Of course the response was crazy. In March, when Quay announced it was retiring its famous snow egg, the Sydney restaurant's website traffic tripled and the phones rang off the hook. It is, after all, Australia's most famous restaurant dessert.
Chef Peter Gilmore first made it a decade ago, hatching an "egg" (it's more rounded than egg-shaped, but "snow sphere" doesn't have quite the same ring to it) filled with poached meringue and ice-cream topped with maltose tuile and served with granita and fool (that is, fruit folded through cream) in a Riedel tumbler.
The half-hemisphere moulds used to shape the meringue
"I imagined putting the two half-hemispheres together to [create] a globe. That image clicked in my head. How could I do that?"
It took him two months to nail the concept. The toughest aspect was the tuile. Originally, he made it with caster sugar, but it was a failure. "The toffee stuck to the top of your teeth". The solution? Maltose, which has a hard snap once you caramelise it, and doesn't have a habit of acting like sugary dentures.
Counting down to the last service at Quay.
Since the first snow egg, the flavour and fruits have changed more than 20 times, and the final variation, presented in April before Quay closed for renovations, featured pear, custard apple and mangosteen. But Gilmore says the original combination remains his favourite: guava fool and granita, and strawberry-guava and custard-apple ice-cream.
While most of his remixes of the dessert have been a success, he admits there are some ingredients he'll actively avoid. "I'll probably never make a kiwifruit snow egg."
Scooping vanilla ice-cream for the final snow egg
The frenzy around the announcement of the dish's retirement recalls the day the snow egg went from being a cult favourite to a pop-culture phenomenon. It was the challenge for the second season finale of MasterChef in the show's 2010 glory days, one of the most-watched moments in Australian television. "It had nearly 4 million viewers," says Gilmore. "It went ballistic."
Blowtorching the maltose tuile
The next day bookings spiked, Quay's site crashed and people queued outside the venue, hoping for a takeaway version. (The snow egg has always been an eat-in treat, of course, but Gilmore speculates that if he had sold them to go, he'd have made a cool million in sales over the years.) It accounted for 70 per cent of Quay's dessert orders right up to this year.
The last person to try the snow egg was a diner who had eaten more versions of the dessert than anyone else (she also wrote a school paper on the snow egg – she was obviously well qualified to do so).
Lowering the meringue "egg" into the glass
While proud of the dessert, and humbled by diners' reactions to it (customers have been known to shed a tear when it comes to the table), Gilmore says he's ready to move onto Quay's next phase. "A painter can't keep painting the same picture forever." And don't expect a revival. "I can promise that it won't ever come back on the menu at Quay." Could it follow the eight-textured chocolate cake, another former Quay signature, to sister-restaurant Bennelong? Here's hoping.
Quay will reopen in July 2018, following extensive renovations.