Review: Sepia Restaurant, Sydney

The past six months have possibly been the most amazing six months of high-end eating I’ve ever enjoyed. The Fat Duck Melbourne was definitely a highlight. With decadent meals at both Quay and Tetsuya’s as well, K and I finished up the holy trinity of fancy degustation dinners at Sydney’s premier hatted restaurants with a dinner at Sepia in July, a wedding gift from our friends Neil and Rob.

When we told my father-in-law that we had a reservation for Sepia, he surprised me by saying, “Oh, I’ll have to let Vicki and Martin know that you two are going!” Apparently, he knows the Sepia owners (and head chef) Vicki Wilde and Martin Benn very well, having first met them when he was the house doctor at Tetsuya’s years ago when Martin was still chef there. I thought that was a nice touch that may help with getting us a particularly well-situated table, but didn’t think much more of it.

I was really pleasantly surprised when my father-in-law’s connections ensured that we had a night beyond my expectations. There’s no questioning that the standard Sepia experience is superb. The expert and exceptional service, the attention to detail, the artistry of each plate, the decadence of each dish all combined has helped Sepia win Restaurant of the Year a few years running. What K and I were able to experience was beyond that, thanks to my father-in-law.

It started with personalised service from Vicki at the start as she greeted us in the entrance. Later she said to K, “I could tell who you were as soon as you walked in, you look so much like your father.” She went on to say, “Martin and I really wanted to make sure that you both had a great time tonight because your father has just been so fantastic over the years. He’s an absolutely outstanding man, one in a million.”

Our special service continued with a few glasses of complimentary champagne, some complimentary sake before dessert, and three extra courses that weren’t available to other diners that night – resulting in a few envious glances at our table by our neighbouring diners. One of these extra courses proved to be one of my favourite dishes of the night – a simple truffle sushi. Premium-grade sushi rice coated in truffle butter, and covered with the thinnest shavings of fragrant full-bodied black truffle. Completely simple, but entirely high-end, decadent, and unbeatable.

Speaking of black truffle – it’s an ingredient that’s featuring heavily in the Sepia kitchen and as part of the current menu. Part of that must be the fact that it’s very much in season at the moment, an important consideration for chefs like Benn who like to cook using local and seasonal produce. In the case of Sepia, it’s particularly special as they use local and seasonal ingredients, but cooked in a delicate Japanese style. They even managed to make a blow-your-mind black truffle gelato, an amazing achievement given how it is such a rich and distinctive savoury flavour.

Beyond their superb choice of ingredients, the artistry of each dish cannot be disputed. Quite often, many high-end restaurants will plate up a dish that looks pretty due to the placement of some micro herbs or a few edible flowers. Maybe it’s even just a few drops of jus that makes the dish look attractive. Sepia however, goes beyond presenting a pretty dish, and creates real works of art. I looked at the yellowfin tuna sashimi, and saw a blazing ring of fire. The roasted Aylesbury duck breast was a mountain ridge with a rocky outcrop. The wagyu beef was an overgrown forest, with moss-covered rocks. Our complimentary palate cleanser was an asteroid hurtling through space. Food is art at Sepia, just as food is theatre at the Fat Duck.

Sepia expertise isn’t limited to food though, and the sommelier was absolutely superb. While I’m still choosing to be alcohol-free and simply had a sip of celebratory champagne and a sip of some absolutely addictive yuzu-infused sake, I really enjoyed listening to him explain the different wines of the matched wine pairing to K. He was incredibly knowledgable, and had clearly had first-hand knowledge of the origins of each of the wines. I asked him about one of the Spanish wines in particular and he was able to explain in length how the unique climate and location of the Canary Islands had influenced the maturing process of that wine.

While the variety of hard-to-find wines is clearly one of Sepia’s main drawcards (with their 50+ page wine list!), they pay just as close attention to the non-alcoholic drink options. I chose to have the tea degustation, and the young woman who brought each course of my tea pairing out to the table for me was a true tea connoisseur. She explained the origins, leaf-picking method, drying method, tasting notes, and additional infusions with great detail, also pointing out the individual elements of each tea that made it a good pairing for the course to come.

Honestly, I can’t compliment our experience at Sepia enough. Yes, it was enhanced thanks to my father-in-law’s connections, but I know that even had we had a ‘regular’ experience, it would still be far and beyond one of the best meals I’ve ever had. I’d be very keen to go back and have another meal at Sepia in the future.

Sepia Menu: Friday 10th July 2015

(menu below does not include extra courses on the night)

  • Saikou salmon, smoked roe, sudachi
    Smoked scarlet prawn, pickled daikon, shiso
    Seared kingfish, kabosu, silken tofu
  • Sashimi of Yellow Fin tuna, goat milk chevre, avocado, purple belle radish, pork crackling
  • Scallop, quail egg, cauliflower, Saikyo miso, Tasmanian black truffle, kailan flower
  • Charcoal grilled black lip abalone, dashi sabayon, roasted chicken skin
  • Panko fried scampi, lardo, dashi butter, horseradish, shell powder
  • Roasted Aylesbury duck breast, candied fuyu persimmon, dried fennel, wild strawberry vinegar
  • Seared David Blackmore wagyu beef, scallion, nameko mushroom, pickled lotus root, shiso
  • Mandarin, lemonade fruit, green tea
  • Black truffle ice cream, hazelnut, rosemary and honey mousse
  • Milks – milk chocolate, coconut yoghurt, rice milk pudding, goat milk dulce de leche, sheep milk sorbet, milk cake, milk crisp, yuba
  • Winter chocolate forest – soft chocolate, hazelnut and almond, violet crumble cream, blackberry sorbet, elderflower and Meyer lemon jellies, green tea, licorice, chocolate twigs, bronze fennel

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