I had the pleasure of dining at Marque last night and thought I would share a few thoughts.
The menu has evolved significantly in the last 18 months with Mark Best moving to more clearly put his stamp on the food. The delectable Chaud Froid Egg is now gone and the menu flows in a really unusual way with lighter and heavier, sweet and savoury dispersed throughout the meal rather than in the more classic light to heavy order.
The meal now starts with a wonderfully textural amuse of cured bonito, foie gras custard and truffle sandwiched between two fantastically crisp wafers of potato. At once it is salty, creamy, crunchy, soft, firm and everything in between. A wonderful way to start the meal.
The first course is the signature Almond Jelly with Blue Swimmer Crab, Almond Gazpacho, Sweet Corn & Avruga. This dish is all about the texture and while every element was delicious I found the almond overwhelmed the delicate crab.
W.A Marron with Tomato & Tomato Leaf was next. This is a ballsy dish with the wonderful marron accompanied by nothing other than tomato. A tomato and marron jelly was deep and almost smoky, the tomato sorbet worked well to add a temperature contrast and a piece of tomato heart added interesting texture and flavour.
The next course, Blackmore Grain Fed Wagyu with Dill Cucumber, Mustard, Garlic & Pickle Water, was one of the most playful dishes on the menu and also one of the most evocative. The unctuous thin slice of wagyu sirloin was reminiscent of a fine, cured salmon while the use of dill and pickled cucumber only served to enhance that feeling. In fact, at times the dish almost felt like it was a really good gravlax. At other times, the mustard fed in with the pickles and beef to give the sensation of a rarified pub burger. All in all, a highly successful dish and one that was both technically and intellectually brilliant.
Dutch Cream Potato with Bone Marrow, Sea Urchin & Coffee could almost have been served as a dessert in much the same way as some people request Robuchon's pomme puree for dessert. This is creamy, rich and sensuous with the perfectly cooked Dutch Creams being toothsome and full of flavour and then covered with a silky, smooth creamy sauce infused with bone marrow and studded with more marrow and a small amount of sea urchin. While the sea urchin and coffee seemed a little lost, this hardly mattered as the overall picture of a deconstructed mashed potato was excellent.
The next course was lighter in the form of Murray Cod with Brown Butter, Finger lime, Spinach and Lardo. The fish was perfectly cooked with a thin layer of lardo on top adding to the incredible richness and depth imparted by the brown butter. The spinach and nori added earthiness and the finger lime provided a wonderful, sharp acidity to the dish.
The bread service now takes place at this unusual point of the meal with the house sourdough and rye-caraway loaves being offered with the house made salted butter. Both are excellent and I was told the timing is such that the bread can be had with the egg that follows.
The final savoury course was a whole Smoked Duck Egg with Charred Cherry, Pepper and Leek Ash served with Duck Liver parfait with Sea Blight and Quinoa. The duck egg was as unctuous and soft as could be with the rich ness of the yolk pairing really well with the charred cherry and lots of sharp pepper. The parfait was served with small tendrils of bright, fresh, sea blight adding a nice textural contrast and a wonderfully thin quinoa crisp. The main let down with this dish was the imbalance between the amount of egg and cherry where more cherry was needed to help provide contrast.
I chose to do the cheese course which was Brunet with Button Mushroom, Orange and Cocoa. The Brunet is a soft, creamy goat's cheese from Northern Italy which was served warm on a lightly spiced shortbread with wafer thin slices of button mushroom and a dusting of cocoa. The cheese and shortbread were a magic combination with the orange and cocoa while the mushroom seemed to serve no purpose being both flavourless and almost textureless.
The first dessert was Beetberries with Liquorice, Quark and Blueberries. The combination of small balls of beetroot that had barely been cooked and then macerated with strawberries and served with blueberries, a beetroot and liquorice infused quark cheese and beetroot sorbet was clever with the beetroot itself providing an unusual earthy note to the dessert which worked well with the liquorice and providing an unusual sort of crunch for a dessert. The wine served with this course was a delightfully fresh and tart Shobbrook 'Nouveau' Mourvedre which played really well with the elements on the plate.
The final course was a Chocolate truffle with Malt, Banana, Coffee and Parsley. The chocolate truffle was almost halfway between a ganache and raw cookie dough and was pleasantly bitter. The malt added some depth and a pile of nitrogen frozen banana pearls added contrast. This was served with Seppeltsfield 'Tokay Cellar N6' dispensed from a cream charger to add some lightness to the drink.
To finish, the signature Sauternes Custard was served and I think I sits nicely at the end of the meal rather than its previous position as a pre-dessert. It rounds out the meal nicely and due to the way the menu flows, it doesn't really need that pre-dessert to make it work.
The only other disappointment was the disappearance of the petit fours which used to accompany the coffee. Fortunately, there was a small stash of salted butter caramels which the staff were happy to raid for me but the lack of the Campari bonbon was a small disappointment.
All in all, Marque deserves its place at the top of Australia's culinary world alongside others such as Quay and Attica. The menu is well constructed and the unusual flow works really well. The kitchen's skill with both protein and vegetable is very high and Chef Best's ability to create unusual flavour combinations continues to be displayed at the highest level. Added to that is that fact that his menu is one of the most reasonably priced in the country making Marque one of my favourite restaurants in Australia at the moment.
Must disagree with the foregoing overgenerous assessment of Marque, especially after dining there one night after a true 5* meal at Quay. Quay certainly deserves the 3-hat, 19/20 from SMH. By contrast, Marque is overrated by a hat and at least one point. Here's why:
As much as I enjoy modernist-leaning restaurants, what distinguishes the great ones is their near unerring ability to combine incongruous or unusual ingredients into a harmonious whole. Application of exciting modern techniques in service of great food is also a common thread. The other side of the coin is the category of places that tend toward a Dr. Whoopee’s Magic Kitchen approach to modernist cuisine: too much, clumsily done.
Marque missed the mark on at least two dishes.. The potato course OP loved so much was significantly flawed. Sea urchin is a precious, rich and distinctive ingredient. As even OP recognizes, it was lost in the butter/potato gravy into which it was mixed willy-nilly with bone marrow. I’m frankly not sure it was even in there as I was unable to discern even the slightest uni flavor in this dish—I couldn’t see any either--and, equally, I asked myself, what possible purpose did the addition of sea urchin serve? The coffee powder, by contrast, was very noticeable, but again, it added nothing to this dish. In truth , the coffee aroma detracted from the potato/butter/marrow richness and was a senseless addition to this dish. Make no mistake, this was a rich and tasty course, but at a restaurant like Marque, I’m looking for sophistication, or at least a good sense of humor, and this dish didn’t make the cut.
The other disappointing dish was the wagyu beef course. I get that the chef was going for a taste allusion to the hamburger, which is pretty irreverent and, therefore, admirable. The problem here is that you have this beautiful slice of 9+ wagyu served with a dill pickle spear. The pickle completely obliterated the subtle beef flavor of the wagyu. What a waste. Less would have been more here.
The balance of the dishes were excellent: tomato variations with only-in-Australia marron—a subltly sweet outsized crawfish; the fish course with dabs and piles of this and that complementing the cod perfectly; the slow-cooked smoked duck egg; and so on.
A couple other notes, however: (1) either serve bread or don’t. One table in the dining room was offered bread, probably because they asked. I don’t believe anyone else was. Personally, I enjoy a slice or two during the course of meal—usually for sopping sauce—but can do without too. I'm sure as hell not going to ask for it when it's not in evidence. The lack of consistency is a negative. (2) When the OP says this was a “reasonably priced” meal, my instinctive reaction is to question OP’s sense of reason. Seriously, this was a luxury meal with a luxury price tag: around $200AUD. It was slightly less than Quay, but not much. I harbored no allusions, and have paid more for a great meal (and way more for a mediocre meal at Waku Ghin) but no one should be caught unaware.
If you only have one luxury meal in Sydney and are struggling to choose between Marque and Quay, my advice is to go with Quay. I am in the midst of an Australian eating tour and hope to report on a number of other places: Quay, Din Tai Fung, Temasek, China Beach. Or if you're lazy like me, you can check out the 140 character versions over on Twitter under hashtag MCZeatsOZ
I'd not tried Waku Ghin yet, mczlaw, and both yours and PhilD's feedback are discouraging me from ever doing so!
I loved both Quay and Marque though. Also thought Quay had that little edge over the latter. I'm curious to hear your opinion about Berowra Waters Inn and also Bathers Pavilion (two of my old faves) if you ever visit them.
Great review - i need to get back - it has been far too long since i ate Mark's food?
Intrigued by your comment about Mark putting his samp on the food. Hasn't it been his food since he opened the place back in th '90's...?
And what is with this "Chef Best" nonense - i thought we were more familar with our chefs in Aus and used their first names. Next it will be Chef Wakuda not Tets...!