The February issue

Our clean eating issue is out now, packed with super lunch bowls, gluten-free desserts and more - including our cruising special, covering all luxury on the seas.

Subscribe to Gourmet

Subscribe to Australian Gourmet Traveller and receive a free Gourmet Menus book - offer ends 26 February 2017.

Gourmet digital

Subscribe to Gourmet Traveller for your iPad or Android tablet.

Australia's top 20 rieslings
22.02.2017

We’re spoilt for variety – and value – in Australia when it comes to good riesling. Max Allen picks the top 20 from a fine crop.

Recipes by Christine Manfield
21.02.2017

As the '90s dawned, darling chefs were pushing the boundaries of cooking in this country. A young Christine Manfield, just starting out at this heady time, soon became part of the generation that redefined modern Australian cuisine. She shares some of her timeless signatures from the era.

Normandy landings
20.02.2017

To travel to Normandy along the Seine is to take it by stealth, writes Larissa Dubecki, who ventured forth in search of chateaux and Calvados.

Cirrus, Sydney review
20.02.2017

Cirrus moves the Bentley team down to the water and into more lighthearted territory without sacrificing polish, writes Pat Nourse.

How to grow rocket
20.02.2017

A vegetable patch without rocket lacks a great staple, according to Mat Pember. The perennial performer is a leaf for all seasons.

50BestTalks brings World’s best chefs to Sydney and Melbourne
16.02.2017

Massimo Bottura and more are coming to the Sydney Opera House.

Toby Wilson, Sean McManus and Jon Kennedy to open Bad Hombres
16.02.2017

Expect Mexican-Asian flavours and an all-natural wine list from two of Sydney’s edgier operators.

Local Knowledge: Moscow
16.02.2017

Director of Shakespeare theatre company Cheek by Jowl Declan Donnellan walks us through the essential sights and his favourite cafes and restaurants of his hometown.

Quay, Sydney restaurant review

If three stars weren’t enough, Peter Gilmore’s food at Quay has risen higher yet with a new degustation menu – and the views still rock.

Experience culinary perfection, the website said, and I'll be darned if that's not exactly what I did. I've visited every three-star restaurant in Australia in the past six or so months, putting together our national 2007 Restaurant Guide. (Tough job, I know.) If we were talking solely about the food of these places, I think I might nominate Quay as my favourite of the moment. Peter Gilmore's style of cooking, as it's highlighted through Quay's new signature menu (a seven-course degustation Gilmore introduced in mid-2006 after the kitchen was expanded to accommodate it), is so wholly formed, so complete in its conception, execution and presentation that to dine at Quay today is to see a gun chef coming to the height of his powers.

 

Gilmore's cooking obeys its own internal logic. His presentation is the most obvious expression of this, with its highly distinctive concern for geometry, symmetry and cleanliness of line. His constructions, though architectural in their fine sense of proportion and containment (no slashes, teardrops or squiggles of sauce here), are restrained and blessedly single-storey. Texture is another of Quay's keys. The amuse-bouche foreshadows this with the play between tiny balls of pink beetroot, goat's curd and truffle honey in a flavour-packed shot glass topped with violets. The course that follows makes me glad not to be a Quay apprentice. Dubbed 'Sea Pearls' on the menu, it turns out to be two spheres, each the size of a ping-pong ball. The darker one's a jelly made of dashi and contains petals of pearl meat and Sterling caviar. The lighter one's something more curious still: a nucleus of smoked eel brandade with a nubbly shell of tiny drops of tender-cooked eggwhite, each perfectly formed and smooth. Our waitress said that their method was a secret (an eye-dropper full of eggwhites, a pot of simmering oil, and a very, very patient kitchen team is my bet) but did divulge that each serve was 10 minutes' work for that part alone. The way it tastes and feels in the mouth, I'm afraid, is so good that I still wouldn't fret if they took 30 minutes apiece.

 

Gilmore's insight into the riches of the Cantonese canon is flagged with a pool of mud crab congee, the rice (split sticky rice in this instance) almost a supporting player to so much sweet, heavenly crab meat. It's topped with a slick of egg emulsion - a creamy not-quite-mayo-not-really-hollandaise that gives the dish body without overwhelming the crab flavour.

 

Slow-poached quail breast showcases Gilmore's interest in baby vegetables. Many of them, like the baby breakfast radishes and turnips - paired with tiny spring onions, an oloroso sherry reduction and the slightly odd baked milk skin - have been grown for Quay alone. And when I say baby, I mean neonatal. Like the matchhead-sized mushroom caps that accompany the confit of suckling pig. This is a rollicking ride of a dish, oomphy and delicate by turns, the flavours of ultra-crisp cubes of rare-breed pork belly tumbling over paper-thin slices of abalone and cuttlefish braised gently in ginger-infused oil, and handmade silken tofu accented with chive buds. It's just extraordinary.

 

Maybe it's an occupational hazard of the restaurant reviewing game, but I think I'm a bit over wagyu in the heavily marbled sense. Its almost overabundance on the plate inevitably leads to a hankering for a pint of Lipitor with a Mylanta chaser. Not so at Quay: beef has rarely been prettier than this tenderloin of Blackmore wagyu. It is poached, making for a lighter, finer taste, paired with little more than a glossy dash of spinach purée and a disc of butter infused with Tasmanian wasabi, the quality of its freshness more keen than hot - a perfect counterpoint to the meat.

 

This rave is not without its reservations. Service hasn't ever been a highlight of my Quay experiences, and it's here that it's seriously out of step with its peers. On the wine side of things, the rather expensive wine list is being managed well and the matches are bang on (the 2004 Curlewis 'Bel Sel' pinot is a marvel with the quail), but the wine service has yet to exhibit any of the really engaging qualities you would experience at some of the city's other establishments.

 

For my dollar, the room itself doesn't quite have it in terms of either the grandeur or electric atmosphere of some of our best dining rooms, nor the intimacy and attention to detail of others, settling closer to corporate-comfortable than anything truly special.

 

That said, the views really are incredible. There aren't any truly terrible tables, but book well in advance and be specific when you call to make the best of it. A table in the tower gives views of the bridge to the north, the house to the east, and the hypnotic traffic of the harbour beneath, something the sunset of an earlyish dinner reservation dramatises memorably.

 

Let's get back to the food. It's truly special stuff, and the best is still to come. That trademark obsession with shape and texture makes Gilmore a natural when it comes to dessert. The mille-feuille of caramelised raspberries that caps the signature menu - more toffeed than the menu's 'caramelised', and 'deux-feuille' would better describe its twin layers of fruit and dollops of rose-scented cream on crisp pastry - is very pretty. So much so that a local restaurant guide chose the dish for its cover. But I'd peg it as only middling in the Gilmore sweets rank. Anywhere else it would be amazing, but his talent with desserts (for my sweet tooth, only Yellow's Lorraine Godsmark, Circa's Philippa Sibley, Vulcans' Phillip Searle and Rockpool's Catherine Adams are on the same level) is such that it compares less favourably with his other triumphs, and I find myself thinking it's annoying to eat, beyond the fleeting kicking-over-the-sandcastle joy of making a mess of something beautiful.

 

I'd trade it in a heartbeat for the dish that precedes it in the degustation. Nothing more than a Riedel tumbler holding some granita and a scoop of ice-cream; I've had it in a few forms over the past year or so. Tonight it's mulberry granita paired with vanilla ice-cream. Lest that sound too prosaic, I should note that Gilmore took a break from the chef game a few years ago to do nothing but make ice-cream and ices for restaurants. It shows. Not only is this simple, transcendent dish, all textural harmony and swoon-making clarity of flavour, the standout of the menu, it's one of the things I've most enjoyed eating these past 12 months. It's all the more remarkable for its seeming simplicity. And who else uses mulberries? (Coda: the little chocolate cornet cylinders filled with caramel cream served as petits fours are also amazing.)

 

Out there and exciting, but not over-thought or overdone - that's the food that makes Quay one of our great restaurants. Envelopes may be pushed, but you don't for a second feel like a lab rat. It's inspired, leading-edge modern Australian food, but its flights of fancy aren't cloying in their sentiment or so obvious in their attempts at culinary irony as those of some contemporaries, yet there's enough of a playful nature to keep things from becoming too reverential or introspective. Achievement without overarching ego or cynicism. Let's hope it's a trend.


Quay

Upper level, Overseas Passenger Terminal, West Circular Quay, NSW, (02) 9251 5600, www.quay.com.au.

Licensed. Lunch, Tue-Fri, noon-2.30pm; dinner, Mon-Sun, 6pm-10pm. All major cards taken.

Prices Entrées $33-$36; mains $38-$52; desserts $20-$22. Signature menu $135 per person, $205 with matched wines.

Noise Just right.

Vegetarian Full vegetarian degustation, plus one à la carte entrée and main course.

Wheelchair access Yes.

Plus Peter Gilmore's food gets better and better - and the Harbour views are as good as ever.

Minus The service isn't up to speed (and the décor is frankly blah).

Quay

Upper level, Overseas Passenger Terminal, West Circular Quay, NSW, (02) 9251 5600, www.quay.com.au.

Licensed. Lunch, Tue-Fri, noon-2.30pm; dinner, Mon-Sun, 6pm-10pm. All major cards taken.

Prices Entrées $33-$36; mains $38-$52; desserts $20-$22. Signature menu $135 per person, $205 with matched wines.

Noise Just right.

Vegetarian Full vegetarian degustation, plus one à la carte entrée and main course.

Wheelchair access Yes.

Plus Peter Gilmore's food gets better and better - and the Harbour views are as good as ever.

Minus The service isn't up to speed (and the décor is frankly blah).

GT
Signature Collection

Find out more about the Gourmet Traveller Signature Collection by Robert Gordon Australia, including where to buy it in store and online.

Read More
Recipe collections

Looking for ways to make the most out of seasonal produce? Want to find a recipe perfect for a party? Or just after fresh ideas for dessert? Either way, our recipe collections have you covered.

See more
2017 Restaurant Guide

Our 2017 Restaurant Guide is online, covering over 400 restaurants Australia wide. Never wonder where to dine again.

See more

You might also like...

Bang, Sydney restaurant review

Panache could be a watchword for Bang, Surry Hills’ first fo...

Sydney's new cult burger, layer by layer

Sokyo's Chase Kojima's new project is something completely n...

Silvereye to close this August

Chef Sam Miller is heading back to the UK.

Back to the 1980s at Bennelong

A collection documenting the life of the Sydney Opera House ...

Chase Kojima's rice burger bar opens this week

Prepare to hold a new style of burger glory – wrapped in ric...

Ananas Bar & Brasserie

With a soundtrack laden with dance beats and a dark, moody ...

Balla

Pronounce it "bah-la" for Piedmont-born artist and composer...

Otto Ristorante

The best Italian cooking captures occasion and place, and R...

Papi Chulo

Sitting pretty on the Manly Wharf, Papi Chulo is a welcome ...

Pendolino

It's as discreet and romantic as any ristorante on a backst...

Popolo

Popolo is "for the people", and the people of the leafy eas...

Porteno

Get the skirt steak. Sure, the fire-licked pork and lamb of...

Prime

There's an almost monastic feel to the muted tones, sandsto...

Red Lantern on Riley

A chef's TV travelogue is a great appetiser, so diners at L...

Sake - Sydney

A spacious, dark-timbered room in a heritage-listed buildin...

get the latest news

Sign up to receive the latest food, travel and dining news direct from Gourmet Traveller headquarters.

×