miniature little medallions packed with a zing. Following on from the beef was the Dutch Cream Potatoes with Bone Marrow, Sea Urchin, and Coffee. (It was matched with 2008 Heymann-Lӧwenstein ‘Schieferterrassen’ Riesling, Mosel, Germany.) This was one of our waiter’s favourite dishes. These potatoes were a hearty delight and made me wish the Boy’s mum (who is Dutch) would serve them at our next family dinner! They were so smooth and delectable!
In the aftermath of the delicious potatoes, the grouper didn’t excite either of us much at all. Although it looked quite attractive on the plate, but it was fairly bland and was made even less inspiring by the following duck egg dish which was outstanding.
Wow. This was my favourite dish of the night by far. The smokey duck egg combined with tart sour cherries was out of this world. My egg wasn’t dusted in the leek ash due to my onion intolerance but the boy said this addition made it even more sumptuous. This course was served with home-baked bread to lash smatterings of duck liver onto.
Unfortunately for me, despite making our dinner reservation no less than five months in advance there was no gluten-free bread option to offer me. I think this would probably have to be one of the first fine dining establishments that this has happened to me since my diagnosis 3 years ago. I couldn’t hide my disappointment watching the Boy eagerly smear his liver onto his own hot steaming bread.
I had not tried Brunet before and given I love goat’s cheese I was excited to try it. Similar to many goats cheese, it was quite tangy and lemony, with sour cream notes, but also with some earthy depth to it. It was topped with tiny slivers of raw velvety mushroom.
The first dessert course was right up my alley of dessert styles; there is something about combining sweet yet piquant berry flavours with contrasting tangy yoghurt tastes that really hits the spot for me.
The second dessert course was different for us both and unfortunately I was only given a menu for the courses served to the whole restaurant not with my variations (unlike at Amber in Hong Kong where we each got our own copy ready printed in an embossed folder…..). The Boy doesn’t recall much about his as by this point understandably, all the courses start to blur together a little for him.
The night ended on Mark Best’s Signature Sauternes custard. I had read a number of amazing recounts of this dessert and was keen to see if it lived up to the hype. Despite all the food in our bellies we both struggled to hold ourselves back from gobbling this down greedily. It was served in an egg-shell with the top precisely cut off at a neat and sharp angle. I almost thought it was a fake egg-shell until I saw the Boy accidentally crack his as he eagerly spooned out the delicious silky custard. Before I could even giggle and comment I broke mine too!
Unfortunately for Mark, visitors to his restaurant are going to continue walk away underwhelmed if he is unable to obtain staff with the right attitude to serve his customers in the front of house. Despite most of the dishes being quite outstanding certainly not all were so, and when coupled with the lack of personalised service and cold attitudes Marque would not be somewhere I would be keen to return to in a hurry. I have since spoken to two of my relatives who live in Sydney and after dining at Marque twice have formed similar impressions to me each time. Sadly, I walked away disappointed especially as I thought it would be the highlight of my time in Sydney. On a much brighter note, it turns out hanging out with my pal in the Respiratory ward of RPA took first place as the most wonderful experience in a long time. By several miles. (Totes smoop, love ya Garnet Girl xx….)
Check out my other Sydney postsMarque 355 Crown Street, Surry Hills, 2010 | (02) 9332 2225 | www.marquerestaurant.com.au Price: $$$$ (Degustation $150 excluding cheese course, extra $85 for matched wine) Food: 4/5 (definitely some winners here but some that were just ok) Service: 2/5 (for this calibre of restaurant I expect much more) Ambience: 2.5/5 (stark and uninviting) Drinks: 5/5 (my first 5 in some time – matched wines were exceptional – kudos to the sommellier) Total: 13.5/20
I had made big plans for myself to get up super-duper early each day when I was in Sydney so that I could stroll over to my new favourite restaurant Bills for breakfast before heading to the Uni for my conference. Those big plans were all fine and dandy until I had a succession of late nights. I think the Boy’s keen passion for a good night’s sleep and his persistent cry of complaint to turn the lights out each night actually has a great influence on me. Just don’t tell him I admitted that. If you take his sleeping demands away and leave me to my own devices I seemingly want to have the best of both worlds. I want to be a night owl AND a morning person. This is a hard act to follow and before long something had to give.
I fell asleep to dreams of Bills’ eggs only to feel like I woke up five minutes later. That night I had finally decided to pull the curtains closed for the first time in three nights and the hotel room was cloaked in pitch black. I guessed it to be around 3 to 4 o’clock in the morning and gazed lazily over at the clock. To my horror it wasn’t 3am or even 5am. It was 7.15am and I was supposed to leave at 7.00. I needed a good 45 minutes to shower and get dressed so a deviation via Surry Hills was not an option.
Begrudgingly I dragged myself out of bed, into the shower and out the door as quickly as I could and Urbanspooned while I walked. I found a suggestion called Clipper Café that had great ratings and was very conveniently located directly on my route from the hotel to the Uni. I was greeted by an effervescent American waitress who proudly told me I could have nearly anything off the menu gluten-free. I ordered my usual short Mac while I perused the small menu which contained traditional staples with a few slight twists. The coffee is Clipper’s own blend roasted at Coffee Alchemy in Marrickville. I really enjoyed this cup; it was much sweeter than my coffee at Bills with a lovely creamy aftertaste.
I ordered poached eggs on gluten-free bread with prosciutto, tomato and Pecorino. My order came out in great time as I was definitely on a tight schedule due to my little lie-in. The salty crisp grilled Pecorino totally overpowered the prosciutto flavour and I was left wishing that I had read the menu more carefully before ordering. To make matter more disappointing my poached eggs were slightly overdone leaving only a small amount of gooey egg yolk to goomp everything together. The gluten-free bread tasted like standard shop bought bread and was nothing special.
Overall I enjoyed my breakfast but it simply did not compare to my repeat experiences at Bills. The coffee however was very good. Oh, and by the way just a little heads up if you go there – they are cash only so bring your wallet.
Check out my other Sydney posts hereClipper Café 16 Glebe Point Road, Glebe 2037 | 0411 800 063 Price: $ ($7-12 Breakfast) Food: 2.5/5 (slightly overcooked eggs, crumbly GF bread) Service: 4/5 (quirky, fun and quick) Ambience: 3.5/5 (country café feel) Drinks: 4.5.5 (scrumptious coffee) Total: 14.5/20
I love the constant pulse of Sydney’s heartbeat. You can feel it as soon as you arrive. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not in any way complaining about the laid back lifestyle and beautiful sunny days we get to enjoy in Perth but Sydney is most definitely a city that feels like she is alive. I could happily see myself living here if it wasn’t for all our strong ties back in the Wild West. We both have our careers which we love and also as a direct result of living in London, the Boy has a complete dislike for residing in big cities. He needs space around him to grow all his delicious fresh produce, loves open spaces and craves peace and quiet. I’m easy either way as long as we are both happy, like I said, Perth is a beautiful and relaxing place to live and despite my yearning for bright lights and the big smoke I still love Perth with a passion.
Not keen on subjecting myself to an overpriced and tasteless hotel breakfast, I consulted my fellow Foodspotters’ from Sydney for advice on local gluten free breakfast options. I was advised to avoid the CBD area directly surrounding my hotel and take a short stroll over to Surry Hills where I was given a range of venues. One of those venues was Bills which I have since learnt seems to be an essential item on most foodies bucket lists when coming to Sydney. I am quite familiar with Bill Granger’s story, he is a self-taught chef who has now gone on to become something of a global phenomenon owning restaurants around the world, he has published best-selling cookbooks and has had his own TV shows on BBC.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the luxury of being able to walk everywhere here. Not an easily accomplished task back in my home town. As I strolled past the colourful costume shops on Oxford St which were stocked all ready for the Mardi Gras, I stopped to peer into a couple of windows to see an abundance of multi-coloured fairy wings, feather boas and a variety of tightly clad male mannequins.
Upon arriving to Bills I was greeted in a very warm and friendly manner and was supplied with my short Mac before I could even think about how much I needed it! I noticed around me a number of regulars were on a first name basis with the wait staff. Return customers are a sure sign you are doing something right.
Bills uses their own organic coffee from Single Origin Roaster. My short Mac was served at the perfect temperature and had my preferred balance of slight bitterness with a creamy aftertaste. I must confess though I still prefer my Nespresso Arpeggio. I had their famous scrambled eggs on gluten free toast with a serve of button mushrooms and cumin roasted tomatoes. I apologise for the poor photos due to an unintentional misty effect on my lens, it was a little rainy on the walk there and the lens fogged up! For those more talented photographers out there any recommendations for remedying this?
The gluten free bread was of a very high standard. Some of you may be familiar with the problems that result from the omission of gluten in bread. It can often be crumbly and dry and can taste more like a savory cake than bread. Alternatively on the other side of the extreme, it can be hideously stodgy and heavy like a rock. This bread was crisply toasted on the outside with a soft and fluffy bread texture in the centre. There was no bitter or gluggy aftertaste. Positively one of the best gluten free breads I’ve eaten in a long time. The only downside was the butter served with the bread was very hard and impossible to spread.
I was happy to overlook the hard butter because piled upon my plate was fold upon fold of light fluffy scrambled eggs. They almost tasted aerated! The button mushrooms were meaty and firm, with generous lashing of EVOO and fresh thyme. The cumin roast tomatoes had caramelised into intense sweet deliciousness.
I enjoyed my breakfast so much I decided to get up half an hour earlier for the next two mornings so I could work my way through their menu prior to my return to Perth. The next morning I decided to step out of my predictable choice of anything eggie and ordered the cured ocean trout with fresh curd on gluten free with fresh avocado and tomato. Fortunately my camera was back in action this time to capture the brilliant colours that were arranged on my plate. Once again the toast wowed me and I savoured the enjoyment of trying to get a small amount of each ingredient with every mouthful. The trout was delicately soft and the tangy curd lightened the whole dish. As opposed to yesterday I didn’t feel overly full this time round which was an added bonus as Sydney Uni (where the Conference was held) was another good 40 minutes’ walk from Bills!
My final breakfast at Bills came a day late due to a minor accidental sleep on the following day. It’s surprising how just a three hour time difference can throw your sleeping rhythm quite out of whack! I’ve been remaining bright eyed and bushy tailed until far too late each evening. In order to have enough time to walk to Bills, have breakfast and then walk to Sydney Uni I need to get up by 6am – very difficult when you’re wide awake until all hours!
For my final breakfast I chose the soft boiled eggs with “toy solder” bread, fresh tomato and aged cheddar. This was my favourite and made me so chuffed I made the effort to return one more time. The thinly sliced strips of scrumptious gluten free toast were cut to the perfect size to dip into the gooey eggs and I was definitely in seventh heaven. I’m really looking forward to my next excuse to visit Sydney for a number of reasons and breakfast at Bills is one of them!
Check out my other Sydney posts hereBills 359 Crown Street, Surry Hills 2010 | (02) 9360 4762 | bills.com.au Price: $$ ($12-18.50 breakfast, $10.50-23 lunch)
Food: 4.5/5 (awesome GF toast, fresh produce)
Service: 4.5/5 (very efficient with a bit of funky)
Ambience: 4/5 (buzzing brilliant breakfast vibe)
Drinks: 4/5 (good eco-friendly coffee) Total: 17/20