Tuesday, May 26, 2009

On the Marque

The optimist within, supressed as they may be, can be open-minded and hopeful of the unknown. The remainder is swayed from time to time by the optimist but on the whole it would seem that fear rules in unknown worlds. So it's natural that a bit of reckless, letting-the-optimist-out-of-the-cage thought and action is not only fun and a little dangerous, it's also healthy and necessary. And it's just cruel to keep anything locked up unnecessarily for long periods of time.

With out-of-the-cage things happening all round, my excitement is contained somewhat about a planned visit to Marque restaurant in Surry Hills. I was certainly buzzy excited about the degustation, just not to the exploding stage. Be warned: there are some pretty poor photos below (light, dark and just plain bad) but it was really a night about the food and wine - that's how I'm justifying it anyway.

Chaud-froid free range egg from Marque Restaurant

The buzz was heightened on the arrival of the amuse-bouche: an egg. Delicately topless and served with grissini, this free ranger contained more ingredients than I could catch the waitress rattling off - but including cream, maple syrup, vinegar and topped off with finely chopped chives.

The first mouthful of light-as-air whipped cream had the table silenced, eyes wide and nodding while seeking - and finding - all the individual flavours. I eventually stirred the egg yolk into the the overall concoction with my grissini to create a light but rich experience that genuinely danced all over my palate. Chef Mark Best attributes the hot-cold egg to its original creator, Alain Passard.

Bread: rye and white

Bread service was plentiful and popular throughout the evening. The darker rye bread was my pick of the two; both enjoyed beneath a slather of soft butter. The rye was soft and chewy with the distinct flavour of caraway and the not-so distinct "maltiness" of some Coopers ale in the starter dough.

Almond jelly with blue swimmer crab, almond
gazpacho, sweet corn and Avruga

With this first dish, it's degustation away. Again the waitress informs us of the components of the dish - it's a textural journey - but I'm mesmerised by her last words: "popcorn dust". The dish indeed has a strong corn aroma, the almond jelly is subdued, and I quite like the combined subtleties that don't overpower the delicate crab meat hiding beneath the jelly. The Avruga caviar nudges the overall seasoning along as does the popcorn dust. This was served with perhaps my favourite wine of the evening: an Austrian 'Brundlmayer Gruner Veltliner'.

Sea scallop with 'fish floss', scampi anglaise, Campari and turnip

The next dish bears resemblance to an artist's palette, and I guess the comparison isn't really that far off. Paper-thin mushrooms dominate visually but the eyes and ears are drawn to the blushing cubes of turnip with Campari. Paper-thin slices of raw scallop sit gently atop the scampi cream - its shellfish flavour too passive for me - with scatterings of golden-hued, flavour-of-the-sea fish floss. I feared some of the components simply overpowered the scallop, muting its natural sweetness and flavour - especially the wincingly bitter turnip for which a floral New Zealand gerwurztraminer served as recovery.

Cured ocean trout with coleslaw, lemon and dill jelly

Contender for my favourite dish was this generous slice of ocean trout served on top of a (invisible...) coleslaw of julienned apple, nasturtium and something. What you also can't see is a layer of the firmest, crunchiest roe ever - they were briney explosions, to the tooth and beyond - and the fanciful lemon and dill jelly. A thin, rectangular sheet of melt-on-the-tongue jelly, equally strong in fresh lemon and dill, was balanced on top of the roe: stunning flavour on its own and a fantastic mixer-and-mingler in a mouthful.

Duck ham with braised and fresh endive and parmesan

This next dish is still fighting for top ranks on my podium, but it was admittedly met with a bit of a Hannibal Lecter "fava beans and a nice Chianti" moment in my head. I'm not a liver fan, or any other innards for that matter, and it doesn't help when it seems to still be bleeding. The duck ham looked like close relations to prosciutto and there was also a yellow parmesan puree beneath the vegetable, and three delightfully surprising, snow-white parmesan gnocchi.

Fearing the worst I sampled a small section of the rare-cooked duck liver first - saving the better for last was my thinking. Being rare, it didn't have that soft, smushy texture characteristic of most the liver I've tried, and disliked. It had its undeniable metallic iron taste which I then proceeded to almost eliminate with the parmesan puree. The gnocchi were of a much more reserved parmesan flavour, remarkably light and gelatinous.

But on to the star of the plate: the duck ham. The two thinly shaved rashers are a tease - I want more of that dreamy soft, smokey, moist, gamey goodness. Lots more. In fact, a whole plate of it without all the other trimmings and I'd be quacking happy.

Slow-cooked pork jowl with spinach and Pacific oyster

My only knowledge and experience with pork jowl is guanciale, of which I had the fortune of sampling quite authentically in a rustic rigatoni all'amatriciana in Rome (sigh). All discussion about piggies with illnesses aside, I was a little hesitant about the pork and oyster pairing. To be honest, it even looked a tad mismatched with the rich-looking oyster foam beside the fatty, pinky-white pork. I had the Pacific oyster first; slightly warmed and so fresh it could have been alive.

The pork was unapologetically fatty; the fat firm, not at all glue-y but not overly flavoured. I enjoyed the occasional crispened section of the thin skin layer and the contrasting texture with the fat and flesh, but there was almost something missing with the pork. Perhaps it was the oyster. The spinach sprinkled with sesame seeds was good foil for the oyster foam and pork alike.

18 hour Angus short rib with boudin noir,
onion croquettes and smoked onion

The last savoury dish to arrive is delightfully pretty and promisingly hearty. The neat medium-cooked short rib is mostly tender and divine with the jus but almost acts the canvas for the other items on the plate. The blood sausage is served as a mousse - without offending too much. And then there's onion three ways: an intense smoke-inhaled puree, dainty pickled onion rings, and the most exquisitely stunning croquettes.

Covered in a golden crumb, the spherical croquettes shock with their jelly-like inner and astound with their succinct onion sweetness. Lust is probably a more appropriate word than love here, but you never know with these things. I believe I polished off everything bar the croquettes so I could revel in them as my last savoury mouthful of the degustation.

Sauternes custard

Then the switch to sweets but the raptures keep on coming. We're told the pre-dessert is no palate cleanser and its simple appearance belies a masterpiece. Jostling for top ranks in the entire degustation, the Sauternes custard served with caramel blew minds (and limbs) from the first taste. The so-good-but-so-bad caramel hit accompanied the brilliant custard which transported the palate to a glass of sticky dessert wine. I had to resist the temptation to lick out my tiny dish of this simply mind-blowing dessert.

Warm chocolate ganache with hazelnut croquant,
yoghurt, eucalyptus and raspberry

I had severe concerns for the following, proper dessert after the custard performance - but a very different path was cleverly taken. The ganache was a heavenly bitter-sweet dark chocolate pudding-like mixture, served warm on top of cold European-style sour yoghurt. The contrast was quite exciting, accentuated by the adorable side garnishes and flavours of a sugared mint leaf and a dried raspberry. There were a lot of flavours happening here, with even what I recall as curry powder sprinkled over.

Goat cheese marshmallow with candied citrus and sorbet

We also had an additional dessert of the goat cheese marshmallow. I was excitedly anticipating this, having tried and loved the Centennial Parklands Dining (Mark Best consulted) version at the recent Taste festival. Anticipation, expectation and absolute satisfaction. The spherical marshmallow was firmer than the Taste version but with the same sweetness followed by a sharp, sour goat's cheese hit - swoon-worthy stuff.

Salted caramel chocolates and bitter bon bons

We finished with tea, coffees and the final dish which came out celebrating the occasion. We were instructed to just pop the bon bons in our mouths and let it do its thing. Flavours varied to include Campari and artichoke, of which I had the latter. Once the crisp sugar coating dissolved it was an explosion of liquid bitterness which was a little overwhleming for personal taste. The salted caramel chocolate proved just the thing as a 'chaser' to the bon bon - beautifully measured caramel with a hint of salt in meltingly good chocolate - Caramello Koala gone classy.

And so it's come to the end of the meal and night; the unknown and mystique of the degustation uncovered. It's been a wonderful few hours of life and despite the chill outdoors, we're letting the optimist out for a little - a bit of fresh air would do it good.

Marque on Urbanspoon


Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Great recap of what sounds and looks like an amazing night! Was it your birthday? If so, Happy Birthday! :D

Tina said...

Hi Lorraine - thanks. It wasn't my birthday, I'm still deciding on where I want to go for mine... :)


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