Bianca: Our visit to Sepia was a long time coming. Once it was announced back in March 2017 that the 3 hatted restaurant was shutting up shop and owners Martin Benn & Vicki Wild were relocating to Melbourne, I surprised Alex with a visit on his 23rd birthday. He rarely needs an excuse to dress himself up to the nines and like a fine bottle of wine, he just gets better with age.
Sepia fantastically navigates a modern western menu interspersed with Japanese influences. Perhaps without the show-stopping views of Quay, Bennelong or Aria. And with a minimalistic hotel lobby esque fit-out, you’re not exactly coming to Sepia to be seen or for the ambience.
In saying that, for one of the best restaurants in the country (with the price tag to match) service was friendly and casual without feeling overly rehearsed and intrusive.
A quintet of Amuse Bouche was beautifully laid out before us. The attention to detail was mind-blowing, with our standouts being the Imperador, dashi cream, purple yam, linaria perfectly light, crisp, refreshing and an excellent use of juxtaposing textures. Followed closely by the Tuna, yuzu kosho & olive oil emulsion, water chestnut, nori & ponzu the first bite was that of the crispy nori wrapping, encasing the delicate tuna with a lingering citrus note. If this was an indication of the meal that was to come, we were in for a treat.
Straddling that modern Aust-pan fusion, Tuna, egg yolk, fromage blanc, unpasteurised soy sauce & wasabi sounds rather jarring on the page but that first bite alleviated any fears we may have had. The egg yolk gloriously coating each bite, there was a muted sourness and a kick from the wasabi but it wasn’t heavy-handed.
Geared towards the fantastical, the Spanner crab, heirloom tomato, brown butter emulsion, sake vinegar jelly, pea & horseradish was Wonka like in its presentation, with one of our waiters dusting a light snow of the pea & horseradish mixture over the dish. The crab, sweet but most interesting of all was the heirloom tomato & sake vinegar jelly. Alex and myself both got major bruschetta vibes, it was very strange… but delicious.
Next was Squid, somen, tosazu & lime leaf oil, probably my least favourite of the day. I’m not a fan of chilled savoury dishes and despite its pleasant flavour, it’s not exactly a dish I’d be reminiscing over.
Up there for one of my favourite dishes, was the Glacier 51 toothfish, fermented kabu and kombu butter dashi, kabu, young garlic purslane & wakame oil. I loved everything about this, the toothfish flaky and buttery, the rich butter sauce having deep caramelised notes and tied together by the pepperiness from the purslane.
Making an appearance next was the Sansho roasted duck breast, apple and sheep yoghurt cream, pink lady apple and shisho. Duck is usually one of those rare treats and its rich gamey flavour can be off-putting for some. I wanted to love this more than I did, I enjoyed the interplay between the sourness from the pink lady ‘sheath’ and salty duck but ultimately it paled in comparison to the lamb dish to follow.
Charcoal grilled lamb breast, chestnut mushroom, roasted garlic & miso emulsion buckwheat ends the savoury. And what a finale it is. This for me was the winning dish. I was waiting for something to completely blow my mind. And while each course till this point was delicious in its own right, texturally, flavour-wise, hitting the nail on the head. Little pockets of crispy buckwheat, outer chargrilled umami-rich edges of shredded lamb.
Making way for the most exciting part of most meals. Dessert. Starting with a ‘pre-dessert’ of sorts. The Iced rhubarb, blackberry, salted white chocolate chantilly, lemon thyme, yukari. Sitting atop whole blackberries in a thick jelly-like sauce and crowned by an iced rhubarb disc. This meal was going to end with a bang, it was obvious.
And finally, with Alex celebrating his birthday I conceded and let him have the much-lauded signature dessert – Summer Chocolate forest. Pretty as a picture when it hit the table, looks alone it’s easy to see why this has the reputation it does. Varying textures and temperatures giving each and every bite a point of difference. Did it live up to the hype? I’m undecided, I’m not a huge fan of liquorice in desserts and that may have been its downfall for me.
Similarly, I wasn’t blown away by the Jerusalem artichoke, Pedro Ximenez dates, ginger milk, soy chocolate mousse, ginger breadcrumb. Straddling that fine line between sweet and savoury. If you’re expecting a giant sugar rush to the face, you won’t find it here. Let’s just say the artichoke flavour isn’t exactly ‘subtle’.
Perhaps an underwhelming end to a fantastic meal but one I was glad to have made before the big move to Melbourne.
Photos by Alex