In Sydney, Christmas happens twice. First, in July (lasts about a month) because weather wise, this is the only time of the year when it makes sense to grow a beard, wear red wool and gloves, and eat melted cheese; then in December (like the rest of the world, except Santas wear a red pair of shorts and flip flops – can’t say flip flops are tongues yet, I guess we have to wait until the 10 year mark in Oz to say such thing). It’s that time of the year again where we’ve got to celebrate, drink alcohol (not for me though, was on antibiotics so had cranberry juice) and wish everyone, a happy new year.
This year, Monsieur’s Corporate Christmas is in Marque. This is the restaurant he took me to 2 years ago, for my birthday. We’re about 50 this year because it’s a nice setting, nice restaurant, and every employee seems to think: why not give it a go? (I love free food, I’d always give a go). The restaurant’s capacity being slightly less, and us having to play musical chairs so we get to meet different people, is a bit confusing (my path, on table 1, reads move to table 3 and 5. I’m fortunate enough to keep Monsieur with me) and a scary thought to have to share your glass and cutlery with others (we do get to keep our napkins fortunately!).
It started on a not so high note, with 2 amuse bouche being tomato and parmesan marshmallow, and Jerusalem Artichoke with Ocean Trout & Fine Herbs. Surely, texture was invited: marshmallow melted (like regular marshmallows after all) and Jerusalem Artichoke was ultra crispy (think thick crispy pork belly fat times three – as in meet you at the dentist)… but taste was not what I recalled from my first Marque experience. I do not mind the sweet-looking savoury marshmallow, but the parmesan was way too overwhelming (and this comes from two French frogs who love their cheese). As for the Jerusalem Artichoke, I just couldn’t taste the Artichoke (at all)… and the ocean trout tasted very much, like pork belly fat anyway (“you sure it isn’t pork belly fat.” I ask Monsieur. “No clue, all I know is I have to rinse that off” he replies. “Or else…”) I have to say we were disappointed with the savoury amuse bouche in many ways, but the rest of the dinner (fortunately) was true to what I remembered (aside from a sizeable chicken faux pas)
Marque’s Blue Swimmer Crab is a dish we’ve had with Monsieur. I love the Almond meal and the smooth almond jelly, but find the “Gazpacho” naming not quite appropriate, for Gazpacho is vegetarian, and normally involves tomatoes… but then, what’s in a name? That which we (should not) call a gazpacho by any other name, would taste as good. One of Monsieur’s colleague, after a spoon, seems ready to spit on his plate. I could happily eat his crab, but then… I’ve got to behave, so it’s a no no.
The Tiger Prawn with Avocado, buttermilk, hazelnut and sea urchin is a new addition (from 2 years ago). I do not get why the Avocado has to be burnt (had half of the burned part and didn’t think much of it), and why there’s buttermilk soup on the plate (too much for my liking). Other than that, the classical pairing of prawn and avocado works well (I love prawns, avocado, and them together). The great news is Monsieur can’t taste the sea urchin at all (me neither) for this is something he loath! (To the point I almost had to finish off the buttermilk and guarantee him it was safe to drink).
Oh hello you! We’ve had Calamari risotto before, and this one tastes great, but not as good as Three blue duck’s Calamari (served with sweet Corn). I thought to myself: So that’s black ink… and it’s supposed to taste like… Can’t taste much of what there is to taste… Normally, Monsieur and I would go through length to discuss flavours involved in a dish, especially new ones (as in Monsieur asking me what Durian tastes like) but we’ve got his colleagues with us and have to pretend we’re not barbarians. This one is about texture, there’s crunch from cauliflower and risotto, smoothness from the ink that’s tagliatelle-like (though not much taste) and black and white. They could have played Michael Jackson’s tune really. It was good, but the leaves on top seemed non edible (or hard to chew, like dehydrated noodles about to cook). May be they were meant to be part of the decor, like the plastic leaves in Japanese bento box (?)
The Murray Cod was perfectly cook, I like when Cod is soft inside, and this was spot on. The thing is, every element on the plate was best eaten on its own (to me), cabbage was very acidic, as in close to sauerkraut/choucroute, and even green strawberries tasted just like french cornichons (i.e. non-sweet sour gherkins). The sourness of the cabbage and strawberries was too strong versus the poor Cod, and I reckon it would have been a better match with cured meat. There was fried fish skin that came with and was a true highlight to me (reminded me of a Chinese hot pot in HK) but Monsieur gave me a disgusted look when he realised what it was (I mean come on, you’ve had chicken’s feet and intestines!)
To remind you the chicken is free range, it is well hidden below fried leek (makes it more rural I guess?). I’m very fortunate it is good quality chicken, for mine was raw inside. Since I was on antibiotics, I figured heck, why not give it a go… turned out fine for me (phew). Aside from the fact my chicken was half alive, its liver (hidden under the ashes) was good, but when it comes to the raw thigh, I can cook chicken this way too (and probably longer so it’s really cooked through) and the highlight of the dish isn’t the chicken, it’s just the leek and shallot (that I reckon, was harder to produce…). No wow factor, just normal chicken seating on my plate. By that moment, Monsieur’s colleagues were wondering why I was using the egg shaped light to look at my piece of thigh (I was assessing the rawness of my chicken – sorry.)
Our menu read Venison, and Monsieur and I were both boasting about how pleasurable the Venison was when we had it, saying it was our favourite dish ever from the degustation menu. Turns out that we’re having lamb with asparagus this evening. And it didn’t disappoint. It’s very very very garlicky, so Monsieur can’t taste the lamb’s usual gamey flavour he just can’t bear (I hide it with heaps of hoisin sauce and cumin). There’s even garlic confit around and I love garlic (good for your breath). All in all, fabulous dish for which I’d happily return.
Ouch, This was so earthy a dessert, that I wondered whether the green circle was grass juice and they had mixed up rhubarb with beetroot. All I liked were the blueberries… Not convinced by the charred rhubarb at all.
The Chamomille with white chocolate, yogurt, lemon aspen and milk cookie wasn’t my cup of tea. It seems they wanted to put fifty shades of white on the plate… but I’d rather have Sepia’s black forest (which had far more different but discreet flavours involved)… If chamomille is meant to be the highlight (as it comes announced first) then I need to taste more of it… That said, I’m not a huge dairy fan, so this might explain why I wasn’t attracted to that dessert for starters…
The Sauternes Custard has far more alcohol than the one we had 2 years ago. It’s good, but I suspect they didn’t cook the sauternes (for the alcohol to evaporate) as much as before. Still… I love it!
Overall, this night was a busy night, with staff being ultra efficient. The thing is, Monsieur’s company probably shouldn’t have chosen Marque, for they usually cater for smaller groups. This unfortunately had an impact on the quality level we were “used to” when we first came. It seems that red meat is what they do best, I loved my venison 2 years ago, and loved my lamb this year. When it comes to dessert, there’s room for improvement on a relative basis (I’m thinking about Sepia’s black forest). I missed the sweet bonbons (we had pate de fruit and chocolates 2 years ago). That said, raw chicken from a 3 hat restaurant is quite a sizeable faux pas.