It's become something of a tradition that I take my mother out for dinner for her birthday. I think it started a few years back when I didn't have any ideas for presents and thought that a meal out with the world's greatest son in the world would compare favourably with Ferrero Rochers and nighties with pictures of dogs on them.
I can safely say it has become a tradition because as early as a month out from her birthday, my mother was already asking leading questions about where I'd take her this year. My father also looked on eagerly, again hoping to tag along and score a free meal. I struggled this year because it's not an easy question to answer.
My friends and I have grown up in the cultural melting pot that Sydney has become in the last couple of decades, so there are nearly no cuisines or dishes that are off limits. But my parents are of another generation. Entire countries are ruled out for how unusual their trademark flavours are for people not accustomed to them. A hint of pink in a steak can cause a fear in my father so palpable that I can momentarily hesitate from sipping red wine, for fear that it's only red because it's full of botchelism.
So when I decided to take them to Sepia for my mum's birthday, I was stepping out on a bit of a limb. Any red meat would be... well... red, ingredients that weren't present in suburban Sydney in the 60s would be on the plate (probably emulsified with rare meat) and there was the off chance that communists would be somewhere in the restaurant. And if my memory from history class is correct, everyone that grew up in the 60 just plain DISLIKED communists.
I'd been to Sepia twice before, but both times for the business lunch. So even though I kind of knew what I was in for. I also kind of didn't.
Would I be kicked out of the family because of an offensive gel?
What I was pretty confident of was that the service would be excellent: both of my previous visits had been punctuated by warm, friendly service. This time, no difference. The staff are all so calm and friendly that you feel comfortable from the minute you walk in.
There had been a small change in the kitchen, with former head chef (and ex-Fat Duck chef) Graeme McLaughlin having headed to Melbourne to head up Guillaume Brahimi's Bistro Guillaume at Crown. But with Martin Benn and Daniel Puskas in the kitchen, the food is still going to be spectacular.
On my previous visit I'd tried the Spanner crab and buckwheat risotto. It's still spectacular. Rich and full of shellfish flavour, but light enough so that you feel like you could happily eat it for the rest of your life and not get tired.
A take on scallop sushi is art on the plate, with droplets of avocado cream and pickled ginger sauce the only distraction from a few plump scallops, cooked perfectly and totally black from what appears to be a dusting of nori.
Jerusalem artichokes are a fantastic combination with egg and mushroom, so it's no surprise that the dish is delicious. While the slow-cooked egg is perfect and incredibly tempting, it doesn't wow me like the other two entrees.
To avoid any red meat awkwardness I'd sold my parents on Sepia having spectacular seafood, being backed by George de Costi and all that. They take the bait (ed: terrible pun) and it's seafood all round.
The scampi tail and murray cod with a shellfish jus is spectacular. Perfectly balanced between the sweetness of seafood and the richness of the jus. It just "works" on the plate and it's probably my pick for dish of the night.
Slow cooked ocean trout is perfectly executed and the combination of flavours excellent. It's an exciting dish, proving that it's possible to do a dish of confit of ocean trout in Sydney that's actually exciting.
My choice of main was probably the worst dish of the night. King George whiting with broad beans (I think) and tapioca pearls sounded like the sort of thing I love, but was the lacking flavour that every other dish had. It was made interesting texturally because of the tapioca pearls and the fish was perfectly cooked, but that was about it. It made me think back to the mulloway I had at Bentley a couple of days earlier and how much I preferred that, which probably isn't a good thing.
A side of roasted kipfler potatoes was delicious, with a hum of vinegar giving it that extra kick.
Sepia's chocolate forest dessert is fairly well known, so that was a no-brainer. It's a deconstructed black forest cake that looks like a delicious forest. And it tastes like a delicious dish, with so many textures that every bite is an experience. It doesn't quite reach the heights of the terroir dessert at Attica in Melbourne, which set the benchmark for edible forests for me, but that's nitpicking.
The "weiss" bar combines different textures of white chocolate and raspberry, and totally wins because of the awesome dehydrated chocolate mousse on top.
I'm a huge fan of savoury/sweet dishes, so the candied beetroots on the dessert menu call my name. It combines beetroot in different forms (cake, sorbet, whole baby beetroot, sauce) and it's an excellent combination of textures, flavours and inventiveness. The savoury "root" flavour of the beetroot still comes through which I thought could put some people off, but my parents both enjoy it, which speaks volumes.
We head out and I appear to have solidified my position in the family, which is great news. I've also gotten a fantastic meal in the process.
While I wouldn't rate Sepia as highly as the likes of Quay and Marque (my clear top 2), it sits with the best of the rest. I can see myself coming back soon to finally have the degustation. And for the business lunch. And for the wine bar. And maybe again for the a la carte.
RATING: Will return to [?] (unchanged)