The year was coming to a close, and we’d worked pretty hard. Which was actually no different to any other year. But it was time to mark a big year with a dinner of appropriate gravitas. So one Friday night a bunch of us do a comparatively early runner from the office and head to the much lauded, much awarded Sepia, where I haven’t been for quite a few years.
It’s an oddly shaped dining room – which can happen when you decide to put a fine dining restaurant at the bottom of an office block after the fact – and they’ve made the most of it; the compact bar area is lovely with two small dining areas on either side. The very smooth, professional staff, who through the evening gently try and diffuse our guffaws and high fives and general excitement (we don’t get out much) are knowledgeable and patient. The sommelier is very helpful with Sepia’s well thought out and not too cumbersome wine list, and happily works within the price range we give him.
We are offered some oysters as a start and they are superbly fresh with a tangy lime dressing. The one non oyster eater on the table (being A Tea with the Queen, a slight flaw in her otherwise excellent taste) asks for some bread instead and this perfect sphere of butter is bought to the table with a soft, fluffy bread roll. A discussion about Great Butters ensues (I know I know, very trivial, but that night we needed trivial over complex financing arrangements) – the Tetsuya truffle, the Rockpool creamy, the Guillaume Myrtleford, the Scarpetta mascarpone (though you will have to travel to New York for this last one).
What stands out over the course of the twelve dishes we try in particular are two things – firstly, that Martin Benn and his team know not only how to make food look so beautiful that it takes anticipation up a notch; and secondly, they really know how to nail it on texture. Add these to some unique flavour combinations and you end up with a pretty impressive dining experience.
The savoury dishes are below but the scampi dish leaves the table in total (temporary) silence as it is so good we don’t want any disturbance. The waitstaff are hugely relieved at this juncture and probably wondering if they can just bring us another five of these; and the venison is stellar – this coming from a non-venison eater (some Bambi issues from childhood). Cutting the David Blackmore wagyu is like cutting butter, and I adore the crunch of the pork crackling with the tuna.
Our seven savoury courses are
Seared bonito, roasted chicken cream, sobacha
Sashimi Yellow Fin tuna, goat milk chevre, avocado, pink beauty radish, pork crackling
Hokkaido sea scallop, spiced tomato, horseradish, kombu, aged feta, olive oil
Seared smoked Saikou salmon, garlic cream, baby onion, seaweed poweder, momiji leaf
Western Australian scampi scented with Japanese curry, apple, sheep yoghurt, mushroom
Grilled David Blackmore wagyu, salt pickled cucumber, native sea vegetables, chestnut mushroom, wasabi leaf butter
Seared Mandagery Creek venison, sansho pepper, roasted pumpkin, miso, artichoke
We then move on to the desserts. Like with the savoury, there are wonderful textural elements everywhere and clearly some quite incredible skill. None of them are overpoweringly sweet which I like, though we do find the chocolate forest a little too rich when paired with the other desserts we have. We are lucky that evening to try the Pearl and the Japanese Stones, a couple of desserts that aren’t currently on the menu. We look at them in awe. How do they make them? How are those stones so perfect?
The Sepia Pearl is one of Martin Benn’s signatures. I read that it took him three months to get the shell so fine. Three months! Tap it gently and it explodes, inside containing finger lime pearls, frozen ginger, lime sherbert and lime cream.
Citrus – mandarin, blood orange, yuzu, dai dai, sudachi, thyme flowers
Milks – coconut, rice, cow, sheep, goat, soy
Spring chocolate forest – soft chocolate, hazelnut and almond, lavender and honey cream, blackberry sorbet, shisho vinegar jellies, green tea, licorice, chocolate twings, bronze fennel
Sepia Japanese stones. Made with cocoa butter and frozen with liquid nitrogen, these look like actual stones from the garden. Ours are filled with chocolate, passionfruit cream, and raspberry jelly
The only little let down of the evening? Probably the cocktails. As we are ordering, A Tea with the Queen says, “I hope they bring us beautiful glassware, a cocktail isn’t quite the same in a boring glass”. And the glasses, though probably fine crystal, are indeed boring, and not fitting for a $32 cocktail. Well, nobody’s perfect. In every other sense, this is a meal you should experience at least once.
Sepia, 201 Sussex St Sydney, Phone 02 9283 1990