First review, so why should I skimp, hey? I mean, this is going to be a first class review of a first class restaurant on what is (trust me) going to turn into a first class blog. It’s all very black and white. It had to be a hatted restaurant. It had to be a restaurant, which continuously polishes and re-polishes the little gold plaque above the bar that reads “Restaurant of the Year.” So it had to be Sepia. Despite its name, it never fades. The accolades are numerous.
As the name would predict, the fit-out is faded. But it’s beautiful and simple. With a modest elegance to it, it’s that’s refreshing for a place where you would expect opulence and pretension. The monochrome pallet draws a big thumbs-up from me. Only thing I have to say is that it was a bit too loud for my liking (but, then again, it was lunch).
So Sepia is brainchild of French-trained, but heavily Japanese-influenced, chef Martin Benn, whose very willingness to experiment with traditional flavors in the current market for “the culinary sciences” makes Sepia hit the top of that Good Food Guide again, and again. But does the opulent, traditional fit-out of plush carpet, marbled chiaroscuro everything really complement the food? Maybe, maybe not. But who really cares, right?
Alex and I decided to go with the ten course degustation (190$pp) and opted out of the matched wines because 1) we’re both light weights, 2) why the hell would we want to pay 155$ for wines we really can’t tell between. So we started with an Adelaide Hills champagne (which was stellar, by the way) because champagne. Our sommelier was a bit standoffish, which wasn’t cool but we rolled with it and he opened up.
Course 1: Optional Oysters
Now because Alex is obsessed with oysters (knocks back four dozen at a seafood buffet… and still has room for other food) and because we were there for Alex, we had to have oysters. While expensive, as an optional course, they were worth it. Arriving on a bed of ice, slimy, oyster-y goodness was lifted to the heights of food-heaven by the fresh zing of the rice wine and lime vinegar. Light, tasty, we’re good to go.
Course 2: Amuse Bouche
Literally translating to “amuse your mouth” and damn, did this amuse my mouth. A beautiful wooden spoon was set down next to me, while a tiny little jelly-like object floated on the center of a gorgeous broad white plate: “Eel teriyaki with Japanese omelet.” Well shit that was good. I’ve never had eel before, this didn’t taste like what one would expect from a slimy eel though. The star of the dish was that omelet though, as smooth and silky as a baby’s bum.
Course 3: Yellow fin tuna sashimi
The kind of course that makes you want to whack your iPhone against the table because it just can’t capture the beauty of this
dish art.. A delicate circle of the best sashimi I’ve ever had in my life (tasted like soft waves of the ocean) on a bed of Jamon Iberico cream (!), decorated with so finely sliced radishes I could die and little spots of apple and wasabi gel. Absolutely gorgeous to look at, absolutely amazing to eat. Perhaps my favorite dish. All this was topped off with pork crackling, something I was hesitant about. But when it’s more crackle than pork you just roll with it. A little circle of absolute, fishy, perfection.
Course 4: House-made Chèvre
I remember while eating the sashimi thinking, “nothing can top this.” And then, the next course comes out and it’s… chèvre. Cheese. My kryptonite. Except I’ve never eaten anything like this. This was the silkiest, smoothest, softest, subtlest-ly flavoured chèvre, I’ve ever eaten. And I mean, I spent 2 months in France. Except it’s not just the cheese, it’s the entire dish. It’s its entourage: rhubarb jelly, a powder of beetroot and rye, and Linaria flowers. Wow. Texture. Flavour. Subtle, but there. Amazing. Alex wasn’t as smitten. But I really like cheese and beetroot.
Course 5: Butter poached Spanner Crab
Now this, this, this. Where to start? This is the dish we imagine Benn serves his kids when they’re sick. This is like fine dining chicken soup. This is spanner crab, so soft it comes apart when you stick the gorgeous wooden spoon in your mouth, on a bed of silken tofu, in a pool of a chrysanthemum and Kabu cream (?), fried garlic and tatsoi, cute little Asian greens. While all a bit rich and creamy for me (lactose intolerance woot), Alex melted from his seat.
Course 6: Western Australian Marron
Unfortunately nothing too special. I don’t really get marron, it’s like a big prawn. While still soft I feel like it could have been a bit tenderer and the flavours were a tad flat. Nothing really special, you know? It was served with kombu butter (kombu is a type of seaweed), and native sea vegetables, but the little surprise was the candied lemon aspen. A chewy, fresh zing that kind of lifted the dish.
Course 7: Charcoal grilled David Blackmore Wagyu Karubi
So a Karubi is like Korean BBQ (if my research serves me right) and one might think why does the title contain a hyperbole of charcoal and grill? Well the reason is because the char on this delicately awesome wagyu was absolutely prime. Prime beef, prime cooking, prime assembly: little squares of the perfect balance of pink and black, on a bed of miso mustard, served with Japanese pickles (looking like little bits of delicious coral!) and ice plant (some weird crunchy green thing). Great, better than the marron, not as spectacular as courses 3-6. Oh yeah, we were finally offered bread at this point – I’m a bread person but I was a bit disappointed, bit sweet, and flat and boring. Nothing special. But oh well it just takes up stomach room.
Course 8: Seared Mandagery Creek Venison
Now a quick google revealed venison is game. We expect those things to be kinda tough hey? Hell no, not this one. This was seared to absolute perfection. Don’t kill me but I never have my meat rare (always spot on the medium) so, not gonna lie, I freaked a bit when I saw how bloody this was. But oh god was it good on the bed of Saikyo miso and Jerusalem artichoke (I think this was in the base…), served with big, fine leaves of roasted Japanese pumpkin, with a good dosing of Sansho pepper. Once again not my favorite, but not my least favorite. The char on the wagyu takes the Best Meat Dish prize for me.
Course 9: Optional (Pfft) Cheese Course
Now why they write optional next to cheese dishes is utterly incomprehensible to me. Like seriously, why would you not??? This. Was. Amazing. Grated comté with little btis of roasted endive formed a soft cheesy canopy on which a roasted pear shell sat. Seemed like nothing from the outside (if anything I was just happy at the healthy serving of comté we were given – that shit is so expensive at DJ’s Food Hall). But then with a healthy little push on the shell, it burst and there was an outpouring of a Gruyere sorbet… an oozy cheesy mess… oh lord. I died right there. Texture play. Temperature play. Winner.
Course 10: Pre-Dessert Palate-Cleanser
Well this was fun, a little sheep’s milk roll of sorbet with beautiful alpine strawberries. A fantastic, fresh take on strawberries and cream – and nice to see something different to the standard ice granita palate cleanser featured at a degustation.
Course 11: Spring Chocolate Forest
Okay now while everyone always goes on about this dessert (and while I admit it photographs too well for a dessert) I was slightly disappointed. The blackberry sorbet was lovely but slightly lacking in flavor, and the cinnamon and licorice overpowered the dish a bit much for me. While the hazelnut and almond praline bits, and the lavender and honey cream were beautiful I feel like there was just too much going on.
Course 12: Japanese Stones
Now I’m a good girl. I’d done my reading before I went to Sepia. And featured absolutely everywhere as a dish that “was reserved for VIPs, friends of the chef’s, regulars or bloggers:” Japanese stones – little milk chocolate stones (shaped to perfection!) filled with a lottery of passionfruit cream, a sour cherry gel, or chocolate cream. And because I’m Ceren and I’m special I asked for it on the sly. And 40$ later it was on my table. By god was it worth it. Crafted to perfection, absolute decadence – this is what Sepia is known for. My favorite was, hands down, the passionfruit. Sour punch! If you’re brave enough to order to/lucky enough to be given it do yourself a favours and mix the chocolate with the cherry for full flavour enhancement.
So there we go. Sepia Restaurant. Three hats for a god damn reason.
Sepia Restaurant & Wine Bar
201 Sussex St
Sydney, NSW 2000