Travelling to Sydney presented a bit of a dilemma to the boy and I… that being what fine dining restaurants would we visit during our brief time there? We sat down one night before flying out to create a shortlist – Quay, Momofuku, Tetsuya’s and Aria. Since the trip was booked quite last minute and we had only one real night available to dine out due to an awards ceremony on the first night and the Lion King musical on the last, our options were limited.
Quay was definitely the favourite in our eyes but as can be expected, had no tables available for us (they’re booked out for most of the year I heard!). Momofuku has a small window for booking which suited us better (they only accept bookings up to 20 days I think) but still didn’t work out. So that left us with Tetsuya’s and Aria. We decided on the latter since Matt Moran’s cooking style is one I really admire – paddock to plate, nose to tail and with utter respect for both the produce and the producers.
Thankfully the stars aligned and we managed to snap up a 7.30pm Friday night booking!
Arriving on the dot we stepped into the plush restaurant which was warm and welcoming. It was so frigidly cold outside so we were dying to get out of the wind!
Walking to our table I note how big the restaurant is and how it’s such a prime location at the harbour. As we’re seated next to the window we’re both pleased to see that we have a great seat – looking right out onto the water. How beautiful!
Presented with the menu for food and wine we make our choices after about 10 minutes of deliberation. It’s hard to decide when there’s some great sounding options. We know we could leave it up to Aria with the full degustation, but reading the menu we’re both really drawn to dishes that aren’t included in the dego so we instead opt for the $155 four course menu where we get to choose each of our dishes.
After we place our orders, the menus are whisked away and replaced with an amuse bouche to start us off. A little goats cheese, black quinoa and fruit pops in my mouth with vibrancy, creaminess and just enough zing to get my mouth watering. My tastebuds are definitely ready to go at this point.
Once we’ve finished the amuse bouche, we’re offered some bread to munch on with two different types of butter – house churned plain butter or dashi and seaweed butter. The bread is sourced from a local bakery and is so fresh, crunchy on the outside and airy on the inside. I love the standard butter which is creamy and rich, and Jeremy adores the dashi butter which has that great Asian spin on the flavours.
Not long after eating our bread, out comes the first actual course for the evening. There’s five dishes to choose from, but in this instance Jeremy and I are in agreement that there are two standout dishes attracting our attention.
We each pick our favourite of the two. He’s selected the warm marron tail with bello rosso tomatoes and lemon verbena. Immediately I notice just how beautifully plated it is, with the marron tail and claw both taking centre stage. The colours are warm and inviting, as is the lemon scent.
For course two, Jeremy immediately picks the dish I was quite drawn to also – the Kurobuta pork neck with Persian feta, lemon confit and espelette pepper. We like to order different dishes for meals like this but luckily we’re always all too happy to share with one another.
I really like this dish. The pork is fatty and tender, melting in my mouth. There’s a generous helping of that luscious Persian feta which is creamy and dream like. A winning flavour combination for all elements on the plate.
My dish for the second course is the pressed Holmbrae duck and foie gras terrine with quince and cashew nut lavosh. Terrines aren’t usually a dish I order, but I was intrigued to see what Aria’s version would be like. The answer is very good. Soft, tender duck and sour quince work hand in hand. I really like the lavosh which is extremely crisp and flavoursome.
The third course for both Jeremy and I are the standouts for the night. This is a pleasant surprise because usually I find entrees rather than mains being the highlight of a meal.
My boy’s choice of the roasted lamb chop and ragu with crispy lamb’s brains and curly kale is wonderful. The lamb is so completely juicy and cooked rare which we both enjoy our meat being. The meat comes straight off Matt Moran’s father’s farm which is acknowledged at the front of the menu along with thanks for all other farmers and producers.
The lamb’s brains are crunchy and hot, with that lovely creamy quality. I really like the ragu on the plate which has built up levels within the flavours and is heartwarming.
As our mains are placed on the table, complimentary sides of paris mash and a mixed lettuce salad with vinaigrette are provided too. The running of dinner here reminds me greatly of Print Hall with the degustation verses four course menu – there too we received complimentary sides.
When mashed potato comes out to the table and is more yellow than any other colour you have to know it’s going to taste damn good. So much butter! The potato has that whipped, stretchy sort of texture to it, with each mouthful offering decadence in a non-confronting or unrecognisable manner. I could have happily polished off the whole bowl to myself.
The salad is zingy and fresh, with lots of varying leaves to crunch down on. I really enjoy it, and the way it cuts through the richness of the starchy potato.
There’s no second thought when it comes to my choice for course three. The slow cooked Cornucopia egg with broccoli, macadamia nuts and black truffle sounds like a dish made for me. I love, love, love slow cooked egg dishes and this one definitely exceeded all expectations.
Unctuous, well seasoned egg sits atop a round of buttery brioche toast. The broccoli is in a few different forms on the plate – the stem of the bigger plant sliced down and grilled to a toasty consistency, stems of broccolini and also a puree. Sprinkled on top are cuttings from the top of broccoli to offer some added texture to the egg.
The black truffles shaved on top are heavenly – earthy, decadent and the perfect contrast to the other elements.
For me, this was the dish of the night.
After the high of the mains I was nervous to see whether the sweet end of our dinner would live up to the satisfaction I felt after eating that wonderful egg.
The palate cleanser that preceded dessert was a passionfruit granita with yoghurt foam and flecks of cranberries. Cold, crunchy, tart, sweet, creamy. This was a fantastic palate cleanser and a nice deviation from your standard sorbet.
Thankfully for both of us, the amazingness of the mains and palate cleanser is continued with dessert. Hooray!
My final dish for the evening is the strawberry crumble soufflé with rhubarb gelato. Coming to the table in a simple copper pot it looks a treat. As the gelato is spooned into the centre I can see how soft and fluffy the texture is. Diving in I’m soon tasting the light as air cake which has strawberry flavouring, and also actual strawberries throughout. It’s love.
The crumble on top adds some necessary crunch to most bites so it feels like a cross between a strawberry crumble and a soufflé. The gelato is both sugary and sour, with a silky texture.
Jeremy’s dessert of Valrhona chocolate ganache with raspberries and warm chocolate doughnuts looks amazing. When I spied this on the menu I knew instantly this was the dish he’d pick – he’s a sucker for rich chocolate desserts whereas I often gravitate towards fruity ones.
The ganache is so rich and velvety; the raspberries offering the right amount of tartness to cut through. I love the tiny little chocolate doughnuts which are perfectly cooked and rolled in sugar to make them the perfect bite sized treat. The tempered chocolate shards also shatter with a satisfying snap as he makes his way through them.
By the end of dinner we’re feeling really comfortable and relaxed. The view is twinkling with all the lights in the harbour area, and though we can hear the wind howling outside, the skies are still clear. It’s been 2 and a half hours since we started and we’re just about ready to finish up when a gorgeous plate of petit fours are brought out for us to enjoy.
Consisting of a berry jube, peppermint chocolate snap, passionfruit marshmallow, caramel ball, sesame tuille and mini lemon meringue pie, this was a great way to finish our dining experience at Aria. The best are definitely the tuille and meringue pie – I’d happily would have had a few of each of those if I were feeling greedy!
All up I really enjoyed Aria and it’s breathtaking sights and food. The first course might not have completely won me over but everything got better and better throughout the night. For a vegetarian main like my egg one to impress my boy, you have to know it’s really a great one since he adores his meat. I’m so glad that we managed to sneak in this fine dining experience on our little whirlwind trip to Sydney!