Despite the sunny brightness outside of our 7.00pm reservation, the dark room goes along with it and makes us not feel silly for having dinner at a reasonable, albeit light, time. Service is effusively likeable from the start and they're not bothered by our incessant chatter rather than looking at the menu, which takes a while given the significant deliberating over the degustation menu versus the a la carte.
A few visits later from the waiter, and one from the sommelier, and we're happily ordered off the a la carte menu; still chatting; and muching through warm bread rolls with butter and salt flakes.
The amuse bouche came in tiny little glasses that I seriously wanted to pocket - but didn't for I ended up so distracted with the intense tomato flavour of the refreshing, clear liquid. The basil oil was a subtle accompaniment although it was difficult to consume the micro basil leaf without cutlery of any sort.
I'm told that the Sepia's chef's rendition of the confit of ocean trout is similar to that of his previous employer's - but as I haven't experienced that as yet, gladly, I can appreciate this dish without prejudice. The thick, round slice of trout is a beautifu sight, rolled in a dark, powdery ash that's not distinctly mushroom to my palate. The fish is meltingly soft and light, delightful with the green apple slivers. The shortbread and presumably miso blob were a little short on flavour, with the elderflowers more a visual than a taste.
The smoked eel rolled in nori seaweed on the other hand has a big impact from the first taste. The savoury smokiness of the eel was like a slap across the face - the good playful type - while the Dutch cream acted to tone down the overall dish - nice and necessary.
We actually anticipate the mains with much excitement too - much more than I normally do given the creativity and imagination that appears to have gone into the dishes by menu description alone. At this time, I note that there isn't much turnover in the restaurant which is good in that there isn't much noise, but not so good in that it lacks atmosphere. All that brown was getting to me, despite the lively conversing at our own table.
At first glance, the beef main seems quite unadventurous until the eyes do a double-take at the second listed ingredient - watermelon? Steak with watermelon? And apparently, it's not that strange a combination, according to the dish's owner. The rectangular logs of watermelon supporting the beef slices are impossibly juicy and sweet - but a bit of a puzzler for my tastes when its melon-crunch was paired with the soft chew of the medium-rare beef. In fact, I think I'm still a little confused.
Pan roasted Aylesbury duck breast, caramelised fennel, fennel candy,
pickled walnuts, walnut and orange jus
pickled walnuts, walnut and orange jus
My duck main is a surprisingly large serve with six not-thin slices of rare-cooked duck breast artfully arranged about the scattered walnuts and fennel. It's only after devouring the first pile of duck that I discover the fennel candy - little rectangular blocks of jelly that taste more just sweet than fennel. They're a cute touch that elevate the dish to impressive, but not quite mind-blowing, levels.
The Murray cod has an imposing layer of skin in contrast with the dainty presentation of the other ingredients. My one small mouthful of this dish confirmed its Asian leanings in flavour, with a very gingery aroma coming across in addition to the crunchy sheet of green.
Post mains, we're well and truly on the way to being satiated, but having seen and heard about the desserts on offer, it was a fairly straightforward decision to study the menu and a sensible decision to get two desserts to share.
But of course, we'd forgotten the pre-dessert; a minute glass of custard topped with a spiced biscuit-y crumble and a tiny scoop of supremely refreshing pineapple sorbet wearing a micro coriander fascinator. Considering the diverse flavours and ingredients, it was a delightful few mouthfuls to ready us for the serious desserts.
Contemporary art pops into mind at the first arrival, though still none of us are certain about what the crunchy, squiggly thing was. The cherry flavoured stroke across the bottom was impactful, but in terms of taste the passionfruit custard was head and shoulders above the rest - demanding attention and affection with its sweet, slighty tart king-hit. The strawberries were an unspectacular and distant second with the buckwheat ice cream very much understated - somewhat expected - as too the sponge.
But really, this is what I've been looking forward to most the night: chocolate on chocolate on chocolate on chocolate on chocolate on chocolate on chocolate. The bubbles on top are the thick, swampy type and completely appeals to the child (or frog) within. It's tastes rather sophisticated of prunes and air, and is an ingenius addition of flavour without the heaviness and boldness. The squares of snappy Valrhona are pleasure enough in themselves, but with a nutty hazelnut ganache, milk chocolate cream, layer of rice crispy-likeness and chocolate sponge on the bottom - it's chocolate nirvana. I know I'm full, but the spoon in my hand is unstoppable.
When the plates are cleared, we're glad for the comfortable seating in its soothing brown tones, as I'm not the only one who feels in need of a lie-down. Not even doing the degustation, we've spent about three hours on dinner; journeying through the menu, traversing through weeks of catch up, trekking to the bathroom, and in the end, content with Sepia-toned loving.