Time Out Sydney

The white plates are gone, the Japanese grills are fired up and Sepia brings a menu that pops and sizzles

When you boil it down, what’s the real difference between Sydney top-reaching fine diners? They’ve all got fancy wine lists, ambitious menus and polished service. You’re all but guaranteed a large bill. But what makes Tetsuya’s Tetsuya’s and Rockpool Rockpool? 
You go to Est for the best table service in Sydney. Quay is jazzy harbour views, lightness, beauty and elegance on the plate.  Tetsuya’s  continues to offer amazing wine service but it tends to be a predictable choice for couples with limited imagination.  Rockpool flies the flag when it comes to deluxe modern Australian Chinese food, Four in Hand has boozy long lunch written all over it, and Marque is for the adventurous high flyer.
Sepia, the newest member of the club, splits that great divide between the corporate dollar and food fanatics. The restaurant’s got serious buzz at the moment. Owners Martin Benn and Vicki Wild have breathed life into the bar section with a Japanese grilled-things-on-sticks menu that’s proven so popular they’re getting more orders than they can cook, and that has in turn given the restaurant a whole new vigour.
Don’t dust off your leisure suits just yet. The restaurant, with its wood-panelled walls, dusky grey banquettes and smart black uniforms is on the business shirt end of Sussex Street on the ground floor of a large office building. Most co-diners are wearing collars and ties.  
Sommeliers Rodney Setter and Benjamin Brown continue to offer a wine list that’s exciting and far-reaching. Trust them to pour you a Japanese limoncello, more Hellenic wines than you can swish an olive branch at and a whole bunch of aromatic French whites. There may be a juicy, fruit-forward Beaujolais, or Setter’s favourite Australian grüner veltliner. You can always split a wine tasting between two if you fear the booze sweats.
Benn’s menus walk that fine line between delicious and experimental, with most of the plates falling on the tastier side of the divide. A palate-teaser of smoked trout consommé translates to trout eggs caught in a jellied sphere of cold soup and looks like a Super Ball. Eat it before you’re tempted to see how hard you can make it bounce – it tastes like a delicate smoked-trout broth.
'Reverse nigiri', a cute inversion of the sushi standard, sees raw fish on the bottom and puffed rice on the top with blobs of gelled pickled ginger. But then on the other side of the sushi bar, big hunks of lightly seared bonito sashimi are laid gently over a roast chicken-flavoured cream garnished with crinkles of dehydrated chicken skin. 
It’s not all cute izakya/yakitori/sushi bar mash-ups. There’s also some pretty straight British-style sweet work going on too. Like the deep-bronze caramelised apple with thick cream clotted to within an inch of its life, perfect little malted meringues that explode when you bite them, and toffee shaped like beautiful leaves, all finished with blackcurrant and sorrel leaves. It’s a sweet and malty combination with an almost burnt savour. And it’s where you can really see the kitchen flexing some culinary muscle.
This is cool-yet-delicious stuff that relies on talent, not tricks. It is, however, a menu that relies on the diner having fairly deep pockets. The four-course seasonal menu is $135 per person and the degustation is $165 ($265 with matched wines). If you choose to EMD, you’re looking at $40 entrees, $56 mains and $36 desserts. Add another $36 for cheese. But chances are you’re here to eat, not to punch numbers.
In which case, put down the abacus and pick up your fork – you’re in for some fun.


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Updated on 3 Jun 2015.

Sepia details

Darling Park, Ground floor, 201 Sussex St, Sydney 2000

Telephone 02 9283 1990

Price per person including drinks $51 to $100

Open Lunch Tue-Fri 12 noon-3pm; Dinner Tue-Fri 6-11pm

Sepia website

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