Thursday, 22 August 2013

Land vs Sea @ Ormeggio - 7 August 2013

Biota meets Ormeggio

On a cold Wednesday evening, my wife and I made the drive north up the Harbour Bridge to dine at Ormeggio at the Spit. We were so impressed by Ormeggio the first time we dined there for my wife’s birthday (see review here) that we decided that we needed to eat there again as we were suffering from withdrawal symptoms.  On this occasion, we came for a one-off event, Land vs. Sea, which saw James Viles from Biota Dining in Bowral join Alessando Pavoni in the kitchen to prepare a 4 course meal with matching wine ($125 per person) and to engage in a bit of a friendly cook-off. Biota Dining has been awarded 2-chef hats from the SMH Good Food Guide (just like Ormeggio), and is a restaurant that I have been interested for some time, mainly for its dedication to sustainability. Biota have their own ‘kitchen garden’ complete with garden beds, onsite greenhouse and flocks of hens, ducks and geese to lay fresh eggs for the restaurant.  So I thought this would be a great opportunity to try James Viles’ cooking without having to go down to Bowral, plus how could I pass up an opportunity to have Alessandro and James cook for me on the same night?

Dining area
Diners enjoying a drink and canapes before dinner

Some of the matching wines for the night

Mushroom and tapioca chip, Baccala fritter
We arrived at Ormeggio early and were immediately greeted by the friendly waitstaff and with a glass of bubbly. As we sat around waiting for things to kick off, we also enjoyed some canapes by Ormeggio. One was a baccala fritter (salted cod) and a mushroom and tapioca chip. Both were bite-sized treats and very enjoyable. I think I could have a whole plate of either of these. I even had a chance to get a picture and a quick word with the man himself, Alessandro Pavoni, whilst we were waiting. Both my wife and I are huge fans, so to say we were chuffed in an understatement. There was no way we were going to pass up the opportunity when we saw Alessandro emerge from the kitchen into the dining area.

My wife an I posing for a pic with Alessandro
Warm sourdough
First up is bread, of course. The sourdough was great and how a good sourdough should be. The crust was crunchy, and the bread itself was soft and fluffy. I loved the freshly churned butter too. It was creamy and slightly sour.

 Course one (by Biota)

Kingfish and veal tendons – blackened cucumbers – radish – oyster velvet
My kingfish and veal tendons entrée was an amazing course. Everything on the plate just worked so beautifully together. The delicate flavour of the kingfish sashimi went so well with the slow cooked veal tendons, which had a sticky texture and a slightly sweet flavour. I was also impressed with the blackened cucumbers. The combination of smokiness with sweet and refreshing cucumber was brilliant. And then there was a beautiful creamy oyster velvet to round out the dish. It was such a light dish with clean flavours that used fresh ingredients which were prepared and cooked to perfection. This was the perfect ‘land vs sea’ course, making great use of ingredients from the land and the sea. 
Pea emulsion – carrot – onion – croutons – parmesan
The pea emulsion was my wife’s first course. It was great comfort food for a cold winter night. The emulsion was warm and creamy with great, satisfying pea flavours, obviously. Crispy croutons predictably worked well with a warm, creamy soup and the parmesan really lifted the flavour profile of the soup.   

Course two (by Ormeggio)

Agnolotti filled with veal – onion consommé – shallot crisp
Ormeggio’s first course of the night was really quite awesome! The agnolotti is a new item on Ormeggio’s menu and was very recently launched. The agnolotti were thin parcels of pasta that encased a veal filling that was packed with loads and loads of flavour. Boom! The onion consommé was fragrant and smelt great. The flavour of the consommé was very clean and the sweetness and umami of the consommé balanced out the saltiness of the veal filling wonderfully. And I loved that shallot crisp too!          

Taglioni – chestnut mushroom – porcini – dill
This course is the mushroom lover’s dream. The aroma of my wife’s taglioni is the most obvious thing you notice as it is brought out to you. The earthy aroma of mushroom was really intense and alluring. It smelt amazing! The flavour of this dish was spectacular too. There was so much umami flavour in this course from all the different mushrooms. The perfectly cooked al-dente taglioni was finished off in a sauce made from mushroom broth and served with sauteed chestnut mushrooms, pickled shitake mushrooms and topped with dried porcini mushroom powder. I wish I knew how they make this powder so I can put it on top of all my pastas that I eat at home! This was a very memorable course and my wife’s favourite course of the night. I think this is a dish we will be talking about for a while. We are convinced that Ormeggio make the best pasta and risotto in Sydney! 

My wife (designated driver) being responsible and not finishing her wines

Course three (by Biota)

Smoked pork belly – leek ashes – celeriac – mushrooms
My smoked pork belly course really demonstrated the genius of James Viles. The black coating on the pork belly are leek ashes, which is a technique that James uses to turn what is usually waste into a key component of a dish. The ashes are made by taking any leftover herbs, leeks etc. and roasting them til they turn into ashes. The ashes are then painted onto the slow cooked pork belly. I love how Biota makes sure that nothing goes to waste. The ashes are definitely not a gimmick and adds a lot to the dish. I loved the smokey flavours of the pork belly from the ashes and the tenderness of the meat, which could easily be pulled apart strand by strand with a fork. The celeriac puree was smooth and creamy, so it was a good textural component to go with the pork belly. 

Blackened carrot – celeriac – hazelnut
This was my wife’s third course, quite a simple yet enjoyable course of blackened carrots, celeriac and hazelnuts. The blackened carrot were prepared using the same technique as the blackened cucumbers in my first course. The carrots were sweet, tender and smoky from the black exterior. This course was not as strong as the previous two vegetarian courses.
Course four (by Ormeggio)

Sweet potato – beer – barley
The sweet potato dessert is a new dessert that Ormeggio pastry chef, Laura Ballester, has developed and in her own words, the diners will be her “guinea pigs” and she will be seeking feedback from diners. This dessert really got me and my wife talking about whether it worked or not, just because it was so different. I think those that are happy to explore different flavours will appreciate this dessert, whereas those that like to taste more familiar flavours may not enjoy this dessert as much. I think I am more in the former camp with this dessert.    

The combination of sweet potato, barley grains and a beer sorbet seems to make a lot of sense from both a flavour and textural perspective. The dessert had a complex flavour profile that was sweet, nutty and malty from the barley, and slightly bitter from the beer. The flavours certainly intrigued us.       

Sweet potato was presented in 3 ways, as cubes of roasted sweet potato, as a sweet potato caramel and as sweet potato crisps. I thought these all worked well. I also enjoyed the uniqueness of the beer sorbet and found it to be nice and refreshing, being a beer drinker. But I do think that the beer sorbet is the component that may divide some people. A sorbet that tastes like beer, I think might just be too unusual for some people.

So it was another great meal at Ormeggio. Ormeggio has firmly become a favourite of mine in Sydney and each time we have dined here we leave rather satisfied and wondering when we might be back next. I also love the special themed events that Alessandro and his team run from time to time, so I am sure I will be back for one of those soon. Or I might drop by again for one of the ‘stressless Sunday dinners’, a 6 course chef’s degustation for just $69. This is insane value for a fine 2-hatted restaurant, so if anyone is looking for an amazing meal, with a splendid view too, then look no further than Ormeggio.               

Highlight: Trying to pick a best dish is almost impossible when you have two such talented chefs in the same kitchen. My favourite course was the kingfish and veal tendons (by Biota) and my wife’s favourite was the mushroom taglioni (by Ormeggio). Both these dishes were amazing in their own right.   
Lowlight: Going to this event was supposed to save me from driving down to Bowral to try Biota (and some money in doing so). Instead it has opened my eyes to the great things James Viles is doing at Biota and has made me want to go to Biota even more! Now I will need to find a weekend (and the necessary funds) for a weekend trip to Bowral and Biota. At least they have accommodation and dining packages at Biota now. 
Overall: Land vs. Sea was a fun night with two 2-chef hatted chefs squaring off and cooking some pretty amazing food. Alessandro Pavoni and James Viles are both great chefs and the dishes tonight really show why they are so highly regarded. So won the cook off? It was close, so I think I will have to call this one a draw. 8/10 (Excellent)  

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