This is the meal I’ve been most looking forward to on our Sydney trip. Quay Restaurant is one of Australia’s most awarded and prestigious restaurants, ranked No.26 in the S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants. The restaurant boasts a prime location with breathtaking views of Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. You have to book months in advance to get a table, especially on Friday or Saturday night. Of course, a restaurant’s food speaks to me more than awards ever could; Executive Chef Peter Gilmore’s dishes are known for being original and imaginative, precisely crafted to celebrate the beauty of nature and tantalise the senses.
I especially can’t wait to taste Quay’s snow egg dessert, made famous on Masterchef Australia. But let me start this story at the beginning.
Juji, Jay and I are here for lunch on a Thursday. The dining room is sumptuous, with large windows that look out onto the harbour. It’s a view that makes me feel awed… and lucky to be here.
On one page of the menu are personal acknowledgements of the farmers, growers, providores and their contributions to Quay’s dishes. Even the providers of the handmade ceramics are named, and we admire the elegance of the serving dishes throughout the meal.
Options for lunch are 3 courses for AU$125 per person, 4 courses for AU$145 per person or AU$220 for an eight-course tasting menu. We decide to go for broke and choose the eight-course tasting menu.
We start with drinks. I have a Sunlight Surprise – lychee syrup seasoned with lime and topped with soda (AU$12).
Juji has the cutely-named Melonie, made with fresh watermelon juice and apple and cranberry muddled and shaken with lemon juice and elderflower cordial (AU$12).
Jay orders a mojito, refreshing and lushly green with fresh mint leaves.
My excitement grows as beautiful mother of pearl spoons are placed on the table. Shortly afterward, we’re served an amuse bouche that isn’t on the menu – a delicate ginger milk curd with lobster broth poured at the table.
Raw native freshwater marron, young almonds, bergamot marmalade, pomelo, green mango, elder, chamomile
The ornate fork and spoon we are given for this course have an almost regal charm.
The delicacy of this dish is evident in its intricate detail and plating, even before we taste it. The marron tastes sweet and fresh. The tiny pomelo pods burst under my teeth to release their citrusy juice.
Mud crab congee, fresh palm heart
The mud crab congee smells incredible. Floating in the broth is the sliced palm heart and a liquid egg custard.
Right at the bottom is the rice porridge and fresh crab meat. It’s the poshest rice porridge I’ve ever eaten, a bowl of perfection that leaves me wanting more.
Gently poached southern rock lobster, hand-caught Tasmanian squid, golden tapioca, lobster velvet
Before each of us, a closed dome is placed. The lid is lifted to reveal golden tapioca pearls on what looks like fresh noodles. That’s the superbly soft hand-caught squid. The juicy rock lobster and creamy lobster velvet just melt in the mouth. The tapioca pearls taste savoury, like they’ve been poached in stock.
After the third course is cleared, something unexpected happens.
There’s a strange loud creak quickly followed by a crash as part of the ceiling above our table falls down.
Yes, that’s right.
One of the shiny metal ceiling panels falls down. It whistles past Jay’s head and hits him in the shoulder before crashing to the floor between our table and that of a couple seated next to us. In just a matter of seconds, our table, with its once pristine tablecloth, is covered in grey dust. Around Jay’s chair especially there is twisted metal, broken glass, insulation and other debris. I hear someone at a nearby table say “Oh my God”. I turn to Juji and Jay to check that they are OK. They look as shocked and bewildered as I feel. Juji and I are clutching our cameras, which we’ve instinctively whipped away from our now unusable table.
The staff rush over, first making sure we are not injured, then usher us to a new table out of the sight of this ruined one. We no longer have a million-dollar view of the opera house (maybe now a $200,000 view). The people who were at tables closest to us have also been relocated. Everyone is so apologetic and keeps asking if we are OK. Fresh glasses of water are poured. I think we’re still in shock. We’d been so excited about dining at Quay. Our happy, relaxed mood has been rudely disrupted. We’re now feeling upset and unsettled. Juji’s not even sure if she feels like eating any more. I keep thinking about how close that panel came to landing on Jay’s head.
Then, to our surprise, Chef Peter Gilmore appears, having emerged from the kitchen. He apologises for what’s happened. He asks if we are all right, if we’ve been hurt in any way. Jay tells Peter he was hit in the shoulder, it’s a bit sore but should be OK (Jay’s a physiotherapist and is able to assess his injury). Peter assures Jay if he has any medical bills the restaurant will pay for them. If any of our clothing or possessions have been damaged, the restaurant will pay for cleaning or replacement. He explains that the building managers have been contacted and are on their way to investigate. It looks like the ceiling panel was not secured properly after recent maintenance work.
It’s feels surreal. On one hand, I’m sitting calmly listening to Peter apologise for what’s happened, but on the other hand, in my head I’m squealing “OMG, it’s Peter Gilmore!”
He organises a round of drinks for us and assures us the kitchen will get our meal back on track as soon as possible. He hopes we are OK and can still enjoy ourselves.
The gin and tonics ordered by Peter are just what we need. Personally, I am determined to try and enjoy the rest of my lunch at Australia’s top restaurant. I don’t want to think of Quay and feel like crying over what could’ve been. We’ve been waiting so long to get here and there’s absolutely no way I will leave without tasting that snow egg.
In a little while, fresh bread, butter and salt are brought to our table. Eating this wonderful bread with its crisp, crackly crust helps me feel a little more settled.
Smoked and confit pig jowl, shitake, shaved scallop, Jerusalem artichoke, juniper, bay
Peter comes out of the kitchen again to introduce this dish personally. At this point, he also tells us that our meal will be on the house. To be honest, I’m finding it hard to focus on his words – I guess I’m more rattled by the incident than I thought. I also never expected to be lavished with the personal attention of one of Australia’s top chefs. Or maybe I’m just gobsmacked by the news our entire eight-course meal will be on the house. I manage to squeak, “Thanks, Peter.”
He leaves us to enjoy the pork, which is achingly tender.
We don’t see Peter again, but maitre’d Robert Moon looks after us personally for the rest of the meal.
Slow cooked coturnix quail breast, stone-ground semolina enriched with Alba truffle butter, buckwheat, farro, walnuts, pumpernickel, malt
Initially I can’t see the quail but upon closer examination I see it’s there, an almost teardrop-shaped piece of breast, cooked rare. The grains add crunch and help cut down the richness of the quail and truffle butter-enriched semolina. The puffed farro and quinoa make very fancy rice bubbles indeed. It looks like a strange crusty creature but it’s delicious.
Pure-bred wagyu, bitter chocolate black pudding, oxtail consomme
The pure-bred wagyu is served sitting on top of the black pudding. We watch in anticipation as hot oxtail consommé is poured over the beef.
It doesn’t look like much but the beef is unbelievably juicy, combining with the rich broth and black pudding to make one of the most intensely meat-flavoured dishes I have eaten.
White nectarine snow egg
We all know what’s next and I can hardly contain my excitement when the waiters approach with our snow eggs.
The “egg” sits on a bed of white nectarine granita with white nectarine purée and custard. It has a yolk of white nectarine ice cream encased inside soft white meringue, all enclosed in a shell made from maltose tuile dusted in icing sugar.
Besides the actual eating, my greatest pleasure is tapping on the snow egg with my spoon to crack the shell open. The textures are sensational. The pillowy meringue melts in the mouth. The tuile is crunchy. The granita is icy-cold, fruity and refreshing. It’s absolutely stunning, even better than I had imagined and like no other dessert I have ever eaten. For all the complexity in its construction, it’s a wonderfully light dessert, and it’s easy to understand why it has been served as the first of the two dessert courses.
The menu at Quay changes regularly, and the fruit flavours used in the snow egg vary, depending on what’s seasonal/available. On Masterchef, the finalists made guava and custard apple snow eggs. I’ve seen jackfruit snow eggs featured on other food blogs. As we eat our snow eggs I tell the others of my ultimate snow egg: the durian snow egg…
Ewe’s milk ice cream, caramel, roasted walnuts, prune, Pedro Ximenez, chocolate bark, pulled toffee, vanilla milk skin
After the spectacular snow egg, the dairy-based second dessert is almost an anticlimax. But it’s got its own unique and interesting textures and tastes to discover. I especially enjoy the chewiness of the chocolate bark and the melt-in-the-mouth crepe paper-thin vanilla milk skin, dotted with specks of black vanilla. The ewe’s milk ice cream is wonderfully smooth and creamy.
We have tea and coffee and chocolate truffles – Amadei chocolate crisp with Amaretto, and roasted hazelnut and caramel dusted with palm sugar.
We fill out incident report forms, describing what happened to the best of our recollection. We don’t mind doing so.
Before we leave, Robert gives each of us a copy of the Quay book, autographed by Peter Gilmore himself. We see Quay books being given to the other customers whose meals were disrupted by the incident too.
For me, it’s been the most jaw-dropping dining experience, for so many reasons, some entirely unexpected.
It’s been an epic lunch; it’s after 5pm by the time we leave the restaurant. Thank you to Peter Gilmore, Robert Moon and all the staff who made our meal so memorable for all the right reasons, before and after the ceiling panel fell down. Accidents and freebies aside, it’s been an amazing meal and I’m glad we stayed to see it through. The food was exquisite, intriguing, delicious and impeccably presented. The service was outstanding. I do appreciate that the incident was upsetting for the staff too.
It’s important to note that it was only around the 5th or 6th course, long after Peter had told us our meal was on the house, that Robert the maitre’d remarked on our dedicated photographing of each course, and Juji and I told him that we’re food bloggers from Perth. So the impressive way we were treated following the incident was certainly not based on knowing “who we were”.
It feels like we’ve been in an extraordinary other world when we finally step out into the sunshine.
I think it’s fair to call our lunch at Quay a once in a lifetime experience. Have you had a restaurant dining experience you’d call “once in a lifetime”?
Lunch – Tuesday to Friday 12 noon to 2.30 pm
Dinner – Monday to Sunday 6pm to 10pm
I went to Sydney with my sister Juji and her fiancé Jay in November 2011.
See the list of posts so far, in reading order. There’s still more to come.
PS. A few people have asked me about the pronunciation of “Quay” – the quirks of the English language strike again – it’s pronounced “key”.