I scheduled 3 days in Sydney. Well, minus transit to & from the airport and half-day skydiving at Wollongong, it was more like 1.5 days. We started off with some oysters at The Sydney Cove Oyster Bar by Circular Quay, then a stroll around the area before heading to Aria by Matt Moran for dinner.
The restaurant perched on a gentle slope and overlooked the quay with views of the Opera House. We were greeted by suited and booted staff at the entrance - I may have under-dressed for the occasion. The dining decor was elegant with shiny, polished woods, extensive wine-lined dividers and warm, mellow lights, half filled with people in slick dresses or shirt & tie - I definitely under-dressed for the occasion. Ah well. We were served an intriguing amuse bouche while being introduced to the tasting menus (4 or 7 courses) and the a la carte. We went for the latter.
Scallops roasted scallops with calamari, Coorong pipis, hazelnut oil and a warm celery vinaigrette
Our starters arrived at a lightening speed; we were still discussing matching wine options with the sommelier when the plates silently landed on the table. This also meant we didn't have our wine until half way through our course. And we really struggled to see our food properly - half the dining room opened up to beautiful views, which meant on a sunny day, natural lights would suffice. However at 7pm with an overcast outside, it left Mister wondering if they were having issues paying their electricity bill.
Okay. Rant over.
The plump scallops were delicious; they were meaty, well-seasoned to compliment their natural sweetness with a hint of nuttiness to round off the flavours. The dressing was light and refreshing; the distinctive celery fragrance worked well with the shellfish. I personally prefer my scallops undercooked to retain the creamy centre; these were just marginally overcooked to my preference, but Mister found them pretty spot on.
Wagyu lightly smoked wagyu beef with soused onions, Dijon mustard and rye
I didn't fall in love with this; Mister gave me ample warning but I stubbornly charged on. I was thinking something not dissimilar to beef carpaccio, thinly sliced ruby meat with visible fat marbling, simply dressed to bring out the greasy bovine fragrance from the posh meat. I don't think that's what I got; not that I could see what I was given anyway.
The wafer thin slices were scrunched up on the plate, which was only a bit bigger than a side-plate, with a smear of mustard and sprinkle of rye. The smooth luscious textures one would have anticipated failed to come through, instead it was slightly waxy like regular cured meats, made even less enjoyable by the hard bits of rye. Flavours from the beef were meek, and any remaining traces were extinguished by the mustard. Overall very under-whelming.
Lamb roasted loin and neck with sugar loaf cabbage, sweetbreads, sorrel and salt bush
This could be one of the best lamb dishes I have ever tasted. The leaner loin was impeccably roasted to a deep pink centre surrounded by a scarlet edge, marshmallow-soft and glistening in its meat juice. The neck fillet almost melted in mouth with its small strip of lamb fat, which held all the milky flavours unique to the meat. The moderate and subtle addition of sweetbreads amplified the flavours and added a daring twist to the recipe. Loved it.
Beef Rangers Valley rump with roasted carrots, mustard leaf and XO sauce
My beef was equally impressive, served medium, with textures like soften butter and packed with bold beefy wholesomeness. The XO sauce was understated but not unnoticed, gave more depth and zing to the dish. It was just a great piece of meat cooked exceptionally well.
This may be purely psychological - I feel the meats in Aus just have more flavours, not added to them, but from the proteins themselves. Its not like we don't import Australian steak in the UK, but the ones here are just much more tender, more ruby-like and they actually taste like the meat they are supposed to be.
Chocolate Valrhona caramelia chocolate with honeycomb and hazelnuts
Despite a rocky start at Aria, our meal improved as the lighting of the dining room began adjusting to the evening. Service was generally very good; our sommelier recommended an unconventional, if not experimental, wine when I said I wanted something different. He immediately offered to swap for something else when he sensed my hesitance during tasting. I stuck to it and as he predicted, it grew on me. Initially I felt a bit rushed, especially when the starters came flying and our servers just silently delivered our plates without any introduction, but then we were left to our own pace for the rest of the evening. The food lived up to expectation overall, especially our mains, which would easily sit with the best restaurants I've been to. I'm so glad Mister recommended Aria; I really enjoyed it.
1 Macquarie Street
East Circular Quay
Tel: (02) 9252 2555
Tel: (02) 9252 2555