In my younger years, I was fortunate enough to go to schools that placed a significant amount of importance on alternative methods of teaching. It’s not uncommon knowledge that children and teens have short attention spans let alone trying to teach them Chemistry and Ancient History through simply writing notes on a whiteboard and making them read textbooks. We had field trips to mangrove forests, the observatory at night, a day trip to Sydney Wonderland when they opened their water park for a “science excursion” (for the sake of learning about velocity and force and all that stuff.. or so we convinced our teachers :P), and countless trips to museums for exhibitions on ships, animals, dinosaurs, and ancient civilisations.
It was therefore a little bit of a surprise when I was invited to the Museum of Sydney (MoS) not for an exhibition..but for dinner. The Governor’s Table had emerged from the re-development of the former museum cafe space by Fresh Catering, creating a new historically modern bar and dining space designed by Kristie Paul of Inochi.
Set on the site of the first Government House in Australia, the new design of the interior is inspired by the history and architecture of the original site. It results in a warm and hospitable, yet still contemporary space within the sandstone brickwork of the Museum of Sydney. There’s also an incredible room off towards the back for functions, the sides panelled with glass; giving the never-fail optical illusion of the cosy private room being more expansive than it actually is.
The remainder of the restaurant is a mixture of small free-standing tables, leather benches, smaller tables outside for drinks and nibbles, and a huge communal distressed French-oak table to the left of the bar for communal dining. The bar is set up as the feature in the main dining room. Hoist yourself up onto a bar stool and the fellows behind the bar are more than happy to go through the beverage list with you.
The wine list, picked by sommelier Samantha Payne is entirely committed to Australian wine. The focus is on young, local producers who are experimenting with new techniques using old-world growing methods and organic philosophies. It extends for a good few pages, before you hit “The Governor’s Signature Cocktails”, with titles like “The Year 1788” and “The Spice Route”.
I didn’t want to fill up too much on beverages though – I knew the new chef here and I knew what a treat we would be in for tonight. The head chef is none other than Andrew Barkham from one of my favourite restaurants in Sydney, Selah, which sadly closed last year. He hails from The Bridge Room, The Point in Melbourne, and not to mention his numerous stints at Michelin starred restaurants in London. What had drawn me most to his cooking was how he incorporated elements of his British background and training into the Modern Australian style of cuisine in the most contemporary and sophisticated way…and the plating was always beautiful. When I was told that Andrew was the chef for this restaurant, I laughed as I really could not have imagined a more suitable chef for this style of restaurant.
We were having a preview of one of the banquet menus offered at the restaurant, where they range from $43 to $80 per head. We were sampling the new seasonal “The Governor’s Menu”, the most luxuriously priced at $80 a head. But first, we kick-started off the meal with a delicate little amuse bouche of Sake-cured kingfish, fennel, ponzu and kelp:
It was quite a punchy little dish, full of strong flavours from the pickling and curing of the beautifully fresh kingfish; the citrus tang from the ponzu that was lightened by the crisp crunch and delicate aniseed flavour of the silky fennel.
We shared the entrees…first the Grilled local asparagus, parmesan custard, nettle, shiso dressing. Deliciously moreish, the crunch of the lightly grilled asparagus was smoothed over with the silky parmesan custard and the nettle leaves provided a nice light salad leaf accompaniment.
Then there was the Seared yellowfin tuna, grilled sweet corn relish, avocado and coriander. The tuna was characteristically meaty and was amazingly smokey, seared on the grill hot enough to leave those gorgeous charred lines on it, but briefly enough so that it could be cut open to reveal the still-gleaming pink rare flesh inside. Rare tuna, corn and avocado mousse is not a combination I would have ever thought of, but there was a slightly Mexican feel to this dish which I enjoyed.
And my favourite, possibly my favourite dish from the evening actually, was the Confit salmon, blood orange, soy bean, tomato, roe. I didn’t really get to taste too much of this dish, as it was so popular on our table, but I did get a couple of mouthfuls of the salmon and it near melted in your mouth as soon as it hit your tongue. We quizzed Andrew on it after the meal, and he revealed that the delicate flavours and the silky smooth texture of the salmon is derived from preparing the fish in the classic confit manner (vacuum sealing it in oil), before cooking it in a gentle water bath of 42 degrees Celcius to obtain maximum tenderness.
The time had arrived for the mains, and we were allowed a main each from a choice of four. I asked the waiter what he would recommend, as everything looked too wonderful for me to be able to choose, and he suggested I get the Roast mulloway, sweet onion puree, purple cauliflower and hazelnut brown butter.
It was such a beautiful dish to look at, with the intense colour of the cauliflower and with some of the cauliflower florets being cut so thinly lengthways so that you had these gorgeous coral-like wafer-thin slices. The fish was cooked perfectly, and the lightly crunchy cauliflower, the sweetness of the onion puree and the fragrant crisply roasted hazelnuts were each amazing components of the dish that tied it together. My only issues were that I would have adored for the skin on the mulloway to be crisp, and the other was that the sweet onion puree, unlike a potato or polenta puree, didn’t have as much starch holding it together and so it was just a tad runnier than I would have preferred. It didn’t stop me from mopping up the remnants of the puree with my few last forkfuls of fish.
The other mains to select from was the Potato gnocchi, wild mushroom, soft radicchio, rocket, pecorino.
The Cap-scented pork cutlet, butternut squash, caramelised endive.
And the fourth option was the Roast lamb back strap and belly, peas, shallot, mint, lettuce.
Our mains came with shared sides of Baby gem hearts, toasted pepita, English salad cream, and thrice-cooked Hand cut chips, with aioli.
And golly, those “chips”…each chip was about a quarter of a large potato. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.
I was straining at this point, so I was thankful that desserts would also be shared. And out they rolled. Here was the Dark chocolate and walnut brownie, toffee popcorn, caramel ice cream. You can’t really go wrong with the combination of chocolate and caramel. The brownie was more like a warm chocolate cake to me, and smothered in the rich dark chocolate sauce it was pretty sinful. Presentation was spot on, as were all the dishes that had graced our table tonight.
The Lemon verbena burnt custard, fresh berries was served warm. It was a little runnier than I was expecting as it looked like a creme brulee, but then again the menu only states it to be a “custard”. This one had quite a bit of a citrus punch but there was still something about the caramelised top and creaminess of the custard that made it a “comfort dessert” like the brownie.
My favourite dessert though, was the White chocolate cream, puffed black rice, mango, lime sorbet.
This dessert was so unexpected. Plated so simply, I was not expecting the turbo-charge of flavour and freshness from this little dish. Lightly sweet white chocolate cream, the smokey earthiness and crunch of the puffed black rice and then the lime sorbet hits you – it was unlike anything I’ve ever tasted, cleansing the palate immediately. There was a mad rush around the table for everyone to have a taste of this dish before it melted away.
There was also a fourth, unexpected dessert involving white chocolate parfait and peanut butter, but I didn’t get much of an opportunity to sample it after a horde of my fellow food bloggers descended onto it. From how quickly it disappeared, it must have been ridiculously good.
To say I’ve missed Andrew Barkham’s cooking is an understatement. While the character of his cooking was clear to see among the mains, the entrees demonstrated a whole new level of techniques and precision that will really take the menu further. It’s fine-dining techniques with generous servings, amazingly reasonable prices and set in the beautiful warm architecture of an Australian historical site. The Governor’s Table really is the epitome of high-quality modern Australian cuisine.
The Governor’s Table
Corner of Philip and Bridge Street,
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9241 1788