Food News

First look: Quay’s newest dessert

Snow egg, white coral, the eight-texture chocolate cake – all have entered Quay’s dessert hall of fame. Now Peter Gilmore is hoping to replicate their sweet success with his latest and greatest final course.
A chocolate, coral-like mousse in a dark black bowl on a bench.

Quay's latest dessert, "chocolate: a moment in time". Photo: Nikki To

Nikki To (main)

Whenever Quay introduces a new dessert, executive chef Peter Gilmore feels the pressure. There are many moving parts that contribute to the fine-dining restaurant’s success: that priceless harbour view, the kitchen team’s panache for combining technique and play across the tasting menu.

But it’s the desserts that, for better or worse, achieve rockstar status thanks to a heady combination of reality television cooking shows and social media. See: the snow egg.

“It was an iconic signature dessert,” says Gilmore. “And so many people would come in for that dessert […] I knew the replacement had to be pretty spectacular.”

The last snow egg was served in 2018, and was followed by two smash hits: “white coral” and the “eight-texture chocolate cake”. Now, as Quay reopens for the first time since Sydney’s most recent lockdown, Gilmore’s hoping to repeat his past sweet successes with his latest dessert – “chocolate: a moment in time.”

What is it?

In essence, “chocolate: a moment in time” is a two-component dish of chocolate custard topped with a mound of aerated chocolate mousse.

The ingredients are simple enough: eggs, sugar, cream, and chocolate: 64 per cent Valrhona Manjari chocolate for the custard, 70 per cent Guanaja Valrhona for the mousse.

But the texture and technique are anything but, with Gilmore describing the dish as “probably one of the most difficult and frustrating things I’ve ever done when it comes to a dessert.”

Quay executive chef Peter Gilmore

(Credit: Nikki To)

The mousse

Gilmore and his team cycled through dozens of recipes to achieve the desired mousse texture.

“We must have done 30 or 40 experiments with different quantities of ratios [of chocolate, eggs, sugar and cream],” says Gilmore. “It’s quite amazing how many permutations you can actually do.”

The mousse is siphoned into a vacuum-sealed container with a one-way valve. The pressure caused by the air exiting the vac-packed machine makes the mousse expand to about five times its size. At this stage, it’s incredibly fragile, says Gilmore. “So a little bump or anything on the seal will [deflate] it straight away.” The mousse is (gingerly) taken to Quay’s blast-freezer until plating time.

The chocolate custard

During Quay’s three-hour service, the kitchen team prepares about four batches of the chocolate custard at staggered intervals, armed with an oven and a bain-marie.

When a batch is ready, it’s left to cool to room temperature. If the custard is refrigerated, it sets too much; left out for too long, it becomes heavy.

“It sets to a degree where it’s really luxurious; it’s the pure taste of chocolate at this beautiful point, texturally,” says Gilmore.

Plating up

The mousse and custard need to be at just the right temperature before they’re ready to be plated. Critically, the custard keeps its desired texture for a roughly 20-minute window.

“The custard’s cooling down to room temperature and the mousse is warming up to room temperature, and at that point we put them both together and serve them – hence the moment in time,” says Gilmore.

The custard is spooned into an obsidian-black bowl, hand-made in Tasmania by ceramicist Ben Richardson. Then, small spoonfuls of the aerated mousse are re-assembled atop the custard, so the diner experiences an equal ratio of mousse and custard with each bite.

A close-up of “chocolate: a moment in time”.

(Photo: Nikki To)

The moment in time

The dessert is rushed to the diner’s table. Then, magic happens.

“You’re actually tasting the chocolate in a really pure form […] And you think it would be heavy but it’s actually really light. It almost looks like a sponge cake but it’s lighter than air,” says Gilmore. “With the warmth of your mouth, the chocolate virtually disappears and leaves this beautiful chocolate essence in your mouth.”

It’s perhaps one of the beautiful contradictions of the dessert – that so much time, energy and chocolate could be expended in pursuit of a single, perfect, ephemeral moment.

“Chocolate: a moment in time” replaces another long-running crowd favourite, the eight-texture chocolate cake. Now, with the snow egg gone for good and white coral off Quay’s menu for the time being, it’s likely to receive near-instant celebrity status.

And that’s not all that’s new. Seven dishes on the signature eight-course dégustation are newcomers, designed by Gilmore in the month leading up to Quay’s reopening. Considering the restaurant typically only changes its menu with seasonal tweaks or the occasional new dish, the latest menu is the most radical shake-up to the restaurant since its 2018 renovations. But that’s just the way Gilmore wants it.

“You can’t just rest on your laurels, you’ve got to change,” he says. “And to be honest that’s the part of my job I love most: the challenge of the creation of new ideas and new dishes.”

Upper Level, Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks, NSW

Related stories