One would think that one World Showcase Dinner in a month, let alone a year is enough to last for a while. Then again, if the experience was so great, why not repeat it? It’s a week after Bras at Quay, Y and I were the first to arrive for the World Showcase Dinner with Sergi Arola at Bentley in Surry Hills.
Aside from being well known for his restaurant Gastro, Arola was famous for training at the well known el Bulli and was considered to be even then, one of the most promising chef in the industry. When this is combined with Brent Savage’s of Bentley’s highly experimental approach to fine dining, I was expecting something rather extraordinary.
We started with Patatas Bravas and Ajo Blanco with Cherry Caviar ( both from Arola), Kingfish Ceviche with Pickled Daikon and Yuzu Mayonaise and Smoked Eel Parfait with White Soy and Seaweed Salad (Savage). This particular World Showcase Dinner came with matching wine for all courses and this one was the MV Lancelot-Pienne ‘Cuvee de Table Ronde’ from Cragmant Champagne.
I wasn’t quite sure how the partnership between Savage and Arola was going to play out until this first course arrived. When it did, it dawned on me that it wasn’t exactly a duet of styles, but more of a solo of their signature dishes appearing side by side. Looking around the web later on, I wasn’t suprised to see that the Patatas Bravas and Ajo Blanco with Cherry Caviar usually appeared on Arola’s menu. I personally would happily nibble on the Patatas Bravas with its cute aoili topping all night, there was something deliciously more-ish and simple about the little dish.
Next was Arola’s Scallop and Bacon Saugage, Jerusalem Artichoke and Smoked Scallop matched with the 2007 Marques De Riscal Limousin Verdejo, Rueda Spain. The bite sized sausage was surprisingly bacony (if there is such a word) had I ate it with my eyes closes it would not be surprising to believe I was eating bacon.
Next was Savage’s Black Sesame and Pea Fondant with Snow Peas and Goats Curd. We were a little puzzled with this one, noting the strong presence of licorice, but missing out on the Black Sesame flavour. Whilst pondering whether they managed to mix up licorice and black sesame in the kitchen I sipped the 2008 Keller Trocken Riesling, Rheinhessen Germany and discovered a whole new dish. The fruity sweetness of the wine perfectly balanced the strong licorice flavour of the dish.
By this stage in the evening the light was getting dimmer, the decor and the light combined threw shades of red on everything we ate and my photos became progressively more abstract.
The next dish was Arola’s Snapper Sandwich, Mango, Haricots Verts and a Rockfish Consome paired with 2008 Bodegas Campante ‘Gran Reboreda’ Treixadura Blend from Ribeiro Spain. It wasn’t the most memorable of dish to me, being basically pan fried snapper with fish stock.
I couldn’t say much about Savage’s Pork Belly and Bubble, Green Olive, Apple and Tonka paired with Sidra Extra Brut Lagar De Camin, Lavandera Spain. I can understand the idea behind matching pork with apple cider, apple and pork is a magical classic pairing after all, but I found the cider too overpowering for my poor pork belly topped with crackle and had to put it away.
Arola’s Foie Gras ‘coca’ with Roasted Bellpeppers paired with 2004 Marques De Velila Crianza Tempranillo, Ribera del Duero made up for the other two dishes. Described as a Spanish pizza it was a magical layering of a crusty base with caramelised capsicums.
Next was Savage’s Duck Breast with Sweet Corn, Pistachio and Asparagus paired with 2004 Muga ‘Reserva’ Tempranillo Garmacha, Rioja Spain. It was a nice dish, but after the high of the ‘coca’ it was somewhat of a let down. Perhaps the most noticeable difference between Bras at Quay and Arola at Bentley was the direction of the dishes as the night progressed. At Quay there was a definite theme and direction with each dish, whereas at Bentley it was rather like observing two very different performers on the same stage without quite knowing what the theme of the show was.
With dessert coming soon, I finally abandoned my manners and took out my flash. I hate taking it out when out in restaurants like Bentley, but thought a few discreet flash would hardly make a difference. The Seared and Marinated Watermelon, Hibiscus Infusion, Pomegranate Seeds and Green Tomato Ice Cream paired with the delicious lychee scented 2007 Fustanova Moscatel, Valencia Spain was a surprisingly savoury tast dessert with a hint of tomato.
Reading the menu earlier in the night we speculated how Savage would present his Hazelnut White Chocolte and Blubery. I predicted it will turn up as a block whereas Y predicted a tube, when it arrived it turned out that we were both right. The white chocolate tube contained yogurt sauce that glide out when pierced. It was paired with 2004 Alain Brumont Pacherenc ‘Larmes Celestes’ from South West France.
The last dish for the night was Arola’s Dark Chocolate Mousse, coated in Mango Chutney and Toasted Sweetcorn, Coconut Espuma paired with the 2006 Castano Dulce Monastrell from Yecia Spain. I think Arola served this dish himself on the night. Instead of staying in the kitchen he was very much visible throughout the night making his ways to different tables. I remembered the fact that the chocolate mousse was not as dark as I would expect and the sweet corn was so subtle it appeared only for an instant on my tongue. If sight contributed to sensation when eating, I must confess I was eating blindly by this stage of the night and what you see on the photo with the aid of flash was not what I remembered on my plate.
It was close to eleven when we staggered out. There were some definite hits during the night, also dishes that didn’t quite work. At the same time it was a wonderful opportunity to be able to taste dishes that I would have to travel to the other side of the world to experience. The experience also reminded me how food and wine can be amazing when done right, and although I drink the occasional glass or two with my meal it made me rethink the idea in a whole different light.