Sepia, the latest offering from restaurant luminaries Martin Benn and Vicki Wild, has come out punching.
In the kitchen, it's Martin Benn, ex head chef of Tetsuya's with Dan Puskas, ex head chef of Oscillate Wildly, by his side. If that's not enough, you've got Adam Cohen from Bécasse managing front of house and sommelier Rodney Setter from Altitude pouring the vino. That's a lot of awesome in one restaurant.
It's a big, beautiful space, not unlike a New York brasserie, with high ceilings, wood panelling, brass studs in the walls, huge pillars and plush seats. If you don't want to commit to a whole restaurant meal, sit at the bar, have a glass of wine and a few little snacks (the bar menu will be available next week). But if you're dining in the restaurant proper, you're in for a treat.
You might start with a tiny glass of squab (pigeon) consommé topped with chia seeds (an ancient seed that can absorb nine times its own weight in liquid) before moving on to the smoky-yet-briny eel. It rests on a rectangle of sushi rice with a line of liquorice powder racked up on the side - it's a perfect balance of texture and barbecue sweetness.
Squab reappears in a salad: roasted and served with little cylinders of confit potato and beetroot, a slash of beetroot puree and a little piece of squab meat wrapped around a bone like a lollypop (lolly-squab?). It's garnished with a few delicate watercress leaves and a little walnut vinaigrette. The nutty acid and gaminess of the dish goes beautifully with an Italian rosato. Speaking of vino, the wine list is huge and if you're not super-confident with ordering independently, Setter is a gun and makes interesting and very drinkable choices.
Benn can cook fish like nobody's business. (His business partner George Costi is also one of Sydney's most successful fishmongers, which can't hurt, either.) The butter-roasted hapuka is something else: the fillet of meaty, white flaky fish is tender, with the protein just set, and sprinkled with bacon powder. Smoked cuttlefish ink frames the dish while thin curls of firm-yet-gelatinous cuttlefish lightly pickled in rice wine vinegar adds balance as well as textural fun. It's all on a bed of teeny little baby leek. Wow.
The almond sable is good (we love the cubes of yoghurt and orange sorbet served on top of the almond biscuit, but aren't quite as keen on the base) but the citrus marshmallow is the winner. A little blob of sweet, sticky mint whip nests a perfect quenelle of pineapple sorbet topped with coriander sprouts. It's aromatic, it's cooling and it's just a little feisty.
Sepia is exciting. Even though it's early days yet, it's running like a well-oiled machine - the floor staff are incredibly menu-savvy and the kitchen is firing on all cylinders producing dishes we want to eat again and again. Yay.