Sepia, Darling Harbour

It’s hard to believe that one of Sydney’s top restaurants has such an unassuming entrance at the bottom of the PwC building near Darling Harbour, but the opulence hits you as soon as you step through the glass doors with the beautiful marble décor around the bar and plush dark carpet underfoot.

We’re led to a corner table next to a wall full of mirrors with soft mood lighting and jazzy music playing tastefully in the background. It’s a wonderful place for a (very expensive) date and the attentive service just adds to it. We start with some complimentary toasted sourdough and slather on some butter which was light as air, and a sprinkle of sea salt on top.

We have opted for the 10 course degustation menu ($150 pp) tonight, but we could not resist the sound of the additional starter – freshly shucked oysters from Lemon Tree Passage, served with lime and rice wine vinaigrette. The zestiness of the citrus brought out the freshness of the oysters and primed our appetites for the start of the actual degustation.

Freshly shucked oysters with lime and rice wine vinaigrette, $4.50 each

The amuse bouche was sliced octopus with watercress foam and sprinkled with some meat floss. It was described as a soup, but it was certainly the least liquid “soup” I’ve ever had and set the interpretative tone of the food for the night. The octopus was tenderly seared and went well with the light watercress flavour of the foam.

Amuse bouche

Next we were presented with an intriguing looking plate with a dark coloured sphere and diced crab meat sprinkled with walnut and chopped celeriac. The waiter instructed us to crack the beetroot “egg” first and with a satisfying tap of our spoons, the “egg” split open to reveal creamy innards of sheep yoghurt and horseradish. Most interestingly, it seemed like the beetroot shell was actually frozen with liquid nitrogen because the shell felt cold to touch and was brittle like ice. The yoghurt horseradish cream was very intensely flavoured and overpowered the rest of the dish, as the crab was quite lightly cooked in comparison.

 Queensland Spanner crab, walnut, celeriac, beetroot, sheep yoghurt and horseradish

The following dish looked quite simple with a block of tuna sashimi, but the red cube was actually layered with thin slivers of Spanish cured ham (Jamon Iberico). The flavoursome meat melded seamlessly with the fresh Yellow Fin tuna to produce a lovely balance of saltiness and rawness, especially when combined with the dashi onion cream. The little poached quail egg perched on top oozed beautifully once it was eased open and the soft textures of the dish continued with the very savoury white soy jelly which melted in your mouth to become an intensely flavoured soup. Very impressed with this dish, the boy remarked that this was possibly the best tuna he’s ever had.

Sashimi of Yellow Fin tuna, Jamon Iberico, poached quail egg, white soy jelly, dashi onion cream, Tasmanian wasabi, puffed buckwheat, red elk

Our seafood adventures continued with scampi and shellfish custard, topped with balls of smoked trout roe which exploded with savoury goodness in your mouth and a sprig of crunchy wakame seaweed for decoration. The scampi was incredibly sweet (a sign of its freshness) and the shellfish custard was full of flavour, yet managed to retain an airy texture.

Scampi tails cooked over Japanese charcoal, shellfish custard, crystallised wakame, dill pickled cucumbers, smoked trout roe, shiso

I am not generally a fan of eel because in my head it will forever be a slimy sea animal, but I put my prejudices aside for this dish which featured a smoked freshwater eel marinated with a soy glaze. It was rather salty, but the creamy sea urchin puree went well with it and surprise hits of juicy orange flesh were scattered throughout the dish too which balanced out the savouriness. There were also little bits of crunchy nori seaweed to complete the impressive array of textures and flavours.

Soy glazed smoked freshwater eel, amaranth grain, sea urchin cream, arame seaweed, sorrel, nori and orange

Finally, we arrive at one of the red meat dishes for the night and are rewarded with buttery, tender roasted lamb meat together with some deliciously soft pumpkin and pine mushrooms that have soaked up the intense flavour.

Roasted pasture fed lamb loin, lamb breast, pine mushroom, Chinese artichoke and celery stem, goat milk, seeded rye, pumpkin, rosemary and brown butter vinaigrette

I was getting quite full by this stage, but still had room for the final savoury dish of the night. It took some time to come out because the seared wagyu beef had to be served almost immediately from the kitchen for maximum impact. As you would expect from premium wagyu beef with a marble score of 9, the light grilling gave the meat the heavenly melt-in-your-mouth texture you rarely get elsewhere. A pinch of fried potato and kombu crumbs were sprinkled on top of the meat to give it extra crunch and the strong flavours of the red onion juice and garlic chives complemented the taste of the quality meat superbly.

Seared Wagyu beef, nameko mushroom, flowering garlic chives, red onion juice, Tasmanian wasabi, fried potato and kombu crumb, citrus soy

Next was a palate cleanser in the form of a pre-dessert, prepping us for the two sweet courses coming up. I wasn’t expecting much from this “filler” round, but the frozen custard apple puree with pink ginger pearls really blew me away. It tasted like custard apple sorbet, and I’ve never had such smooth sorbet before. It managed to retain the intense flavour and creaminess of the original fruit so that it felt like I was simply eating a frozen version of a custard apple. The random hints of ginger weren’t that fantastic because I hate the bitterness, but thankfully it didn’t detract from the dish too much.

Pre dessert

With just a glance at the ingredient list of the signature “Winter chocolate forest” dessert, you can see that a lot of effort went into this dish. Beautifully presented with a dollop of blackberry sorbet atop a bed of chocolate “dirt” and “twigs” and green tea powder representing the moss, it truly looked like a forest mound. There were crunchy little bits tossed into the dessert too, munching through them evoked images of leaves crackling underfoot, until you got through to the soft chestnut and praline cream resting underneath. The lavender custard was also quite fragrant, a contrast to the various chocolate flavours in the dessert. An absolutely sublime way to end the degustation menu, and the waitress had thoughtfully arranged for our dessert to include a “happy anniversary” message much to our surprise!

 “Winter chocolate forest” – Soft chocolate, chestnut and praline cream, lavender custard, blackberry sorbet, pomegranate jellies, green tea, licorice, chocolate twigs, crystallised fennel fronds

We had also heard about the Japanese stones at Sepia and were keen to try them but unfortunately they are not included on the degustation menu. So we asked to add them onto our meal and they were served with the dessert with 6 stones to share, 3 different flavours – coconut, blackberry and chocolate. The novelty factor about these stones are that they look exactly like black pebbles you find in Japanese style gardens but once you crack open the exquisitely formed chocolate shell, a perfect stream of coloured cream comes out depending on which flavour you got. Each flavour was lovely, and I wish I knew the secret to making these myself because they were adorable!

Japanese stones $27 for 6, coconut, blackberry and chocolate flavours

Sepia really lived up to all the hype of being a three hatted restaurant without being too pretentious. The décor is luxe but still understated in its elegance, and the food was probably the most mind blowing meal I ever had. All the food are delightfully delectable in terms of taste as well as being aesthetically intriguing. I’d love to come back to Sepia for another indulgent night to remember, but perhaps I’ll go for the 4 course seasonal menu instead next time.

201 Sussex Street
Sydney, NSW 2000
Phone: 02 9283 1990

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