Forgive me, if it sounds like a foodie's biggest fallacy, but I am intimidated by menus. Often, menus are frighteningly long; most of them are complicated. Some have such tongue-twisting names that I get so tangled in semantics that I forget about the palate. But little did I know that in Sydney, it would take a water menu to blow my wit away. Yes, water menu. No, not the clichéd still/sparkling, cold/warm option. Listen to this: Effervescent with your salad? Classic Sparkling with red meat? Waiwera that comes from New Zealand? San Benedetto from the Veneto aquifier in France? In Four Season's Kable restaurant, much before the famous Petrossian caviar with classic garnishes lands on your table, you need to make the water choice. Told you, menus can be intimidating.
That should not have surprised me, though. That's Sydney, one of the world's greatest eating towns. And while packing for that ‘eating town', I had packed a list of eat-what-where best list: Best Thai at Longrain, Best Indian at Delhi O Delhi, Best Chinese at Fisherman's Wharf, Best Italian at Italian Forum, Best View of Sydney Harbour at Quay; Best view of East Circular Quay at Aria; Best Japanese at Tetsuya; Best French at Marque; Best kangaroo/crocodile meat at Hotel Australia; Best Meat Pie at Harry's Café.... The list was getting longer and more debatable. Gourmands are a bickering lot; they disagree about the ‘best' of everything in Sydney.
However, I stuck to my Sydney best-list and began with one of the 50 best restaurants in the world. New York Times called it "possibly the best food in Australia". You can digest the ‘best food' tag, but how do you bite into ‘intellectual' food? That is the adjective Sydney Morning Herald newspaper uses to describe food at Marque. Intellectual? I'd call it sublime. The dainty macaroons, chaud-froid free range egg, sauternes custard, parmesan gnocchi and bitter bon bons get rustled by Mark Best, the owner-chef, who began life as an electrician in the gold fields, then woke up to the wok, and then won the prestigious Breakthrough Award at 2010 World Restaurants Awards. When the dark red macaroons were delicately laid on a warm plate, I wanted to stash them in velvet boxes and when flavours repeated over the eight-course meal, I wondered why a food so beautiful is given a name as bland as ‘degustation'. At Marque, food goes beyond flavour, it approximates art.
In Sydney, Best set the taste bar so high that I thought I'd be disappointed thereafter. Disappointed, I certainly was. Not because the food on the plate was not scrumptious enough, but because I found no seat in Tetsuya - often, you need to book a table three weeks in advance! Housed in a heritage-listed site, Tetsuya found a place in S Pellegrino World's Best 100 Restaurants list. You know why? Because, here, food is based on Japanese philosophy and enhanced by French techniques and if you ever had their signature dish (confit of Petuna ocean trout served with konbu, celery and apple) you'd know why.
Sometimes, food is not about what is on your plate but also what lies around. The view, that is. And in a beautiful city like Sydney, it is okay to nudge out flavours for a fantastic view. Like Aria by the East Circular Quay. The lunch menu of pork belly with pork croquette and caramalised apple, scallops roasted with kimichi puree, roasted fillet of Mulloway are hearty, but the view is so spectacular that I could sit there all day with just a plate of mango and lime bombe.
You cannot leave Sydney without digging your fork into kangaroo/crocodile meat and sipping cloudy beer. Step into Hotel Australia, a 95-year old pub that revels in its Edwardian architecture, polychromatic brickwork and the undying myth of the murder of John Williams Manners, a rogue. On the menu is a complete menagerie - saltwater crocodile, emu wings, pepper kangaroo, barramundi pie, beef and bock pie...People come here for the chewy crocodile meat, low-fat kangaroo meat, friands (puff pastry wrapped around a sausage) and the oh!so Australian Cooper's cloudy beer that gets brewed in the bottle.
In this ‘eating town' called Sydney, there is so much to eat and savour that it could take a lifetime to finish that last morsel on offer. In the ‘eating town', you can just roll over and pretend hungry.