The list of dinners and events for this year’s SIFF were long enough to keep me entertained for an afternoon simply trying to decide what to go to. The words Janice Wong and Sepia were all it took for me to call up for a booking, but unluckily the event was fully booked out and my name went on a waiting list. 2 days before the dinner my prayers were answered with a last-minute cancellation, meaning that Astroboy and I were in!
It’s been a year since my last visit to Sepia, and they’ve been showered in Hats, Best Restaurant and Best Chef Awards so I’m interested to see if anything’s changed. Tonight’s degustation is a joint venture between Janice Wong and the Sepia chefs, Martin Benn and Daniel Puskas, the dinner is 9 courses long and much to my pleasure is actually split into an even mix of 50% savory and 50% sweet.
Service is quick and efficient, within moments of entering the restaurant we’ve been whisked away to our tables. On a whim we decide to share the matching wines, there’s a smile from our waiter before the prompt arrival of the Amuse Bouche. It’s a delicate jelly served simply in a glass, just enough for 2 scoops of the adorable wooden spoon and melts quickly on the tongue leaving you wanting just that little bit more.
Colours seem to be the theme for the night, I’m in awe at the brilliant shadows of orange and red that pop off the plate. There’s dismay on our waiter’s face as a delicately placed stick of carrot falls over as he puts down the plate, its whisked away for re-plating and returned to our table in moments much to our amusement.
The dish is a play on textures and flavour, the tuna slices apart at the touch of the knife playing with the crunch of carrot and crackle of the toasted grains. What I had originally taken for a type of mushroom is actually the Ashed Goats Milk, a surprisingly mild cheese that gives the tuna a slight salty tang.
The matching wine is Saiya Yukinobosha, a Junmai-Ginjo Sake from Japan, it’s a kick to the system with a smooth kick that cuts through the seafood and cheese. Sake isn’t to my tastes, and I’m out after a sip but Astroboy relishes every drop enamored of the pairing.
It’s an all seafood dinner tonight that continues with the Sake Braised Abalone, the abalone is lying on top of an Egg Tofu which has been steamed to a perfect texture, slightly firm while falling apart in the mouth. I feel a little like I’m eating a forest with the Lentil Sprouts, Garlic Shoots and Flowers adorning the tofu, but it creates a texture and slightly bitter counterpoint, winning me over.
Paired with the sweetly acid tastes of the 2008 Millton ‘Te Arai Vineyard’, Chenin Blanc from New Zealand it’s my favourite of the savories of the night.
The chef’s aren’t afraid to play with colours tonight. The Superman red Trout Roe is the first thing I notice all sitting in a brilliantly orange Sea Urchin Emulsion, they’re paired with Scampi Tails and a strangely phallic looking adornment of White Asparagus which makes me giggle a little (or maybe the wines have gone to my head already). Wisely the Scampi is seasoned basically letting the full taste come through and allows the condiments on the plate to shine.
The paired wine 2009 Valdesil ‘Montenovo’, Godello from Spain is Astroboy’s favourite of the night, it’s sweetness cuts through the seafood while complimenting the rich sauce.
We’re onto the last course of seafood for the night, and fittingly it’s the richest – a Wakame coated poached piece of Murray Cod. The crystallized wakame creates a flakey texture for each bite of cod and I’m oddly taken by it, ‘Fish Onigiri?’. Sitting on a bed of lightly cooked radish and daikon, the final blow is the beautifully richly thick Butter Dashi Sauce. I have no shame in admitting I used the remains of my bread to mop up every last drop!
Rather than pair with a sweet wine, the fish is paired with 2008 Yeringberg, Marsanne-Roussanne from the Yarra Valley, Australia. It’s a stronger wine than our previous ones, with a nutty overtone that cuts through the richness of the butter and pairs well with the cod.
Janice Wong’s dish descriptions are intriguingly vague, we’ve been trying to interpret them all night and often throughout the meal we’ve been stopping to gawk at the desserts being served to the table next to us who are a few courses ahead.
The Guava Cloud is a mysterious puff of pink on our plates, and a decisive slice with our fork reveals an icy sorbet center surrounded by fluffy guava. What I find most interesting about the dessert is the little dab of orange sauce, with a texture similar to chutney the result is a salty sweet blast that’s an intriguing match with the light airy Guava. I’m not sure if I like this dessert, but the texture and flavour combination definitely have me interested.
Sepia are stepping up to bat, they’re continuing with the fruit based desserts and have offered up a Poached Mandarin served with Black Sesame and Jasmine and Yoghurt Ice-cream. The first thing to catch my eye is the delicate black sesame cloud wrapped around the mandarin, I take a strange delight in crackling through the shell with a quick whip of the fork.
Pretty! The shell cracks open to reveal the mandarin, which has been poached whole. The slices are tartly sweet, complimenting the Jasmine and Yoghurt ice cream which has captivated Astroboy with the intensity of the Jasmine flavour. Our waiter is happy to relay our question to the chefs who tell us that the Jasmine taste comes from an essence, available at GJ Food. There are also black sesame rocks, which crumble in our mouths to become a paste giving a slightly nutty flavour, I find the paste a little overwhelming and end up leaving a few of the rocks on the plate.
We’ve been provided with two dessert wines for the sweet courses, the first is the 2006 Royal Tokaji Wine Company ‘Áts Cuvée’, Late-varvest Furmint from Tokaji, Hungary. We’re advised to pair it with fruit desserts as it’s the lighter option of the two, lightly sweet on the tongue without being overly syrupy.
Before the chocolate courses we’re given a palate cleanser, Lemonade Explosion. It’s a rather unassuming looking bite, but our waiter tells us to just pop the whole thing into our mouths. After putting it my mouth, I realise the size is a little awkward and decide to bite down, but before I do anything the bottom suddenly explodes and my mouth is filled with taste of lemonade! It’s then that I realise that the top tap is actually moulded white chocolate, as it melts I suddenly feel pop rocks exploding before the entire mouthful simply… melts away.
It’s an amazing bite, and we can’t help but laugh at the fun of it all. My favourite part for the rest of the meal is watching the other tables when they reach the explosion part and the looks of shock on their faces.
After the lemonade I feel like I’m prepared for anything! The first chocolate course named Trunk, and is made up of chocolate carefully moulded and scratched up to resemble a section of bark before being dusted in gold. A quick crack reveals a molten chocolate center with a sharp vinegar tang, complimented by the sour notes of the Iced Yuzu (Japanese Citrus). The chocolate center is actually a sharp Japanese plum which is then toned down with chocolate. It’s a combo I never would have thought would work, but somehow it does.
Our final dessert for the night is Coral, it’s a strange brown mousse that appears at our table, garnished simply with a wafer, purple flower and golden tints. The mousse is misleading, as the first bite reveals what is the lightest and airiest bite of chocolate I’ve ever tasted in my life.
The second dessert wine we’re served is the 2004 Alain Brumont ‘Les Larmes Célestes’, Petit Manseng from Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, France. It’s a warmer and stronger dessert wine and my favourite of the two with each sip leaving a lingering taste on my tongue, pairing well with chocolate.
Hiding beneath the surface of the mousse is a smorgasbord of textures, with wafer slices concealing molten chocolate and a trail of chocolate cake crumbs which have somehow managed to stay perfectly dry. It’s a beautifully balanced dessert which manages to avoid the pitfalls of most chocolate desserts, somehow being rich while staying light on the taste buds.
Janice Wong is kind enough to come around to the tables after her service. She tells us that the customers of her dessert bar 2am:dessertbar in Singapore are primarily women, who all want and crave chocolate so her chocolate desserts are designed to satisfy that craving without being filling or overly heavy. White chocolate is also used in the recipes rather than sugar, it’s melted down and added into the recipes.
She reveals that there was actually a mishap with coral dessert and the freezers, originally the dessert was supposed to be frozen into a shape resembling coral (hence the name) which would then dissolve into the texture of the mousse which we were served. I’m impressed by the matter of fact way she tells us this as though it was just a broken dish, it’s to her credit for managing to still deliver a dessert even after a technical malfunction.
We’re ending the night on a bang with glass straws of Alcohol shots, it’s like being a kid again as we suck on the straws to get at the alcoholic jelly. My favourite is the Yuzu Malibu, a sour coconut blast which makes me laugh when suddenly the half empty straw begins to make rude noises when it sucks in air along with the jelly. It’s a brilliant way to end the meal and we’re all smiles by the time the last plate is taken away.
Sepia’s service has been top-notch all night, the staff have been attentive to the pace of the meal with each course arriving promptly. The restaurant is obviously busy but our waiters have been more than happy to answer any inquiries about the meal, my favourite part is an impromptu rehash of the meal with our final waiter (whose name I unfortunately did not get).
It’s been brilliant seeing how the dessert styles of the two chefs complement one another and has made me into a solid fan of Sepia and Janice Wong. I’ll be back to Sepia no doubt and if I’m ever in Singapore will be heading straight to 2am:dessertbar!
Janice Wong at Sepia was a SIFF 2010 event held at Sepia on the 8th of October.
Sepia Restaurant & Wine Bar
Level Ground, 201 Sussex Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Ph: (02) 9283 1990
Web : http://www.sepiarestaurant.com.au
21A Lorong Liput
Holland Village, Singapore
Ph: +65 6291 9727