Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Ume Restaurant, Surry Hills - 17 January 2015

My wife and I have wanted to make a return visit to Ume Restaurant for quite some time following our memorable lunch back in August 2013. We decided to drop by for lunch last weekend after a stop at our new favourite coffee place, Artificer Speciality Coffee Bar and Roastery, which is just across the road from Ume. The coffee there is seriously awesome, but more on this another day!

Ume is located in a relatively quiet section of Surry Hills on Bourke St. The decor at Ume is pared back with white walls, dark wood and a plum blossom painting on one wall. The head chef and owner is Kerby Craig, who worked at Tetsuya's back when it was in Rozelle and Koi in Woolwich before opening Ume.

The menu at Ume is Modern Japanese cuisine, utilising classical Japanese techniques, modern flair and local, seasonal ingredients. There are a la carte options or set menus available (5 courses for $67 or 7 course set menu $87). As we had only tried a la carte courses at Ume in the past, we were keen to try the 7 course set menu this time. With advance notice, Kerby Craig was able to prepare a separate vegetarian set menu.

Some of the sakes from Ume's great selection
House made yuzu soda ($5.50) and Izumibashi Nama Genshu Natsu-Yago, Kanagawa ($21)
There's a great selection of sake, shochu, whisky and umeshu at Ume. I opt for the Izumibashi Nama Genshu (180ml, $21) to start the meal. This sake was served chilled, perfect for a 39 degree day.

My wife went for Ume's house made yuzu soda. Being a yuzu fanatic, I loved this soda! For me it was just right: refreshing, tangy and not too sweet. I'm calling this my favourite yuzu beverage in Sydney! We loved this yuzu soda so much that several rounds of this drink were in order. 

Course one
Kingfish sashimi: shiro ponzu, black sesame, house made yuzu-kosho
My menu starts with beautiful slices of kingfish sashimi dressed in a white ponzu and served with Ume's house made yuzu-kosho. The kingfish was delightfully fresh with firm textured flesh. The tart and peppery notes from the yuzu-kosho were a perfect accompaniment to the kingfish. 

Chargrilled asparagus, avocado, yuzu-kosho, ponzu
My wife's first course was char grilled asparagus, avocado, Japanese negi, Ume's house made yuzu-kosho and ponzu. This was a simple yet enjoyable course. My wife commented on how good that ponzu sauce was. So much so that she would have run her finger through the sauce if no one else was watching.     

Course two
Seared Hokkaido scallop: koikuchi shoyu, kombu brown butter, finger limes
The next course was a revised version of Ume's signature dish - seared Hokkaido scallops. Scallops were thinly sliced, like a carpaccio, and fanned out in a shape of a flower. The texture of the scallops was just beautiful - smooth and velvety and the flavours in this dish were on point. The scallops were sweet, the kombu brown butter was loaded with umami and little rocks of finger limes provided bursts of acidity. I thought this version improved on the original, which was already an excellent dish!

Roasted yuba, koikuchi shoyu, kombu brown butter, finger limes
My wife's second course consisted of the same elements as my course (i.e. soy, kombu brown butter, and finger limes), with roasted house made yuba (tofu skin) taking the place of scallops. The yuba had a soft and silky texture. But it was the roasting of the yuba, which imparted an amazing toasty/smoky flavour, that really made this dish stand out. This was one of the favourites courses for my wife this meal.    

Course three
Kakuni: soy braised pork belly, karashi su-miso, broccolini, pork crackling furikake
Pork belly was slowly braised in soy and dashi stock and then finished on the charcoal grill. This must have been the softest layer of pig fat that I have ever eaten: so good and just melting away in the mouth! The meat was also very tender and tasty. But it was the karashi su-miso (a combination of Japanese mustard, miso and egg yolk) that really brought this dish together. The sweetness and pungent heat of the sauce went really well with the pork belly. Pork crackling was sprinkled on top like you would sprinkle furikake over rice for texture. 

Shiki no salad: roast heirloom carrots, fried brussel sprouts, buckwheat, black vinegar, tamari custard
My wife had the shiki no salad, which we ordered last time and was our favourite course from the previous meal. Our assessment of this dish doesn't change: it's fantastic and loaded with umami. The highlight of the salad were the fried brussel sprouts. The crispy sprouts were so so delicious when dipped into that creamy tamari custard and addictive soy and ginger dressing. The assorted roasted heirloom carrots were also delicious.   

More yuzu sodas... a much needed remedy for a 39 degree day! ($5.50)
Course four
Yaki nasu: charcoal grilled eggplant, wari shoyu, nori oil, grated ginger, Ito-gaki katsuo-bushi
Next was one of my favourite vegetables in Japanese cooking, eggplant. Nasu dangaku (miso eggplant) has been replaced by yaki nasu (charcoal grilled eggplant). The eggplant, which was sitting in an umami-filled wari shoyu broth and nori oil, was smoky, fall-apart-tender and juicy. The eggplant was served with grated ginger and katsuo-bushi (bonito flakes).    

Yaki nasu: charcoal grilled eggplant, wari shoyu, nori oil, grated ginger, nori
My wife's yaki nasu was topped with crispy nori rather than katsuo-bushi.

Course five
9+ Wagyu sukiyaki: David Blackmore 9+ wagyu, local asparagus, onsen tomago, soy and mirin reduction
That #yolkporn!
Thin slices of lightly cooked David Blackmore wagyu beef (marble score 9+), asparagus and shimeji mushrooms were immersed in a soy and mirin reduction, sukiyaki style. David Blackmore produces some of the best beef in the country and this was evident here. The beef was amazingly tender and flavoursome when coated in the soy and mirin reduction, kind of like a refined teriyaki sauce. The onsen tamago with perfectly oozing yolk and soft, just cooked egg white made for an excellent dipping sauce for the beef and vegetables. This was my favourite course of the meal.   

Akita-Komachi rice ($4.50)
I don't think you can have the wagyu sukiyaki without a bowl of perfectly cooked, fluffy rice to mop up the sauce. Akita-Komachi is a high end, short grain rice from Akita prefecture in Japan and the rice was cooked with dashi stock.  

Kinoko moriawase: assorted mushrooms, yuba, soy
My wife's final savoury course was kinoko moriawase (or assorted mushrooms) with bamboo shoots, yuba and soy; another simple, yet enjoyable dish.

Course six
Strawberry compote: caramelised white chocolate, ice cream powder, matcha pudding, ginger bread, dango
The first dessert course consisted of strawberry compote, white chocolate caramel, matcha custard, dango (Japanese glutinous rice ball), ginger bread and white chocolate ice cream powder. I love my matcha bitter and the matcha custard in this dessert was just that. The sweetness of the white chocolate and strawberries were a great match with the bitterness of the matcha custard. This was my favourite of the dessert courses.  

Uzen Shiraume Ume Yusui, Yamagata ($10)
I ordered a Uzen Shiraume Ume Yusui to have with my dessert courses. The tart flavours of ume were wonderfully balanced with moderate sweetness, creating a ume-shu that was really pleasant to drink and not sickly sweet.

Course seven
Mango: mango tofu, frozen green tea, mochi, dehydrated cocoa mousse, mango sorbet
The final course of the menu was just as pleasant to stare at as it was to eat. I had a similar dessert in my previous meal at Ume; except this time mango was in season rather than mandarin. The mango sorbet was nice and refreshing. The mango tofu was interesting and was -more like the firm tofu variety or a jelly rather than a soft tofu. This dessert also utilised the matcha and fruit combo with frozen green tea. The shards of dehydrated chocolate mousse and mochi provided textural contrast in this dessert.

Like my first meal at Ume, I was highly impressed with the food; every course was enjoyable! Ume's food utilises classical Japanese techniques which are familiar to me but it's the modern flair that elevates the food to another level. My verdict of Ume remains unchanged: Ume = Yummeh! 

Highlight: Wagyu sukiyaki with a bowl of rice. 
Lowlight: Expect Japanese-sixed portions, after all this is a Japanese restaurant.   
Overall: Ume's food is pure, clean and full of umami flavours, all of which are hallmarks of great Japanese food. Ume is one of my favourite Japanese restaurants in Sydney and one that I would happily revisit regularly.   8/10 (Excellent)

Ume Restaurant
Address: 478 Bourke Street Surry Hills, NSW 2010
Contact no: (02) 9380 7333

Ume Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon 

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Vue de Monde, Melbourne - 9 December 2014

Vue de Monde is a restaurant that has been on my wish list for a long, long time. I finally ticked this restaurant off my culinary bucket list during my work trip to Melbourne in December.

Shannon Bennet is a chef that has a significant reputation and one of the most respected in Australia. He's worked for some of the world's greatest chefs in Alain Ducasse, Albert Roux and Marco Pierre-White. His restaurant, Vue de Monde, is considered one of the best restaurants in the country. So my meal at Vue de Monde came with expectations as high as its lofty location, 55 levels above the city. 

The dining room boasts an impressive 360 degree view of the city, it was like being in an observation tower in any major city around the world. The view only got better as the night wore on, initially as the sun sets and then when the bright city lights were switched on.  

The space is surprisingly actually quite understated; gone are the the white table cloths usually found at fine dining establishments. There is a native / colonial theme with wide kangaroo skin covered tables with leather and fur armchairs, generously spaced around the room.

There is a lot of theatre when one dines at Vue de Monde. Diners are able to look right into the sleek open kitchen, which sets the stage for the chefs, and many of the dishes are presented, finished, or served at the table by the chefs. 

There are two dining options on offer a four course a la carte menu or the gastronomes menu (or degustation).  The degustation menu can be anywhere from a 6 course menu (for $210) all the way up to a 10 course menu (for $250, the most expensive in the country for the time being until The Fat Duck opens next month). My intention was to have best experience possible, so I went for the 10 course menu (because... YOLO).

The 10 course menu started out with a myriad of small bites before moving onto the main menu. Interestingly heavier courses appear early in the menu while lighter courses round out the savouries. 

The food displayed an evolution from Vue de Monde's classical French roots to a more contemporary menu, focusing on local produce and native ingredients like wallaby and saltbush. 

Snacks (clockwise from top-left): BBQ lamb hearts; Potato crisps, macadamia puree; Salt cured wallaby; Smoked eel, white chocolate, caviar; Oyster; Duck tongue, mountain pepper; Pine smoked salmon pearls
Several small bites were laid out onto the table in rapid fire succession. I must say that this was easily one of the most dramatic starts to a meal. Each of these bites were very tasty too.

There were salt and vinegar potato crisps served with a macadamia puree and cubes of compressed apple. I would be very happy with a bagful of these chips to munch on in the lounge room!

Next to arrive was a thin ribbon of salt cured wallaby that was brought out to the table on a heated slab of pink salt and rolled up with chopsticks by a waiter. The wallaby was amazing, so soft and melting away in the mouth.

The combination of smoked eel, white chocolate and caviar may sound odd, but it worked really well. The soft, smoky eel was coated with a thin, crisp toffee like white chocolate layer and topped with salty caviar. The sweet and savoury flavour combination was nice as was the contrast in different textures.

A single Bateman Bay oyster was impeccably fresh, briney and served simply with finger lime.

The duck tongue were slightly chewy and coated in a delicious, sweet glaze and mountain pepper gave the tongue some kick. 

Smoked salmon roe was served with a tarragon butter emulsion and a variety of fresh, seasonal vegetables (radish, turnip,beans, broad beans) for dipping. The smokiness in the roe was quite subtle but I did enjoy the salty bursts of flavour from the roe and the smooth, nutty butter emulsion.         

My favourite of the snacks were the BBQ lamb hearts, which were char grilled and perfectly tender and medium rare inside. The lamb hearts were served with pineapple jam.  

The sun sets over the city
Barramundi, potato, chicken, caviar
The first course of the degustation was a Northern Territory line caught barramundi cooked over a BBQ. The barramundi was well cooked and took on a delicate smoky flavour of the BBQ. The fish itself was solid without being spectacular. For me, the best parts were the things around the fish. A ribbon of potato was rolled and filled with a soft, creamy chicken mousse and topped with caviar. The barramundi was served with a sauce of chicken reduction, apple vinegar and butter. 

Flinders Island lamb, olive, Australian anchovies, sunflower
The Flinders Island lamb, served as 2 different cuts, was one of my favourite courses of this meal. The highlight was the rack of lamb, which was cooked beautifully rare and pink in the centre. The meat was wonderfully tender, juicy and full of flavour. Less impressive, but still delicious was the leg. The lamb was served with an amazing hazelnut puree, olive, anchovies, mustard foam and a disc of apple to cut through the rich flavours in this dish.

Blackmore Wagyu, smoked bone marrow, saltbush
The David Blackmore Wagyu tenderloin served on a bone with bone marrow was by far and away my favourite course of the evening. The sauteed cubes of wagyu tenderloin were tender and so delicious (probably the "beefiest" tasting cow that I have ever had!). If that wasn't enough, wagyu fat was rendered down and shaved over the top like Parmesan cheese to enhance the beefiness of the dish. The pear, cherries, saltbush and macadamia all added another dimension to this meaty yet beautiful dish.

Liquid nitrogen is poured over wood sorrel
Cucumber, wood sorrel
Now that the heavier dishes have been served, a palate cleanser was brought out. A little bowl containing an array of flowers, wood sorrel and herbs was laid out in front of me and liquid nitrogen was poured over the top. A wooden pestle was place on the table and this is where the fun starts. I was instructed to grind up the herbs til they formed a fine powder. A quenelle of cucumber sorbet was then served on top to complete the palate cleanser.

This was an incredible palate cleanser, one of the best I have ever had in a restaurant! The cucumber sorbet was ridiculously refreshing and the flavours were so light, clean and zesty. And it was fun!

Duck, yolk, pear, truffle
Next was a duck yolk covered by slices of pear and served with fried bread crisps, mint and truffle paste. The slow cooked duck yolk was rich and oozing, perfect for dipping into with the crisps (who doesn't love enjoy eggs and soldiers?!) The pear and mint both helped cut through the richness of the dish. 

The one thing that was missing from this dish was the truffle flavour. I couldn't taste any truffle flavour in the paste. This dish was crying out for fresh truffles to be shaved over the top. But unfortunately this was not offered (on most nights, fresh truffle can be added to the menu for an extra $60). I would not have hesitated to pay the extra for the truffles but as I looked around the dining room, it seemed like Vue de Monde didn't have any fresh truffles in their pantry that day. 

House churned butter
Sourdough bread and butter
Sourdough bread and butter was served in the middle of the menu rather than at the start.  Butter is churned daily in-house and I could really taste the cultures in this butter. It was smooth, creamy and had a nice sourness. The sourdough was served warm and had a nice crust, perfect for spreading the butter onto. 
Marron, marzipan, brown butter
Next was a seemingly simple dish of Western Australian marron tails, a brown butter emulsion and marzipan. I was encouraged to pick the marron up with my fingers, and to dip it into the emulsion.  The marron, which had a tarragon leaf inside, was quite simply, perfectly cooked. The marron was sweet, succulent and had a beautiful bouncy texture. The addictive brown butter emulsion was nutty and the marzipan added texture and sweetness to the dish that complimented the marron.

Ox tongue, beetroot, bone marrow
Next was ox tongue, beetroot and bone marrow, with frozen creme fraiche added at the table to finish the dish. I was instructed to drag a little bit of the deep red ox tongue and beetroot mixture into the creme fraiche powder but not to mix it all together. The ox tongue was enjoyable, really soft and melting in the mouth albeit a little salty. I love beetroot and I thought its earthiness and sweetness worked well with the ox tongue. The creme fraiche was interesting.  Not only did it help balance the richness of the dish, it provided a nice temperature contrast as it melted on the tongue.  

Kingfish, kale, buttermilk
Unfortunately I did not enjoy the kingfish, kale, buttermilk course. Kingfish, which was diced into small cubes, had an unusually chewy texture, like gummy bears. The buttermilk sauce and rocket oil weren't anything to write home about either. The kale was enjoyable however. It was smoky and delightfully crispy.

Veal sweetbreads, milk skin, leek
The final savoury course was veal sweetbreads, something that I love to eat at fine dining restaurants. The sweetbreads were paired with milk skin, corn, kohlrabi, leek and brown butter. Unfortunately the cooking of the sweetbreads was inconsistent. While one of the sweetbreads was soft and creamy, the other was overcooked and chewy. Otherwise this was a enjoyable dish without being mind blowing.

Celery, coconut, lemon
For pre-dessert, was a popsicle of coconut sorbet wrapped with frozen celery. The coconut sorbet was nice and refreshing. The celery, while a neat idea, was chewy and stringy. 

Mango, chamomile, lime
The first dessert was a BBQ mango cheek, topped with mango sorbet, camomile, coconut and lime. I am not sure about a BBQ mango cheek in a $250 degustation menu, this dessert still has me scatching my head. At this price point, I would expect something either more technical or a mango so good that it is able to stand up on its own. Unfortunately it was neither. The BBQ mango was interesting with its jam like and sticky texture, but I've had more flavourful mangoes before. The other mango element, the sorbet, was quite good, but again a dessert course in a $250 degustation should be more than just a mango sorbet. The chamomile provided floral notes to the dessert, the coconut added texture and the lime added acidity; I didn't think any of these other elements were able to elevate this dessert.    

Chocolate souffle
To be honest, I was a bit disheartened by the last 4 courses or so by the time the famous Vue de Monde chocolate souffle arrived. Luckily the meal was able to end on a high. This was one of the best souffles that I have had! It was ridiculously light like fluffs of cloud yet so chocolaty at the same time. Never have I had a souffle so airy and so decadent, it didn't seem possible. The souffle was topped with the same frozen creme fraiche from an earlier course.

Petit fours
The petit fours continued with the Australian theme. There were a white chocolate olive oil shell and white chocolate coated pork crackling (hidden among real sea shells), Bourbon orange jellies, eucalyptus ice cream and chocolate mousse lamington. My favourite was the lamington.

Take home pack for the next day
The meal was over 3.5 hours and well past midnight by the time I left the restaurant. I was presented with a morning after pack (what a nice touch!), which consisted of a mini brioche loaf, bircher muesli, honey, chocolate cookies and breakfast tea blend from Vue de Monde's tea sommelier, Charlie.

My meal at Vue de Monde was mostly enjoyable but ultimately, Vue de Monde didn't meet my lofty expectations. At the hefty price tag of $250, I was expecting to be "wowed" by the food from start to finish and for the service to be exceptional. This was not quite the case. Don't get me wrong there were some really quite exceptional courses like the Blackmore wagyu, but the latter part of the the menu wasn't able to keep up with the standard set by the earlier courses (except for the chocolate souffle).  

I was also underwhelmed by the service given the restaurant's status. The service felt rehearsed, it was as if the staff were just "going through the motions". The usual things that you expect fine from a dining restaurant (like topping up water and changing cutlery) were all there, but that was it. The service did not "go above and beyond"; the interactions felt awkward at times and unwarm. This might have been an isolated incident as Vue de Monde is normally known for their service.  

Highlight: The David Blackmore wagyu beef course was exceptional. 
Lowlight: The kingfish, kale, buttermilk course lost me.
Overall: Vue de Monde is certainly one of the flashiest restaurants in Australia, albeit one that carries a hefty price tag. There were some exceptional courses as well as some less impressive ones. The service was below par during my visit 7.5/10 (Great)

Vue de Monde
Address: Rialto, Level 55/525 Collins Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
Contact no: (03) 9691 3888

Vue de monde on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Food highlights - 2014

Happy new year everyone!

2014 has just passed and what a year it has been! Looking back now, I've only started to realise how much fantastic food I was lucky enough to eat last year (as well as how much I've yet to have a chance to write about)!

The Famous Berry Donut Van
I’ve been fortunate enough to do a bit of travelling domestically and abroad this year. In April, I had a weekend getaway in Berry (for one of those infamous donuts) and the Southern Highlands for my wife’s 30th birthday. This trip concluded with a memorable lunch at Biota.

Clockwise from top-left: Lavender fields in Furano, Miso ramen at Ichiryuan, Salad of 20 vegetables at Restaurant Asperges in Biei, Lake Mashu, Furano melon with soft cream, Sushi set at Masazushi in Otaru
In June, I went to Hokkaido for the first time. Hokkaido is probably the most beautiful place I have been to in the world! The grass was so green, the lakes were serene... there was just an abundance of natural beauty everywhere! But it was the food that was the most rewarding part of this trip. I hopped into a hire car and was able to discover some of the most amazing food from farms, markets and local producers. I had the freshest seafood at the fish markets (my mouth is salivating at the thought of Hokkaido sea urchin, crab and bluefin tuna); the creamiest milk (the soft serve ice cream in Hokkaido is so smooth and the creamiest you will find anywhere; it is to die for!) and the best vegetables and fruits (rockmelon will never be the same once you try the prized Yubari melons!). This was a trip that I will never forget (posts to come… eventually)!

Not a cheese board! The best yuzu cheesecake ever at Takazawa! 
I also made a return trip to Takazawa in Tokyo for my birthday. My meal at Takazawa in 2012 is my all-time favourite meal anywhere and I vowed that I would return one day. My post for my latest meal is pending. 

The view from Pilu at Freshwater
In October, I went away to Newcastle for a weekend and had three fine dining meals in three days (Subo, Restaurant Mason and Pilu – posts to come)!

Signature Frozen Kangaroo dish at Mister Jennings
And in December I went to Melbourne for business and had some memorable meals at some newcomers to the Melbourne dining scene in Minamishima and Mister Jennings (post to come).

MEAT at LP's Quality Meats
Closer to home, I had the opportunity to eat at some old favourites (such as Ormeggio, Osteria di Russo & Russo, est.) as well as sample some of the newest players to the scene (like Cho Cho San, LP’s Quality Meats, Kefi, Acme - post to come).

I love coming up with lists, so here were my 10 favourite meals for 2014.

10. Biota Dining (Bowral)
Mum's roses
I celebrated my wife's 30th birthday at Biota dining in Bowral. For me Biota is the benchmark for regional dining in NSW. The menu is focused on local produce, seasonality and sustainability. Every one of our 5 courses were memorable, concluding with a light, refreshing, fruity dessert: mum's roses.

9. Sepia (Sydney)
Winter chocolate forest
Sepia is a popular spot to celebrate special occasions and this is where my wife and I celebrated our wedding anniversary. The seafood courses were all next level of awesomeness. The meal did take a little dip when the red meat courses arrived. But the meal concluded on a high with the Chocolate Forest, one of my favourite desserts in Sydney!

8. Ormeggio at the Spit (Mosman)
Biodynamic veal tonnato
Readers may be aware of my tradition of Xmas eve lunch at a fine dining restaurant. I have another tradition: I dine at Ormeggio on Sunday evenings during long weekends for the Stressless Sunday menu. This menu consists of 6 courses for the low price of $69! This is a bargain considering that Ormeggio is a 2-hat restaurant. But unfortunately this special offer is no longer available following the opening of the Chiosco next door, which focuses on Italian street food. 

Risotto with fresh Australian Perigord truffle and pecorino
I also dined at Ormeggio for their special 3-course truffle menu during the Australian truffle season. This meal started with Ormeggio's signature dish, veal tonnato, with fresh black truffles shaved over the top. Main course was a simple pecorino risotto with fresh black truffle, which was quite simply, mind blowing. The dessert was interesting, a monte bianco of chestnuts with fresh black truffle.

7. Momofuku Seiobo (Pyrmont)
Steamed buns, pork belly, hoisin, cucumber, scallion
During Good Food Month this year, Momofuku Seiobo ditched their normal degustation menu for a week. Instead there was a special menu that included a la carte selections of classics from Momofuku Ssam Bar's 2007 menu in New York, such as steamed pork belly buns and marinated hanger steak. This menu was wildly popular with queues snaking outside the restaurant due to its no-reservation policy. The food was just epic!  So much so that my partner in crime from EMC2, Crystal, and I made a last minute trip to The Star on the final night of the Ssam Bar menu to try the dishes we missed out on in the first meal.

6. Sokyo (Pyrmont)
Seared sea urchin, Sea urchin salmon roe squid, Sea urchin and scampi, Tamago
Since coming back from Japan in June, I had been craving amazing sushi. But unfortunately Sydney doesn't have many options, especially in the high-end department. I have finally discovered my go-to sushi place in Sydney after I tried Sokyo's sushi omakase menu. Piece after piece, I was mind blown. There was bluefin tuna, scampi, sea urchin, engawa... the list goes on! This meal confirmed what many others have already said: Sano-san is the best in the game in Sydney!    

5. Guillaume (Paddington)
Marron, pork cheek, broad beans, cauliflower, sea spray
My meal at Guillaume Brahimi's new digs in Paddington was memorable for so many reasons. But I love classical French fine dining and Guillaume is by far the best in Sydney. What I love about Guillaume is the overall simplicity of the food with each dish focusing on 3 or so elements, the painstaking attention to detail in its cooking and flavour combinations that quite simply just hit the mark time and time again. The sauces and purees (and that little bit of extra butter) were some of the best I have had anywhere!

4. Minamishima (Melbourne)
Minamishima is like a dream come true for me. Long have I wanted to see a high-end sushi-ya serving Edomae style sushi in Australia. There's otoro, sea urchin and engawa as well as a variety of shellfish such as tairagai, mirugai and torigai that you can only find in Japan. My meal here was like I was transported to Japan. The unfortunate thing is Minamishima is in Melbourne, not Sydney.

3. Sushi Tanabe (Sapporo, Japan)
Hokkaido crab (kani)
My meal at Sushi Tanabe in Sapporo was easily the best sushi I have eaten in my life. The freshness and variety of seafood and the progression of one course to the next absolutely blew me away. The crab, chu-toro, abalone and sea urchin were among some of the best things I have ever eaten in my life, all in the same meal! This meal was most definitely a 3-Michelin star experience, worthy of a special journey.

2. Tempura Kondo (Tokyo, Japan)
Tempura prawn
My meal at Kondo in Tokyo is undoubtedly the best tempura that I have eaten. Each morsel was cooked to perfection, coated with an unbelievably thin, light and crispy batter that doesn't feel at all oily. It was amazing how chef Kondo was able to transform cooking tempura into an art form. This meal was all about the sublime quality of the produce, with only minimal intervention from the chef to bring out the natural flavours of the ingredients.

1. Rockpool (Sydney)
Vacherin pandan custard with coconut parfait, jasmine sorbet and lime granita
My favourite restaurant for 2014 is Rockpool because they have provided me with so many wonderful memories! What I love about Rockpool is that they offer 3 different menus for different occasions. The dinner offering takes your palate on a special journey. The evening starts off with a series of snacks and then you move on to 2 or 3  courses from an al la carte menu. The vacherin pandan custard is my all time favourite dessert in Sydney (surpassing even the snow egg at Quay and chocolate forest at Sepia). It's light, it's refreshing, it's delicious, it's got nice textures... it's got everything I ever want in a dessert!

The famous date tarts
The bar menu is in my view the best of the bar menus at the 3 hat restaurants. They do mini size versions of Rockpool classics like the rich and noble congee and chirashi zushi as well as decadent little bites like the caviar finger sandwiches. The bar menu also gives me an excuse to duck into Rockpool for their signature date tarts at $3 a pop (what a steal for one of the best sweets out there)!           

Abalone "meuniere" with fried bread and herb salad
And then there's my lunch on Xmas eve! During the lunch service, Rockpool offers an al la carte menu that's quite different from the dinner offering. This meal really had everything I look for in a fine dining meal. The food was outstanding, faultless in execution (oh my that abalone "meuniere", possibly the dish of the year!). And the service (one of my bugbears at 3 hat restaurants). It was friendly, knowledgeable, and attentive without being overbearing. They really looked after my wife well from start to finish. This meal was a perfect end to 2014. 

And that's a wrap! Thank you to everyone that has taken their time to read my little blog. And thanks for all your support, kind words and well wishes.  I look forward to more good eats in 2015 and sharing these with you!