Friday, May 17, 2013

Ocean Room: Fall into the autumn tasting menu

On the brink of winter months in Sydney, an elegant 12-course autumn tasting menu at Circular Quay's Japanese fine diner, Ocean Room, is a perfect way to celebrate the very probable end of stocking-less legs and beanie-less heads.

Seated near the floor-to-ceiling glass doors, the view never gets old, even for a local - there's something romantically patriotic about dining on glistening Sydney harbour with the Opera House in full view.

Ocean Room martini from Ocean Room, Overseas Passenger Terminal, Circular Quay
In addition to head chef Raita Noda's autumn tasting menu, Ocean Room has recently installed a new bar menu chock-full of cocktails featuring Japanese ingredients and modern twists on classics. And if you needed more encouragement, they offer 2-for-1 cocktail specials from 6pm to 7pm nightly.

I started with the Ocean Room martini (technically a vesper) featuring gin, vodka, Lillet Blanc and three condiments in the form of house-made spherified liquid-filled balls.

The cocktail itself wasn't a face-slappingly strong rendition, but went down well with the sweet yuzu lemon and pink grapefruit spheres while the Sicilian green olive sphere seemed a little diluted and artificial in flavour.

Kaki - freshly shucked Sydney rock oyster, Guinness, myoga, Yamazaki silk
It was a delight to start the meal with beautiful specimens of freshly-shucked Sydney rock oysters, of which I could have easily eaten a dozen on their lonesome.

However, Ocean Room’s additions and garnishes made it a genuinely special starter, fancied-up with a Guinness stout dressing, myoga pickled young ginger and a gold-flecked ‘Yamazaki silk’ jelly sheet, subtly flavoured with, presumably, Japanese Yamazaki whisky.

Ochazuke - cold-drip dashi & premium gyokuro green tea, Koshihikari rice crust, flame seared latchet, umeboshi sorbet, wasabi dust
As part of the 12 courses I was treated to my first ever taste of ochazuke, which is quite the traditional Japanese dish of rice with green tea or dashi stock poured over the top; like a deconstructed congee.

Ocean Room’s modern, chilled version featured crisp, puffed Koshihikari rice (the best quality rice for sushi making) rather than the steamed/boiled variety, with a combination of cold-drip dashi stock and premium gyokuro green tea poured at the table.

Toppings for the dish included just-seared pieces of fresh latchet, a sorbet of salty umeboshi pickled plum and shallot thins, while the two-part iced vessel was rimmed with a green wasabi dust that added bite.

In all, I think ochazuke is a dish that needs getting used to: the cold temperature of the dish, the liquid and various textures, and the slight bitterness to the green tea were all very new and surprising to my palate.

Maguro - Yellow fin tuna, Sicilian green olive & buffalo mozzarella drops, crystallised yuzu, soy pearls, tomato chips
Spherified ingredients made another appearance in the maguro tuna dish where the green olive sphere was spot on in flavour, as too the buffalo mozzarella one.

The spheres were more of an amusing diversion from the main game of the tuna which was served diced like a tartare with an array of condiments to add as you pleased, along with thin wheels of dehydrated tomato 'chips' acting as a cracker for the tuna.

Shinjo - house-made croquette, tiger prawn & calamari, yuba angel hair
Warm dishes started with the excellently executed and unusually pretty Shinjo croquette of prawn and calamari. In a frilly costume of yuba tofu skin strips, the croquette was deep fried to a golden flaking brown to contrast with the bouncy-textured seafood balls.

With such a memorable appearance and texture complementing the seafood flavours, this was easily one of my favourite dishes of the tasting menu.

Onsen - autumn vegetable collection, yaki-onigiri, black shichimi,
house made anchovy & garlic bath
I adored the concept of the Onsen dish which translates from Japanese as 'hot spring'. A selection of vegetables and a miniature yaki onigiri grilled rice ball were laid around a tealight candle-heated oil bath of anchovy and garlic, ready for a warm dip.

Basically an Italian bagna cauda, the fresh and crisp vegetables were an absolute delight and the hands-on manner of eating mixed up the tasting menu with an element of fun.

Sashimi - daily recommendation, seasonal sashimi selection
We played tabletop Tetris to fit the long individual sashimi platters onto the round group table, with each variety of raw fish looking supremely fresh and enticing.

Firm hairtail came in a bamboo container, served diced with shallots and ginger, while bar cod sashimi with slivers of shiso leaf was a first for me.

And then there was chu-toro medium fatty tuna (although I'm sure we were all hoping for otoro), black kingfish with minced garlic and dainty shallots, and Tasmanian ocean trout with pearls of roe.

Shabu2 - wagyu beef, grilled tofu, seasonal mixed vegetables,
dashi consomme, lime chilli soy
Shabu-shabu is a sure winter winner of thinly sliced wagyu beef, cooked lightly in the hot dashi consommé it's served in.

This was comfort in a bowl with exceptional flavours in the broth flavouring the delicate grilled tofu and an array of seasonal vegetables; while the lime chilli soy sauce ably lifted the flavours from the rich, tender wagyu beef slices.

Miso cod - signature grilled sweet miso cod fillet, ginger risotto, orange miso
It seems every modern Japanese eatery can’t help but do their own versions of miso cod; a dish made famous at the Nobu chain of high-end Japanese restaurants.

Also a signature at Ocean Room, the small cod fillet was perfectly coloured and flavoured with a sweet miso paste and then char grilled to a firmly flaking texture with the caramelised surfaces being the ultimate highlight.

The ginger-scented risotto was a gorgeously appropriate accompaniment; bulking up a light but luxurious dish, while the squiggles of orange miso sauce seemed somewhat superfluous with the perfectly cooked fish.

Butabara - simmered pork belly, melting tofu, yuzu chilli ponzu
A cellophane-wrapped ‘gift’ arrived as the next course, served with a test tube of yuzu chilli ponzu sauce. The clear package was cut open at the table to reveal a fragrant, soupy pork belly dish with a block of silken tofu, mushrooms, carrot and cabbage in a creamy, white broth.

It was impossible to stop after the first mouthful: the full-flavoured tonkotsu-like pork bone broth and fatty pork belly were perfect for wintry weather while the tofu, vegetables and tangy ponzu sauce lightened the load of porkiness.

Sansui - wagyu flat iron steak, Tasmanian pepper jus, quinoa crusted king prawn, Americaine cream, agedashi taro potato
I had reached exploding point at this tenth course; probably one of the heavier ones too featuring a luxe Japanese take on surf and turf. I was drawn to the large quinoa crusted king prawn, deep fried to a seductively golden hue although the quinoa grains were a little hard rather than crunchy.

The wagyu flank steak was a bit more of a challenge to a (over)full stomach. With a bit of chew, the flank was full-flavoured with buttery wagyu richness paired with a unique taro potato, shaped and deep fried like a potato gem.

Edo-mae sushi - three authentic Tokyo style nigiri sushi, chef’s daily recommendation
The savoury courses ended with sushi, which is typically meant to fill up the stomach at the end - a task completed on me a few courses ago.

Ocean Room do a petite Edo-Mae style nigiri sushi which I learnt about on a previous visit. The rice plays an important part in the delicate sushi while the daily fish selection included tuna, salmon and imperador – the latter of which I would describe as a sweeter, firmer white fish than kingfish.

Amaguri - Amaguri chestnut mont blanc, green tea angel cake, spiced ice cream, chestnut puree, cognac persimmon
While the entire degustation was undeniably seasonal, dessert was autumn on a plate. A mont blanc featuring my favourite chestnuts - very much in season in Sydney's autumn - sat alongside a wedge of brightly-hued persimmon lightly soaked in cognac.

It was a subtle and not-too-sweet pairing with a Japanese touch in the green tea angel cake enclosed within the nutty threads of the mont blanc.

Twelve exquisite courses (with that winning view) for $120 is serious value at this fine end of town. Chef Noda's autumn tasting menu has redefined the idea that Japanese cuisine isn't warming, comforting, cool-weather food - and it's one that will probably have diners falling over themselves to try in the cooler months.

Food, booze and shoes dined as a guest of Ocean Room, with thanks to Wasamedia.

Ocean Room on Urbanspoon


Mr C @ The Food Diary said...

It's so hard to choose where I should go next for Japanese (Sake, Toko or Ocean Room). Ocean Room does have a really 'unique' menu though!

Missy Piggy said...

Such a great location...the view never EVER gets old. Maggie working/living around here - I'd never get anything done because of the view. I loved the onsen veggies here -- or actually I loved the dipping sauce.

Michael Shen @ I'm Still Hungry said...

So this is Ocean Room's autumn menu! I think it's time to save up again to savour this...

Shanshan Lam said...

Was great to chit chat with you all night last time! I will never forget how full we all were that night..

Tina @ bitemeshowme said...

Ah man, sounds like such great value! and dinner with a view? what complaints are there?!

milkteaxx said...

lovely post, been wantign to visit this place for a while now!

Priscilla @ said...

Everything looks absolutely delicious. I can't wait to tick this off my list!

Annie said...

so much to try here. wouldn't know where to start!

Tina said...

Hi Mr C - So many great Japanese restaurant options, just in the city area too! Aren't we lucky?

Hi Miss Piggy - Yeah, the tourists can't have all the fun, we should be taking advantage of the beautiful views more often.

Hi Michael - The pricing for 12 very decently sized courses is really decent value; ~10 bucks a dish?

Hi Shan - Yeah, great to chat to you..!

Hi Tina - "Too full" was the only complaint! :D

Hi milkteaxx - Hope you get there soon :)

Hi Priscilla - The tasting menu is such good value; tick that off! :)

Hi Annie - Yeah, there's a lot to tempt on the menu. Tasting menu's a great idea ;)


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