I had heard through the grapevine a few years ago back in 2012 of the Langham Hospitality Group acquiring The Observatory Hotel; that little spot located on Kent Street at Millers Point. It was only late last year in December that the international hospitality giant completed their thirty million dollar makeover, which includes the new Kent Street Kitchen emerging from the ashes that was once two-hatted Galileo Restaurant. I was thrilled to be generously invited by Lime & Tonic Sydney to sample the new winter menu at Kent Street Kitchen, head-cheffed by Thomas Heinrich (ex-Swissotel Sydney). I invited the Sister along as my plus one for the evening as it had recently been her birthday – the cheapskate that I am – but I had at least bought her flowers 😉
I had never visited the old Observatory Hotel while it was still in operation to make any comparison to what The Langham is today, but its beauty and opulence can hardly be denied. It’s virtually a brand-new five-star hotel, with five marble fireplaces in the foyer but yet a simple, art-deco design that’s both timeless and luxurious; one can’t help but note the central reception table of gold-leaf cracked porcelain.
The renovations sweep through to the dining room, where Galileo’s old furnishings of rich mahogany, dimly-lit lamps and over-stuffed armchairs reminiscent of an exclusive gentleman’s club have been replaced with the lighter colours of cream leather chairs, enormous bright chandeliers and huge marble dining tables. The dining table we sat at nearly measured a metre diameter circle; enough to seat four comfortably – yet here the two of us were.
There’s also an even more expansive Chef’s Table off to the side of the main dining area, but it was quiet on the Thursday evening that we were in attendance. Despite the slightly hipster-ring to the name Kent Street Kitchen, it’s hardly the place for waitstaff with beards, mustaches and bow ties, or the rustic-type venue to have hessian sacks of quinoa and buckwheat spilling artistically out onto the floor.
With the classic, high-ceiling elegance of the surroundings, the aim of the refurbishment was to make the dining hall more inviting, warm and friendly for the public for a range of occasions: from the anniversary evening to the casual mid-week dinner.
Our dinner for the evening was to consist of a five-course tasting menu, with dishes picked randomly by the head chef off the a la carte menu and a glass of champagne. I requested that my champagne be saved to the end, but to start off with I enjoyed an Aged Fashion ($28) while The Sister enjoyed a bespoke mocktail created by the team at the adjacent cocktail bar, Palm Court.
The Aged Fashion consists of six types of rum selected and blended together in an oak barrel to slowly age, served in an old-fashioned glass, stirred with Boker’s bitters, molasses and a house-macerated cherry. I was surprised when I sipped it and found it lacked the usual “bite” I’m accustomed to with Old-Fashioneds; the taste was amazingly smooth and almost creamy yet still refreshing. It was just a little disappointing that the beautiful cocktail became diluted so quickly due to the shape of the ice cubes; usually a single large cube will melt a little more slowly.
We enjoy our starter drinks with a soft sourdough roll (you can select from rye, white and other varieties) and two types of butter: one a house-churned regular butter and another a miso butter. My Sister favoured the sweet-saltiness of the miso butter whereas I preferred the classic which literally tasted like a lightly-savoury whipped cream.
Our amuse bouches came out delicately served in cute little spoons – designed to be a mouthful. A precisely-sliced cube of House Smoked Ocean Trout, served with micro herbs and a light smear of crème fraîche.
I let out an unladylike whistle when the first entree emerged: Foie Gras & Chicken Terrine, Cherry and Pistachio. I’ve had pate many times, usually just duck or chicken, but never had I tasted foie gras in any shape or form – and what an amount to savour on my first experience!
Dusty pink in colour, light and buttery, the pate was perfection on top of the crisps with a sprinkle of the nuts and the cherry jam cutting through any oiliness with its potent tart acidity. There was a very generous amount of pate and I paced myself carefully; making sure that I would finish the last slather of the pate with my last cracker bite.
Just an aside: I found it quite amusing that because our plates were flat-based and smooth, they turned with little resistance on the sleek marble-topped table like a miniature Lazy Susan; it made angling for photographs a breeze.
Our second entree was simply a work of art, and generously plated too. When I asked our host for the evening about the size of the plating for the tasting menu, I was told the dishes were all plated the same size as if they were ordered off the a la carte menu; which was nice to know as I usually expect to be disappointed with minuscule servings with tasting menus!
Pan-Seared Scallops with Carrot Puree, Zucchini, Pancetta and Chicken Jus. Wafter-thin shards of crispy, deliciously moreish pancetta lay on top of the amazingly-seared scallops; the scallops themselves were firm, crispy on the tops and bottoms yet creamy and soft on the inside, meaty and full of flavour. The carrots were roasted ’til tender, but it was the carrot puree that stole the show for me; the puree honey sweet and obviously blended and pressed through a micro-sieve so fine that it tasted like a velvety cream. The chicken jus, sitting innocuously on the plate was full-bodied in flavour and wonderfully reduced, adding an amazingly unexpected “roast chicken” element to the dish.
The main arrived and I pulled in a sharp intake of breath: it was Junee Lamb Loin, Young Peas, Polenta Panisse, Goats Feta and Aged Balsamic. I had completely forgotten to mention that my Sister did not eat lamb. She is not allergic or ethically opposed to it in any way; but like many people I know she’s really not a fan of the intense characteristic smell that lamb can have, particularly when it’s slow-cooked. I find there’s nothing more embarrassing than sending a dish back to the chef near-full, so I told her to eat what she could and I would polish off the rest; which would be a feat as I was beginning to struggle with the restrictive belt on my dress.
I sliced into one piece of the loin; cooked to pink medium-rare perfection and so tender that I didn’t even need a steak knife, and as soon as I placed it on my tongue I knew the Sister would be fine. Moist yet lean and fine, delicate in flavour yet still slightly gamey, it reminded me of a deliciously tender veal steak. The Sister took a bite and to witness her wide-eyed discovery that there was a lamb dish she would and could eat was nothing short of incredible. She likened it to her past taste of venison, and dug into it with generous swabs of the silky pea puree and dabs of the tangy goat’s cheese. The polenta chips, while nicely crumbed, lacked some flavour on their own, but were perfect when used to mop up the juices of the lamb and the balsamic.
We leaned back in our chairs to await the mystery dessert, and I will admit that when I saw our host coming towards us with two deep charcoal-coloured bowls – I had my reservations. But when he put them down in front of us, neither of us could stop an awestruck “Ooooooh” from slipping out.
It was Apple & Chantilly Mousse, Chocolate Soil and Rose, but I would have called it something endearing like “Apples on a forest floor”. It was visually one of the most stunning desserts either of us had ever seen, and the fragrance wafting out of the bowl was incredible. Neither of us particularly wanted to dig into the dessert and spoil the sight, but encouraged by our host – who came to pour me my glass of Laurent-Perrier – we did so reluctantly.
At this point we agreed that there is a certain beauty to experiencing a fine dining meal where the control of the menu is whisked entirely out of your hands and placed in those of the chef. In not being able to select the dishes and see on the menu the elements within it, when the dishes arrived there was so much more of an interactive discovery to identify the flavours and textures within your dish, rather than ticking them off a mental checklist. There’s more questions asked – “Do you think this is – ?” – and more of – “Oooh, wait ’til you get to – “. You almost adjust and heighten your senses manually like a game of I Spy.
It was – hands down – the best-executed dessert my Sister and I had ever tasted. What was amazing about it was that it did not meet your expectations. In this dessert you would expect the apples to be the standout element; and while the luminous gel and soft, fluffy mousse were delicately flavoured, it was the dig into the chocolate soil that was the treasure – filled with bitter cacao and winter spice flavours like cloves and cinnamon, right before the wonderful popping candy hit your tongue. With a sip of champagne, the bubbles made the candy pop even more so, making me giggle with the heightened sensations. A layer of beautifully stewed apples sat hidden beneath the layer of soil, waiting to be unearthed. The attention to detail in every element of the dish was wondrous, from the chocolate stems to the baby sorrel leaves, to the sharp, flavour hit of citrus (maybe yuzu?) that freshened up the earthy flavours of the soil. I could not find a single thing to fault with the dessert.
A beautiful dinner in a beautiful setting. Kent Street Kitchen has certainly set itself up as a strong player into Sydney’s food and hospitality scene right at the start, and I cannot wait to see what happens from here.
Kent Street Kitchen
The Langham Hotel
89-113 Kent Street
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9256 2222