I’ve only had one degustation meal in my life, and that was the Sweet Disposition Dinner at Bather’s Pavillion back in 2011; a little birthday present from The Sister. Seven courses of dessert was too much even for a devoted sweet tooth like myself, and so when the opportunity came to select either the a la carte or the degustation menu for Ocean Room, I decided to try something new and go for the degustation. It was a special event I was celebrating: the completion of my Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice, which qualified me as a solicitor in New South Wales.
I made the reservation for 6pm on a Thursday at the beginning of the week, and I was pleasantly surprised that I received an email from the staff the next day notifying me that there was a cruise ship in dock at the Overseas Passenger Terminal, but that it would be leaving at 6.30pm. I didn’t particularly like the idea of a cruise ship obstructing the phenomenal view Ocean Room is said to have, so I gave them a ring and they were more than happy to alter the reservation to 7pm. And I’m certainly happy that I did, because we were seated beside the floor-to-ceiling windows looking out to the gorgeous Circular Quay.
The interior is similarly stunning, with a high arching ceiling, low-hanging lights, a dark varnished floor and sleek dark leather seating.
I had read online that the 12-course degustation ($120 per person) took over three hours, but considering the next day would be a lazy Friday at work, we decided that we had more than enough time to work our way through. We started off with a drink each, a Kirin Megumi Draft ($9) for Brother Bear and I had a Blueberry Fizz ($19).
With Absolut Berry Acai, Crawley’s Grenadine, G.E. Massenez Creme de Myrtille, lemon, and Orange extract, it was a beautifully light and floral concoction.
The first course arrived simultaneously with the drinks, being the Kaki: cold smoked pacific oyster, tomato water jelly, chilli pearl, baby basil.
It was tangy, smoky, aerated and sharp all at once. A mouthful of fresh summer flavours that was gone all too quickly.
The empty spoons were quickly whipped away to be replaced with the second course, Ochazuke: cold drip dashi and gyokuro green tea, flame seared latchet, rice crust, umeboshi sorbet.
As each course arrived, we were instructed on how to eat it. We were given tiny dessert spoons to scoop up the contents from the shot glass, but in doing so you actually miss the wasabi-crusted rim, so I did mix the contents up a little halfway through and toss it back. Because everything in the glass was so cold, the flavours were incredibly sharp and pronounced. The umeboshi sorbet sour to the point that it almost stung, right before the cold drip hit your palate with the unique combination of savoury dashi and green tea.
The Maguro was a “steak tartare” of sorts, but instead of raw beef and capers, consisted of yellow fin tuna, Sicilian green olive and buffalo mozzarella drops, soy pearls, and tomato chips. It was fun mixing in the different condiments to your liking, and the tomato “chips” were extraordinarily crispy and savoury, with the flavour more like an intense tomato sauce than what you would expect from a dehydrated slice of tomato.
The next dish was the predominant reason why we had elected to go for the 12-course degustation. We had read rave reviews of the “Canned Ocean Room”, listed as Tasmanian sea urchin, Alaskan king crab, scallop, cuttlefish, salmon pearl, with “no preservatives”. It arrived in a sardine can, with sheets of nori to roll the contents in, a little pipette of soy sauce and a little ball of wasabi. When I peeled the lid of the can back, I let out an “ooooh” of pure delight and admiration.
You take the little pipette of soy sauce and drizzle it over the contents before delicately picking up a selection of miniature seafood and wrapping it in a crispy nori sheet. The dish seemed almost a shame to eat as it was so beautiful, but eat it we did. Every element was deliciously fresh, and I particularly loved the generous roe on top with its savoury burst of flavour with every bite.
The Onsen wasn’t quite what I had been expecting: a winter vegetable collection, yaki-onigiri, black shichimi, house made anchovy and garlic broth. You would pick up the vegetables with your chopsticks to dip into the anchovy and garlic broth, and if you wanted additional spice there was a line of black shichimi on the side of the plate to pinch and scatter over your vegetable. It was an interesting, fun interlude to the plethora of seafood dishes.
The Kassen, or the daily recommendation for the seasonal sashimi selection, was next. The glass on the left contained a salmon sashimi in the process of being smoked, and we were instructed not to remove the glass until 30 seconds later.
Every type of sashimi differed in its flavour, texture and smoothness, but my favourite was the freshly-smoked salmon which was delicately smoked yet buttery at the same time.
The first and last time I had tried foie gras was as part of a dessert, so I was interested to try it in its proper savoury context in the Foie Gras: pan-seared oden daikon, king oyster mushroom, horseradish. The daikon was melt-in-the-mouth soft, the spoon slicing through it like warm butter. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you before I tried this dish whether foie gras would be a good accompaniment to daikon radish, but it was one of the best matches I’ve ever tasted in my life.
I was already beginning to strain by this point, but I managed to summon up some enthusiasm for the Miso Cod, the dish I would have ordered had we selected the a la carte menu. It was the signature grilled sweet miso cod fillet, with a ginger risotto-stuffed zucchini flower and orange miso.
The miso cod had been grilled in a little bamboo parcel, which was reverently snipped open at the table for us. The cod was perfectly cooked and delicately flavoured, with a beautifully sweet natural essence. I loved the zing of ginger in the smooth risotto, and the orange miso dressing was a light and perfect accompaniment to the flaky fish.
The Butabara was the next course: simmered pork belly, melting tofu, soy broth, and yuzu chilli ponzu which had all been cooked in a bag. There was a little test tube of the yuzu chilli ponzo to be poured over the contents, however it kind of lacked the kick I had been expecting. Having progressed so far into the degustation, it was a little difficult to finish this dish as it lacked the full flavour and textural components that the prior dishes had done so well in. The pork belly was disappointingly a little on the dry side.
We elected to have another drink at this point: A Tokyo Aged Pale Ale ($13.50) for my friend and I had another martini-style cocktail, the Pineapple Sidecar ($18), which was a tasty, warm and spicy combination of Martell VS cognac, Grand Marnier, lemon juice, pineapple, cinnamon orange syrup.
I was so full I could barely touch anything at this point, and so it was with very little enthusiasm that I started on my Deconstructed “Burrito”: wagyu flat iron steak, chilli con carne, tornado potato. You wrap the chilli con carne and steak into the burrito, then have it with the tornado potato. The tornado potato “chips” I had seen before at street markets in Japan and Taiwan as a novelty; basically a dehydrated spiral of potato on a stick which is fun and interesting to eat.
It was with great relief when I saw that the final course was very small. We didn’t get any soy sauce with the Edo-mae Sushi, as the Tokyo-style nigiri sushi had already been topped with a variety of condiments that the chef recommended. I enjoyed all of them, but particularly liked the addition of orange peel to the tuna nigiri.
I’ve seen mixed reviews about Ocean Room’s strawberry mascarpone dessert, as bloggers and regular diners seemed divided over the issue of having beetroot in a dessert.
The Hotondo Ichigo was strawberry mascarpone with strawberry chips, marinated beetroot, pop soda strawberry, mint and lemon balm air. I assumed the pop soda strawberry was the little sweet at the front of the plate, which tasted exactly like it had come from a packet of Japanese gummi lollies.
Inside the little jar, the cellophane-thin slices of marinated beetroot tasted slightly pickled, but had an overall flavour like rhubarb. Brother Bear actually had forgotten the description and had no idea it was beetroot when he was eating it. I found it an unusual pairing with strawberry, but as I’ve had beetroot with goat’s cheese as part of a dessert before, I didn’t find it very offending but merely another textural component to the dish.
I had an Entertainment Card, which took $50 off the price of the degustation, making it $90 per person for the 12 courses. I would highly recommend the degustation to anyone over the a la carte, as had I selected three courses from the a la carte, the bill still would have added up close to $80 per person, and I wouldn’t have been able to try so many dishes. The star dish of the night was without a doubt the “Canned Ocean Room”, but I also very much enjoyed the tuna “tartare” (Maguro) and the Miso Cod. If I were to return for another visit, I would still select the degustation menu all over again.
A beautiful restaurant, with beautiful seafood, in a beautiful place. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to celebrate the end of my postgraduate law studies.
Ground Level, Overseas Passenger Terminal
Circular Quay West, The Rocks NSW 2000
(02) 9252 9585