Location: The Rocks, Sydney
Date: Thurs, 27 January 2005
A chance reunion with an old friend/flame at another big gay dance party
sparked an invitation to the opera. Lovely - we adore the opera. Fresh on the
heels of a hedonistic Australia day spent shirtless and sweaty amidst writhing bodies at Home nightclub in Cockle Bay, the following day's evening saw us at the Sydney Opera House enjoying some high culture - Così Fan Tutte to be precise.
A had generously provided an extremely drinkable Sauvignon Blanc pre-opera (I think - memory fails me slightly due to my intoxicated state) and the opera was extremely enjoyable. The angled stage did unnerve me at first, but A assured me that my eyes were not fooling me, my depth perception was still working and yes, the stage was indeed tilted up.
Post-opera dinner was at Aria as Guillaume (the restaurant at Bennelong) was fully booked. This is in the block also known as the Toaster, adjacent to Quayside. A very frou frou place, elegantly appointed with stylish and understated decor. The palette was warm but sleek and restive. I felt a right dag with my backpack but the maitre'd put it aside for me.
For entrée I ordered the pork belly with applesauce, caramelised apples and balsamic reduction. A chose the bug-meat boudin blanc, something like a sausage made with Balmain bug (a shellfish) meat. Some tourists (obviously) sat behind us and the husband loudly questioned the menu, "What does it mean, here - one course $27, two courses $57, three courses $73?" Obviously a little slow on the uptake.
The pork belly arrived elegantly presented. The rectangular slice of pork lay flat on its side on tiny circles of roasted apples and the balsamic reduction was adjacent: a flat rectangular stroke of a broad paintbrush - very creative. I had never seen balsamic reduction served this way before and it worked very well. My pork skin was crispy and the fat moist, succulent and tasty. The layering of fat and lean was perfect and the semi-sweet apples a nice contrast to the saltiness of the pork. A's boudin blanc arrived looking like a pale white extrusion. I'm sorry, I know I must be revealing my naivete at never having eaten boudin blanc, but it really didn't look that appealing. Nevertheless, he said that it was delicious.
I chose a grilled jewfish with truffle croute for my main and A chose lamb with Puy lentils. I'm a sucker for anything involving truffles as I've yet to sample the real thing. I'm trying to get an idea of what a truffle is really like - somehow though I think that truffle oil is a very very poor cousin to the pungeancy of the real thing. One day I'll eat truffle, one day.
Interestingly, the waiter asked A how he'd like his lamb done. I've never encountered this before; I've always thought that lamb was best done pink and it wasn't personal preference like steak. But I guess they were catering to all - perhaps they had several requests and now offered variations on the cooked lamb by default.
My jewfish arrived and I was heavily under the influence of the chardonnay. The accompanying pinot noir had already begun to cast its spell and we sat talking about love, life, his absolutely fantastic impending European holiday and my slow-starting scientific career. The fish was delicate and sweet but I found the crumb a little too savoury for my liking. Perhaps that was the truffle oil I was smelling/tasting. I have never had jewfish before but from the texture of the flesh it seemed to be a rather delicate tasting fish. Perhaps the croute was masking the flavour slightly, or perhaps this dish concept was about the croute and the fish, not the croute subordinate to the fish? I enjoyed the freshness of the herbs within the croute and the fish was cooked just right - as you'd expect in a place like this. I knew that everything would be technically perfect, so I was concentrating more on the chef's dining concepts.
A's lamb was quite delicious. A very earthy dish and I dare say done better than mine. However, my writing cannot be trusted at this point as the pinot noir had me well and truly within its thrall. The dessert menu was a blur but I requested an affogato from the waiter. It was a non-standard coffee item and I internally chastised myself for asking for it after he mentioned that he'd see if they had any vanilla ice-cream. They would have been embaressed if they hadn't, but I would have understood that I did make a non-menu request. Fortunately they did have some and I enjoyed my post-dinner espresso with ice-cream.
Aria is definitely a once-in-a-while experience for many. The quality of food and service were immaculate and technically flawless. Conceptually, the presentation was inspired (I'm still hooked by that paint strip of balsamic reduction) but I was a little disappointed by my fish. I have no doubt that proximity to the Sydney Opera House significantly increased the price of the meal quite significantly but I had a thoroughly enjoyable experience.