It may be 15 years old, but it feels like Aria has really grown up
There are stories. Mysteries. Legends. And they’re all surrounding the window seats at this stunning Quayside locale. We’ve heard of people talking up terminal fatal illness to nab one. Others try the old ‘I’m a very important friend of owners Matt Moran and Pete Sullivan’. Some just happen to get very lucky when they book.
So would you fake a serious (though presumably non-contagious) illness to get prime position here? Maybe if you’d seen the backdrop of Sydney Harbour, the Bridge and the Opera House. But maybe you wouldn’t. Because even though the views are million-dollar-good, so is the service in the restaurant. Also, chances are you’re not evil.
This is a restaurant of plush, subtly lit comfort: thick, heavily starched tablecloths, wait staff in crisp black suits, and a room that hums with subdued chatter. There’s blood much richer than ours dining here tonight, and they’ve settled in. Right now there’s eight knives, six glasses and three tablecloths dressing our table. “I’m eating a whole cheese!” says a member of the party.
How you order can mean the difference between very good and excellent. For instance, if you decide on the calamari fronds gently poached in shiitake broth, accessorised with a thin slice of jamon Iberico, you have chosen wisely. Double points if you let sommelier Paul Beaton pour the wine. ("We're going on a journey, if you'll allow me to take you.") He’s certainly not afraid to push the envelope with his wine choices, matching that calamari with a tight, hard-working Romarantin from the Loire.
Roast chicken on creamy mash, covered with a stinking avalanche of sliced truffle, is paired with the briny, dry Equipo Navazos Palomino sherry. No rock star treatment or extra cost for that truffle, either – it’s just another ingredient battling as hard as anything else on the plate. So it’s a festival of richness here: the chook’s skin is removed and crisped up even further, used as edible punctuation between slices of the meat, doused in really intense roasting juices.
We could take or leave a dessert of caramelised pear, brown butter ice cream and a sort of blancmange-y pecan custard. Toasty vibes might hit your nose as the plate hits the table but that’s where it ends. Better go with the cloud-like, highly perfumed strawberry soufflé and with a heart of rhubarb gelato.
Aria serves straight-up delicious food. If you’re after envelope pushing, you might not be in the right restaurant. Things can get a little loose when they try stepping into Sepia/Bridge room territory (why are there blueberries on the same plate as an otherwise beautiful piece of Murray cod?) But if rich, crimson slices of wagyu rump served with pickled onion petals and a tiny fried sandwich filled with slivers of smoked tongue makes you as happy as it makes us, you’re exactly where you should be.