Sepia is an experimental/molecular Japanese restaurant in Sydney and came recommended by Chef Eric Ripert from a trip he took to Sydney in 2015. I was unfamiliar with Sepia but intrigued by the review. Sepia was ranked #84 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2015 and ranked #3 restaurant in Australia in 2016 and #5 in 2017. At the end of the year the restaurant will be moving to Melbourne.
The restaurant was near the Cockle Bay wharf near our hotel, a casual dining space. I quite enjoyed the food and the pacing. I knew the food would be delicious but I was excited to see what Chef Martin Benn would do with it. With the move coming up, the restaurant had promised heightened experimentation and I was game to see what that meant. And I wasn’t disappointed. Chef Benn was really playing with jellies and pushed several aspects including their translucence and light play, textural possibilities, constructed shape, and hidden flavors that would be introduced a few moments after the initial taste as the gels melted, adding an unusual complexity. These jelly techniques were integrated throughout both savory and sweet dishes and became a central motif to the meal and echoed similar treatments of other ingredients like diced raw fish and apples. Though admittedly jelly and aspic textures are uncommon for western pallets I enjoyed the many creative ways he employed the technique which elevated the meal in a town already brimming with amazing and affordable food. Technique aside, each course was delicious, complex, and based firmly in Japanese ingredients and style.
My only complaint was a strange vibe running through the staff. A certain uncomfortable hesitance. Our reservation clearly stated Katy was intolerant to gluten and dairy, we had communicated over email about it, but the waitress seemed entirely uninformed and made repeated mistakes in offering or serving dishes to her that violated that restriction. Though Sydney generally seemed quite aware and open to dairy-free and gluten-free menus. And though accommodating and apologetic afterward each time, it seemed careless. Likewise, the sommelier was quite knowledgeable and had arranged a great pairing but seemed rushed and uncomfortable when discussing it. Neither Katy or I could put our finger on what it was but we both identified it as a distraction to an otherwise amazing meal.
First course – amuse bouche
The first course was a collection of 5 small dishes presented together (as above). Each was intriguing in its own way, little flavor bombs with distinct Japanese characteristics. This is where I first noticed the jelly motif. Though presented with chopsticks each bite was very fragile so I chose to slurp each off their serving dishes.
I found this dish very visually interesting. The bowl had shiny facets that created a jewel-like effect which mirrored the reflection of the jellies. The texture was a little odd at first but the savoriness of the jellies mixed well with the rich ham and velvety yolk.
Katy didn’t care for this course but I liked it. Three layers, the bottom sashimi scallop, the middle a sake jelly, and a top of creamy potato dashi. At first bite the dish is quite tart but as the sake jelly melts it balances the flavor more. You need to mash up the jelly with your tongue to really get it to balance out. I think this course would have benefited from the jell being less set so that the flavors more easily mingled. But I enjoyed the thought behind it.
Abalone in a rich broth.
Course served with three dishes. The noodles were clean and mild while the other two bites were very rich.
A slice of wagyu. Amazing. I tried to eat a whole steak of this the previous week and failed, too rich! The description says sushi rice but those were clearly mustard seeds.
A slice of venison topped with mushrooms with a crispy black leaf on top.
Eighth course – cheese!
This was an optional course. The aerated cheese was so light and fluffy it was like lacy whipped cream. This was topped with a clean dice of apple that looked similar to the previous jelly cubes, and a crispy biscuit on top.
Ninth course – first dessert
Tenth course – second dessert
This dessert was complex. It was supposed to mimic a forest floor. So many flavors and textures hidden in this dish. The crystallized fennel was really interesting. I kept discovering something new in every bite.
Katy’s dairy free, gluten free dessert
This dessert wasn’t on the menu but it’s staple in the restaurant’s photo gallery. Crispy orb like an eggshell that you whack with your spoon exposing cold powdery insides that seem dry at first and then melts. Shell remains crispy.