A recent trip to Sydney to see the London Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House, with my Dad, was cause for celebration. The LSO hadn’t been to Australia in 30 years, I’ve never been inside the Opera House and I’ve never seen an Orchestra live. I’m a late comer to Classical music and I
enforce encourage the listening of the ABC Classical radio channel on my children both in the car and via the bluetooth speaker at home. They love it. Not. Anyway, mum offered me her seat to see the LSO, with my dad, as she’s not a fan and my dad is a massive one. It’s only right that the two of us traveled to Sydney to be enthralled by some serious Russian compositions. And, boy, were we what!
It was a night of many firsts for me, and as it was such an auspicious occasion I felt it only necessary that we dine at Aria. It was but a stone’s throw from the Opera House, and the evening called for some serious fine dining. These occasions don’t happen very often, we needed to make the most of it. When I rang to book, I thought there wouldn’t be a snowballs chance in hell we’d get in, as it was only two weeks away, but, I snaggled a table for two, even though you could no longer book online. We took the 5.30 sitting, and knowing we’d really want to partake of the Pre-show supper menu of 3 courses. Staff assured me that there was plenty of time for us to enjoy the 3 courses and still make our show time of 8pm, with time enough for a champagne on the quarter deck of the Opera House. Or whatever it’s called. And they were perfectly correct. We walked away with oodles of time to spare, having had an elegant sufficiency.
The thing about restaurants of calibre (and I rarely eat at restaurants such as these, if doesn’t have a playground, we don’t attend), is that sometimes the food is secondary in the experience and it’s the ambience and actual “experience” that makes the evening just work. If you know what I mean? Wait staff at Aria are perfection personified. Every single one of them. All that we encountered had accents, I’m not sure if they seek International talent when hiring, or that’s just luck of the drawer. As such, our evening was seamless from the beginning to the end, and even though we probably offended the chef at one point, by sending back a meal (is that too gauche for words?), we were always made to feel that we’d made the right decisions. By choosing the right meals, the right wines and sharing little double entendres, it was an absolute pleasure to be with the front of house team. In my opinion, the team made our evening. They and the mash.
Our amuse bouche were little tartlets of pate and rhubarb jelly, pate of what, I’m not sure and of course they’re not on the menu. Delectable. I chose the first wine, a 2012 Banshee Pinot Noir from Sonoma USA. I don’t know whether the wines tasted better, ie. perfect, in this kind of setting, because they’re expensive, or because they’re just plain good? What do you think? Does wine taste better in better settings?
We ordered our entrees, both of us knowing that we’d share quite happily. My dad is as big a foodie as I am, in fact I got my love of good food and wine from him. He chose the Pressed Jurassic Quail, foie gras, pickled cherries and green almonds. The quail, fois gras and pickled cherries were a great match. The green almonds added a little crunch to the dish, with a more marzipan flavour, than that of an almond. Sweeter, and a little medicinal. But, we both agreed that my choice below was the stand out of the two dishes.
My entree of Southern calamari, Iberico Jamon, dashi custard and shiitake mushroom tea was to die for. All the elements worked perfectly, with the taste sensations being, sweet, salty, crunchy, warming, umami, smooth, slippery. I think the crisp on top was puffed rice in a seaweed strip. I think. Anyway, we both wanted to finish this bowl off, dad even hinted, if the waiters weren’t looking could he just..No, he could not.
Dad chose the wine for the mains, the 2011 Ferret Bobet Vinyes Velles, Grenach. Egads, this was an excellent, but expensive wine. Ouch. It went perfectly with the two mains we’d chosen. And also the desserts. Thanks goodness for that. It really was a great pleasure to drink, mind, and if given the opportunity I’d try to get a bottle of it, somehow, someway. Memorable.
Dad chose the duck. We both love duck. We love our duck medium rare, with well rendered fat and crispy skin. Who doesn’t? Well, this wasn’t. It was barely cooked, and although I understand what chef was trying to achieve with the caramel toffee shard on top, it just wasn’t well executed, the skin was soggy and very little of the layer of fat underneath had been rendered down at all, the breast was blue. Maybe that’s how they serve duck at Aria? Dad and I discussed the merits of eating as much as we could, or sending it back. Do you send things back at a restaurant such as Aria? Is it the done thing? Well, dad, if you don’t, I certainly will. I’m not at all backwards in coming forwards, and frankly if I’m paying that much money for dinner, I’d like to eat it.
The waiter seemed a little taken aback, “You would like ze duck well done, sir? No?” No, we’d like it cooked please. And this is how it was returned. A little smaller, dressed exactly as the original dish, and perfect. A pink blush to the centre, the juices pink, the fat rendered down and the skin crispy and curling at the edges. The waiter, on setting the plate down, said “Yes, pardon sir, you were correct, it vas a little underdone, Ze chef agrees”. Everything is all ok in the world of fine dining, the pillars didn’t collapse, our chairs didn’t sink into the fiery pits of hell, we weren’t hauled out on our uncouth arses. We got lovely duck. With beautiful golden beets and deliciously creamy and delicate chamomile sauce. Did I say how good those beetroots were? Sweet and fabulous.
My main was Wagyu chuck, served medium at the suggestion of our waiter, as the longer cooking reduces the marbled fat throughout the steak. Chuck I hear you say, how odd. I thought so too, but was assured that it was a perfectly tender cut of meat, not like the chuck we’d buy in Woollies for a slow cooked stew. My first bite was a large mouthful of fat and gristle, but, how strange that the the taste was divine that I went straight back for more. It’s not the best piece of meat I’ve eaten, in terms of texture, but it was one of the best, by far, in terms of flavour. Sublime. You could forgive the odd fatty piece for that pure savoury flavour of beef. Excellent beef. I believe the bits on top were little pieces of pork crackling, they were tasty. It was perfection on a plate served with a side of the mash. We had been assured, that yes, people do dine at Aria simply for that mashed potato. That should be served as a main, quite frankly.
Dessert time, Dad opted for a sweetie, I chose the cheese. I always feel there is plenty of cheese on a cheese plate for two, don’t you? It may look like there’s not a lot of cheese on this plate, but the cheese was excellent, the dried fruit bread served with, was just right, and the wine was the best match of the night. Sadly, I relied on the menu to remind me of what these cheeses were and of course they’re not on there. Oh, at a guess we had a blue, a washed rind, a semi hard and goats cheese. Fail. But, they were tasty, of that I’m sure.
I’m a savoury girl and to me, there is nothing more attractive than a plate of beautiful cheese and a glass of red wine. This to me, is the penultimate ending to an excellent evening meal, no matter where I am.
And here is another glowing picture of cheese and grenache. All warm, crunchy and full bodied gooey goodness.
Dad chose the raspberries, chantilly cream and meringue. Such a simple sounding dessert for what actually gets put in front of you. Tangy raspberry sorbet, sweet, sweet chewy meringue, fresh raspberries, and cream. If you love fruity sweet desserts, you’ll love this.
Petite Fours. And to end the meal, a little tray of petite fours. By this stage I was well and truly full, and unfortunately I’m sure these were delightful little mouthfuls, but I just couldn’t do them justice. I tasted them to be polite. But I was done. I probably should’ve popped them in my bag for the show, but I don’t think the staff would take too kindly to a missing napkin.
We watched this behemoth slowly make it’s way out of Sdyney Harbour from our comfortable seats, wondering where they were travelling to and saying to ourselves, bet they’re not dining as fine as we are.
A dinner at Aria that made our night in Sydney, A Night to Remember.
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