Did the fat lady sing? – ARIA Sydney
Restaurant: ARIA Sydney
1 Macquarie St, Sydney, Australia
Owners: Matt Moran & Bruce Solomon
Head Chef: Ben Turner
Awards: 2 hats – 2015
The Foodie Mookie crew have been diligently working their way through the Good Food Guide’s hatted restaurants in Australia (hence you see us mention the hats in our intros). We have only a few left on the 2 hat list with ARIA Sydney one of the last ones. Like a perfectly crafted song, ARIA hit all the right notes on a night that had that beautiful mix of great food, great view, great service and great company. I’m still ruing that I’d left it so long to enjoy the experience.
ARIA is the flagship restaurant of the highly respected MorSol headed by Matt Moran and his business partner Bruce Solomon. The magic in the kitchen is lead by Ben Turner (recently promoted to Group Chef for all the MorSol restaurants, congrats Ben). The menu is based on seasons and is skewed to the sea with a nod to Australia’s multiculturalism. The venue itself is spectacularly perched across from the Sydney Passenger Terminal with a bird’s eye view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Opera House and fellow fine dining restaurant, Quay. The decor is warm, and the windows are tall to make the most of the enviable vista.
Since I was curious about the chef’s seasonal menu, I easily convinced the crew to partake in the Chef’s Seasonal Tasting Menu, which was seven courses with amuse bouche, palette cleanser and petit fours added in. The portions were very generous, so this was not a Tasting Menu that required late night trip for ‘second dinner’ after leaving hungry. The first dish of ‘Saikou salmon* with apple, dill and horseradish‘, immediately reminded me of a dish I’d tried at Tetsuya’s in Sydney over 10 years back – his signature dish of cured trout and seaweed. I smiled at the good memory and took a bite. It was a dish all of its own, with no comparison in flavour. The salmon was fresh and clean however the radiating inhalation from the horseradish cream was stunning; like a puff of freshness that alerted your senses so you paid attention to the deliciousness (sounds like an ad, sorry, it was really nice). I was awake and paying attention.
Each dish that ensued was unique on its own with flavour combinations that were familiar and yet new. Like the ‘Smoked duck breast with beetroots and nigella seeds‘ – Gamey, sweet, salty, crunchy with a surprise ice plant (read succulent). Duck and beetroot is a combination I’ve seen a number of times (venison and beetroot as well) and yet the treatment in terms of cut, preparation, cooking method and plating created something new.
After this order of dishes – Salmon – Moreton Bay Bug – Smoked Duck – Pink Snapper, I was thrown by a meatless dish of ‘King Oyster mushroom with roasted garlic, potato and new season black truffle.’ Already the dishes would normally be out of order with duck before snapper. The flavour of the mushroom was rich and robust, almost meaty. The truffles (which are everywhere at the moment as it’s truffle season) were shaved over the top. Now I must confess that I am a rare fine foodie who struggles with truffle (particularly truffle oil). I find the flavour can be overwhelming and linger far too long. In this dish it was quite the opposite. The truffle was delicate almost to the point of being overpowered by the mushroom and its jus. Combined it was a beautiful dish, that I thoroughly loved and renewed my interest in attempting truffle again.
An extra mention must go to the dessert – ‘Mandarin with white mulberries and yoghurt‘, like an opera coming to an inevitable conclusion it was memorable, bittersweet and left you on a high note that makes you want to start all over again.
Did the fat lady sing at ARIA? Oh she sang, sang for her supper and she loved every minute of it.
* Saikou Salmon is salmon that is eco-sustainably farmed high in the Alps in the South Island of New Zealand.