"When I was really young, I think my mum tried to feed me oysters and I threw up," says Peter Gilmore. The chef's oyster aversion has lasted so long he's kept them off the menu at Quay for 17 years. It's not the flavour, which he says he loves, but the texture that puts him off. With the harbourside Sydney restaurant reopening after its first big renovation, Gilmore thinks it's time to change his ways: the new menu opens with a dish called Oyster Intervention, which showcases everything he loves in oysters, minus the bits that unsettle him.
Gilmore takes a ceramic shell by Studio Jam's Jacqueline Clayton and Paul Davis, fills it with an oyster cream, then tops it with crackling made from a crushed deep-fried sheet of dehydrated oysters, chicken skin and tapioca. He finishes it with oscietra caviar "for that burst of umami and sea flavours". It's his dream version of oysters, served with a handcrafted mother-of-pearl spoon.
Like most of the relaunched Quay menu, it's a completely new creation. "The Snow Egg is gone, the congee is gone," Gilmore says. One keeper: the pork belly and scallop dish that he's been remixing since first serving it at De Beers at Whale Beach nearly 20 years ago. "It was my first recognisable dish on the menu when I joined Quay," he says.
There's also a dish of razor clam and smoked pig jowl with sea cucumber crackling that he might reintroduce at Quay: it was served to diners just before the restaurant closed for renovations. "The sea cucumber crackling took months to develop and I'm quite attached to it."
But the majority of the menu will be new experiments that he's been fine-tuning in the kitchen of nearby sister restaurant, Bennelong (Quay's cooking area was "completely flattened" at the time.)
"I want to come back with fresh dishes," he says. Usually he'll create nine new courses over the leisurely pace of a year, but he's fast-tracking this for Quay's reopening in mid-July – everything on the new menu will have been developed in just three months.
Quay's rebooted line-up will be served in a more intimate space (thanks to a reduced 80-person capacity and smaller seating sections), and, in good news for anyone worried a cruise ship will block your Opera House view as you dine, the restaurant will finally maximise its view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Quay, Upper Level, Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks, NSW, (02) 9251 5600, quay.com.au