I first dined at Marque Restaurant 6 years ago, then last year, I had the luxury of Mark Best personally cooking for us at the media announcement of his partnership with Holland America Line, as well as at a media dinner at Pei Modern, followed by another encounter earlier this year at the Taste Of Sydney VIP media tent; his Sea Biscuits of rye cracker with smoked oyster, oyster emulsion, sea blite, sea urchin botarga was out-of-this-world amazing. However, I don’t think I really appreciated the restaurant’s innovativeness and authenticity until their recent Sweet 16 birthday degustation. To not just survive but flourish in the Sydney dining scene for 16 years is an incredible feat and this meal truly celebrated the evolution and highlights of Mark’s ingenuity.
We started with tomato & parmesan marshmallows, beetroot macaron which I’ve had before, potato maxim with olive truffle & foie gras which I recall having previously been served with a seaweed flair, and Coffin Bay oyster with grilled sea foam.
The marshmallows were incredibly light, to the extent of being able to feel the airy bubbles slowly disintegrate at my finger tips. It couldn’t have been more polarizing as the flavours were quite bold for something so weightless. There was a refreshing gazpacho quality to it, and the parmesan was strong and sharp.
That foamy, frothy texture was common throughout several other courses, on the oyster, the foam was tangy, playing off the briny oyster with great harmony.
The chaud-froid free range egg & grissini, a Marque signature dish that has never been taken off the menu pays homage to Mark’s earlier years at the renowned L’Arpège restaurant in Paris, which Mark credits as the cause of his culinary epiphany. I loved swirling the grissini around the egg, although I can’t quite describe it better than Mark’s own words — “sweet and sour, hot and cold, this symphony in a shell delivers with magnificent simplicity.” If you’re brave enough to replicate this dish at home, Marque, A Culinary Adventure is well worth a read, or here’s the recipe online.
The next course of Fraser Island spanner crab with almond jelly, almond gazpacho & avruga was exquisitely divine. Everything was so light yet if you took the time to savour each mouthful, there was a subtle nourishing earthy depth that I loved.
Similarly, the eel with parmesan gnocchi & pumpkin was visually pale and monochromatic, it was a playful guessing game as the ingredients barely resembled the elements on the plate. Showcasing much technique, the eel was paper thin and the pumpkin broth was ridiculously translucent yet so full of flavour. And that parmesan gnocchi, I could have had an entire bowl of it.
My favourite dishes from the night was a tight battle between the next three courses. The marron with Vadouvan & lemon curd was mind-boggling at first, but the lemon curd’s creamy zesty tang was an uplifting palate cleanser which somehow made me cherish the vibrant Vadouvan curry spices and sweetness of the marron even more. The claw is always the best part, and it lay just so seductively on the grilled cos lettuce. So delicious!
The calamari risotto was another clever creation, as there was actually no rice in this dish! The calamari was diced to resemble grains of rice and was held together with a decadent cauliflower puree. Atop, a sheet of prawn paste further highlighted the taste of the sea. Slightly bouncy in texture and perfectly toasted on the edges, it was accentuated with a few crisp fried curry leaves.
The nonconformity approach of the kitchen certainly makes the experience what it is. While the menu read, Darling Downs wagyu with sauerkraut & gherkin, we knew not to expect a standard steak of any sort. The thin slice of wagyu was rare but so tender that it perhaps suggests it was sous-vided – regardless, the marbling delivered an intense melt-in-your-mouth taste that was insatiably delicious.
Binding the fermented foods trend (the sauerkraut and gherkin) to the dehydrated foods trend, the wagyu was accompanied with Autumn leaves, a stunning plate of crisp semi-transparent radicchio, chicory and kale leaves, served with Jerusalem artichoke puree.
When the Bar cod with fish milk & scales was served, our table debated about the scales – were they real or were they an imaginative mimic? There was a smokiness akin to bonito flakes of a Japanese dashi broth, but having had something similar before, I was convinced they were dehydrated potato sheets.
I couldn’t quite connect with the rabbit with cashew & wakame but I appreciated the challenge of the bizarre combination of flavours; the little Frenched rack of ribs torturously screamed from the plate. I have to admit, the rabbit wasn’t quite as gamey as what I’ve previously experienced, the savouryness that tied together the cashew and seaweed worked, but left a void that only an indulgent side dish of kipfler potato, sea urchin & bone marrow could fill. There’s clearly an astuteness with understanding the compounds of textures and flavours because these random lists of ingredients just keep working in Marque’s favour.
To my surprise, the rabbit was the last savoury course, and the only goat in this Holy goat ‘la luna’ with pineapple & onion, was in the form of goats cheese!
Showcasing the ultimate restraint, Blue Mountains Honeycomb & cultured cream was simplicity at its finest.
The dessert courses followed – a fragrant caramelised tomato stuffed with twelve flavours & star anise ice-cream, bitter-sweet Sauternes custard and a surprisingly scrumptious parsnip cornetto which caused quite the #parsnipwar kerfuffle on social media recently. We finished with Campari bonbons which bursted in our mouths, and salted caramel chocolate.
Much like how the fashion runways spark trends that trickle down to fast fashion, it is restaurants like Marque that are the driving force behind the molecular gastronomy elements that we’ve become so familiar with. Beyond novelty, this Sweet 16 showcase was brilliant. Congratulations to chef Mark Best and the Marque team on this special milestone!
4/5 355 Crown Street, Surry Hills NSW
Phone: +61 (02) 9332 2225
I Ate My Way Through dined as guests of Marque Restaurant