For significant celebrations, my husband and I normally ask for a vegetarian degustation menu with wine pairing. As vegetarians, we hate to turn up and announce that we’re vegetarians at the last minute. So instead we ring ahead of time and ask if they can put together a vegetarian tasting menu for us and most upscale restaurants are quite happy to do that for you if you let them know upfront. Aria Restaurant is no exception.
After having suffered from the latest and the trendiest virus through our birthdays, we finally managed to keep our booking with Aria last Saturday. Our birthdays are only a day apart so we celebrate them together. We knew Aria is usually booked out so we made our booking one and a half months before our birthdays, not knowing that we were going to change it twice until we were finally well enough to enjoy our experience.
If you live in Sydney, Aria doesn’t need an introduction. If you don’t, here’s how the story goes… Aria is elegantly located at one end of Circular Quay. Therefore, the dining room has one of the most spectacular views that Sydney offers. It is owned by Matt Moran whom you may remember from MasterChef Australia series or may have already had one of his creations on your Singapore Airline flight. Aria is an award winning restaurant and holds two highly regarded Chef’s Hats as well.
I believe most restaurants give you a hint about your upcoming experience at the time of booking. I’m happy to say that Aria excels in that department. The first time we tried to book a table, they put us on their waiting list. We didn’t get the table in the end but when we rang for the second time to book for our birthdays, we didn’t have to go through the whole name and phone number process again because our details were already on their system. Now, that’s a good start.
We were given a copy of our menu including the wine – it’s called chef’s seasonal tasting menu. This is something you do not get everywhere because most places do not have an established vegetarian tasting menu. They usually serve your food and explain. Those are the places that I struggle to write review for because when it’s time to write the review everything I ate is digested and gone so is the memory of it. At Aria, I was even allowed to keep mine.
Service was well paced over four hours and seven courses. We even had the General Manager serving us at some stage and every other staff member we encountered was highly efficient and polite. The highlight of the service was the head sommelier, Paul Beaton. Mr Beaton has an elegant way of explaining various elements of every glass of wine and why they are paired with certain dishes.
And The Food
Truth to be told, Aria had some large shoes to fill as we recently had a 5 week European holiday and experienced incredibly well composed as well as interesting tasting menus. However, I personally appreciate the fact that they cater for vegetarians and the quality of the produce is high, I mean very high.
Now, here’s how our experience went…
We started off with complimentary smoked eggplant puree on chickpea crackers and some home baked bread with incredibly tasty butter.
Chef’s seasonal tasting menu continued with…
Salad of Australian green asparagus with cashew nuts and lemon (below) paired with 2008 Michel Arnould Grand Cru Reserve Brut, Champagne France. Those drops you see in the photo are full of delicate lemon and they were quite fluffy and buttery without being fatty. I believe adding lemon is the best way to freshen up greens.
Fennel jam with heirloom tomatoes and flowering chives (below) paired with 2012 Lowe Nullo Mountain Riesling, Mudgee New South Wales. My husband doesn’t like fennel very much but we both appreciated the way it is used in this dish. Fennel’s aniseedy flavour is balanced with fleshy heirloom tomatoes and lightly blanched flowering chives.
Confit egg yolk, kale, eshallots and baked potato (below) paired with 2014 Petit Chablis Christophe & Fills, Burgundy France. This is one of the most interesting dishes I have ever had in my life. There is an egg yolk under that coat which is slow cooked to perfection. The sharpness of kale is balanced with kipfler potatoes which are quite nutty and creamy and fried eshallots add some unexpected crunchiness to the dish.
Warm smoked beetroot with pickled rhubarb and black pepper (below) paired with 2013 Trofeo Estate Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsular Victoria. This was an interesting ensemble with its continuous beetroot slices and pickled rhubard. Rhubard is something I haven’t been brought up with so I appreciate every variation of it.
Charred artichokes with caramelised onions, toasted brioche and parmesan (below) paired with 2013 Langhe Cascina Ghercina Dedicato Nebiolo, Piemonte Italy. What I really liked about this dish is dryness/moisture balance. Usually, grilled vegetables are dry. So is toasted brioche. However, you get moisture from caramelised onions and parmesan water. Brilliant!
Miso baked eggplant with hazelnuts, braised mushrooms and green shallots (below) paired with 2013 Caillard Mataro, Barossa Valley South Australia. I am well aware of the fact that miso baked eggplant has been done before. However, complementing it with hazelnuts is quite something different. You also don’t see in the photo but there are two slices of king mushrooms there as well. Mushrooms and eggplant: that actually doesn’t work in my mind but my taste buds certainly appreciated it.
Strawberries and champagne with macerated berries and watermelon (below) paired with 2014 Dindima Moscato, Orange New South Wales. This was quite a refreshing dessert. I must admit, I do like watermelon desserts so I’ll say no more other than “Thanks to Aria Restaurant for making our (belated) birthdays special.”
We also had a selection of house made petit fours which I do not have a photo of but they were also very nice.
Finally, my favourite wines of the night are:
• Petit Chablis from Burgundy in whites (actually Riesling was nice too)
• Nebbiolo from Italy in reds
We have always liked Aria’s wine list. Even if you don’t have dinner there, you could still have a glass of wine at the bar which is highly recommended -try a glass of white Burgundy and thank me later.
Aria Restaurant can be found on this address:
1 Macquarie Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Phone: +61 2 92402255