- When: June 2017
- Male DINK Rating: 11/15
- Female DINK Rating: 12/15
- Total Cost: $480; Food Cost: $350
Sepia was the last of three top-rated restaurants we dined at while in Sydney (the other two being Quay Restaurant and Tetsuya’s Restaurant). After being disappointed with Quay and then impressed at Tetsuya’s, we’d say that Sepia fits squarely in the middle.
Barely squeezing into Elite Traveler’s Top 100 Restaurants in the World list at #99, Sepia bills itself as having a contemporary menu that utilizes fresh ingredients, with a hint of Japanese influence. The menu focuses heavily on seafood, but due to the variety of offerings and preparations, we didn’t find it to be overbearing. In fact, the delicate and light seafood courses were a nice change of pace from many of the heavier (and very filling) tasting menus we’ve almost become accustomed to. Our meal was filling, but not overly so.
Before getting into the dishes, we’ll air our big complaints about Sepia – the service and the atmosphere. After being seated quickly (albeit very close to two other tables), we waited for an eternity before any waitstaff decided to grace us with a “hello, welcome” and provide us the menu. It’s not as if the waitstaff were not present – they stopped by our neighboring tables several times. After being given the menus and ordering, though, the service picked up a little but thereafter suffered from inconsistency. Some of the dishes were described well, while others were not, and some courses arrived in quick succession, while others took longer than we thought appropriate. Overall, the service was barely acceptable.
Our other demerit, which is completely a personal preference, was the atmosphere. The restaurant seemed like the “place to be,” giving off a very trendy vibe. The large bar area at the entrance, which was busy on the Friday night we dined at Sepia, was an unwelcome noise generator and, for us, a distraction from the meal. We enjoy a more intimate setting, though.
Nonetheless, we are generally here for the food, so let’s jump in:
The amuse-bouches arrived shortly after ordering, which consisted of four decent-sized bites (starting at the top, proceeding clockwise):
- Saikou salmon, smoked roe, sudachi, marigolds;
- Bonito, dash cream, purple yam, liberia;
- Tempura oba, smoked ama ebi, shell powder; and
- Toro, charred jalapeno pepper emulsion, water chestnut, nori, ponzu.
Female DINK immediately commented that the tempura “leaf” looked pretty. All the sea fare was top quality and had a delicate (almost too delicate) flavor. While the toro was delicious, the bite was a bit large, making it difficult to eat. Great presentation and a great start to the meal!
The first course arrived next – tuna, egg yolk, fromage blanc, unpasteurised soy sauce, wasabi. The tuna, unsurprisingly, was the star of this dish, again having great flavor. The accompaniments gave this dish a sort of calming feeling and the wasabi providing a touch of spice. We’re off to a good start.
Next up was scallop, macadamia nut and sake lees, candied pickled ginger, sake vinegar sponge, pea and horseradish. For such a long description, this dish was kind of lost on us, as were the flavors. The scallop itself seemed to be of a high quality, but the scallop seemed to be overwhelmed by the other ingredients. We’re fans of scallop, and we would have liked it to come out a bit more. A little too much going on in this dish to enjoy it.
The third course consisted of Hiramasa kingfish, eggplant dashi, yuzu. This dish had a great, simple presentation that foreshadowed the dish itself. Not eggplant lovers, we both enjoyed this dish. The yuzu and eggplant gave a nice combination of sweetness and hint of bitterness to compliment the very tasty kingfish. Another good seafood course.
The next course – deep sea Scarlet prawn, toasted milk bread, cauliflower, yuzu kosho, umeshu jelly, nori – was presented on a large, stiff leaf. First, the good: The prawn itself was perfectly prepared, having a nice sweetness and saltiness to it, and the remaining ingredients paired well. Now, the bad: The preparation did not lend itself to gracefully enjoying this course, as it was too large to eat in one bite and fell apart after taking a bite. Also, the utensil provided was chopsticks – appropriate for the dish, yes, but useful, no. If this were separated into two smaller portions, we would have enjoyed it more.
Leaving seafood behind and helping transition in the mains, the next course was smoked bone marrow, miso creme fraiche, butter fried potato, caviar. We both enjoyed this dish – the bone marrow was good and not overwhelmingly rich. However, Male DINK thought this dish was a strange transition course. Female DINK commented that it loosely reminded her of the “steak frites” that we had earlier this year at Burnt Ends in Singapore.
The sixth course was sansho roasted duck breast, apple and sheep yoghurt cream, pink lady apple, myoga, shies. While we agreed that the duck itself was tasty and well-prepared, our overall opinions on the dish diverged. Male DINK did not enjoy the sweet preparation with the yoghurt and apple, while Female DINK liked the addition of the apple and the sweetness it added.
The last savory course was charcoal grilled lamb breast, slippery jack mushroom, roasted garlic and miso emulsion buckwheat. After being underwhelmed by the previous course, Male DINK thoroughly enjoyed this one. The lamb was prepared well, and the mushroom and miso buckwheat were welcome additions. The dish had a strong and heavy flavor without being too oily or filling. Strong finish for the mains.
The first pre-dessert or palate cleanser was blackberry, nacho pear and yoghurt sponge, oolong tea cream, mulberry. Spongy! This was a fine few bites, if not the most flavorful dish. The sponge was a bit dry.
The next and final pre-dessert consisted of yuzu and koshihikari ice cream, coconut, umeboshi, persimmon leaf. This was light and refreshing, if not a bit random.
Finally, the main desserts (we had each chosen a different one upon ordering). Male DINK had the winter chocolate forest – soft chocolate, hazelnut and almond, burnt honey, mandarin and marscapone cream, blackberry sorbet, Black Genoa fig jellies, green tea, licorice, chocolate twigs, crystallized bronze fennel, viola. As you can see, this dish had a beautiful presentation. However, it wasn’t that good. The flavors didn’t seem to go well together, and it was not as sweet as Male DINK was expecting, given the description. It was almost like eating a bowl of Kashi cereal. Not the best finish.
Female DINK had the chocolate caramelized apple cream, artichoke, blackcurrant, cocoa nib, pecan brittle. This dessert was wonderful – and more of the sweet dessert Male DINK was hoping to have received. In fact, Male DINK cunningly traded Female DINK for it, and we both enjoyed it.
Overall, the great food at Sepia helped to keep our irritations with the service and atmosphere at bay. Based on food alone, we believe Sepia would be worthy of one Michelin star, if the Michelin Guide covered Australia/Sydney. Almost all dishes were well-executed, the quality of ingredients seemed great, and the flavors were unique, if not a bit safe. We enjoyed the overall “lightness,” if you will, of the tasting menu, due in large part because of the high percentage of seafood dishes. To us, this was a very approachable tasting menu. If you’re in Sydney, we think Sepia is worth a try.
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