Quay 2.0 bridges the gap between luxuries old and new like no other fine diner.
Quay 2.0 bridges the gap between luxuries old and new like no other fine diner, writes PAT NOURSE.
“Wow! It’s just not us!” commented @danniellemills. “Mmmmmm for a $4 million upgrade expected a lot more,” @paul_kwong_47 chimed in.
Most damning of all was
@fisnow: “Is there a salad bar?”
So went the comments on previews of Quay’s new interiors on Instagram in July. They speak of a sense of ownership. These punters don’t just cry out when the chef retires his snow egg from the dessert menu, they want to know where their damn tablecloths are.
But push through the door and those Sizzler comparisons melt away in a rush of lush textures and careful comforts. A whisper of a tart shell laden with shiitake custard and dusted with pork crackling. A silken savoury custard draped with gleaming sea urchin roe. Sand crab and melting strands of squid with a grilled cabbage spine, the leaf of the same cabbage, fermented and dried, turned into a translucent pane that shimmers like the wing of a dragonfly. Yes, the olive uniforms are unfortunate. And yes, serving a course with long metal tweezers is clunky. But the new Quay unlocks new levels of pleasure.
Palm heart and lotus seeds provide the sublime textural contrast in a bowl of “handharvested” seafood: filmy sheets of raw scallop, vongole and curls of octopus that are almost heartbreaking in their daintiness. Aged vinegar and seaweed in the dressing give it oomph. And it’ll be better still served without tweezers.
Looking around the room, which has been reoriented to make more of the Bridge view, I wonder if the online commenters remember other Quay looks of years past. The carpet that looked like a woozy test-pattern. The pole-dance-chic mirrored ceilings. Today Quay’s interiors look less like a strip club or a Sizzler and more like a Deco spacecraft hovering over Circular Quay. When the tables are beautiful and the acoustics of the room are this well managed, the tablecloths aren’t conspicuous in their absence.
Much is made of Peter Gilmore’s interest in nature, but he’s not really a figs-on-a-plate sort of guy. How else do you read oysters that have been blitzed and sieved, turned into a cream and piped into a man-made ceramic oyster shell? A sprinkle of crisp chicken skin softens the hubris, though, and a healthy application of caviar gives the dish wings.
Gilmore has been playing with the theme of shellfish and fatty pork for 15 years. In the latest iteration, a piece of smoked jowl meets the shellfish bounce of fan-shell razor clams, in keeping with Quay’s reputation for recherché ingredients. Shiitakes join the dots, and the whole thing is crowned with an airy puff of sea cucumber, perhaps the world’s most expensive prawn cracker.
And dessert? “White coral”, a snap-frozen reef of white-chocolate ganache, coconut cream and an oddly dense feijoa ice-cream, is the intended replacement for Gilmore’s vaunted snow egg.
I am more convinced, though, by another monochrome composition of prune jam and cream under a salty dune of sherry caramel crystals.
Some practical advice: despite Quay 2.0 being sold as a more “interactive” experience, your choice is now two dégustations: six or 10 courses. Do the six, not the 10 – the longer menu is too long, too much money and too much food. I can’t recommend the matched-drinks options, either. But if you opt to go by the glass or bottle you can drink very well. Challenge the somms to pull out a killer bottle for under $90 and they might produce an $86 riesling from Mosel producer Julien Haart, which works beautifully across several courses.
You have to feel for Quay’s waiters sometimes. Rare ingredients are all very well on the plate, but what about the poor souls who have to deliver them? Over the course of my visits they have had to talk the table through Tennouji turnip, Wakefield cabbage, and Job’s tears. They know the names of the architect, four ceramicists, and the inventor of the sugarsnap pea.
They deliver these facts with warmth and care, morsels to savour rather than regurgitation by rote. This newly personal touch makes more of a difference to Quay
2.0 than an acre of stingray-print leather and teal carpet. Where once you could feel like you were there to be fed through the Quay machine, now Quay is there to feed you, its scale made human, even as its horizons broaden.
Peter Gilmore’s brilliance is undimmed. It’s the radical accomplishment of his food that, along with the remarkable setting, has always put this place in a class of its own. Now, with a new intimacy and a fresh focus on service, the dream of making Quay Australia’s biggest little restaurant is becoming real.
Above: Quay chef Peter Gilmore (left) and John Fink, creative director of The Fink Group. Top left: smoked pork jowl with fanshell razor clams, shiitake, and sea cucumber crackling.
Right: crystallised oloroso caramel, prune cream and jam. Below: winter broth, condiments and sea urchin roe custard.