The first time I visited these premises it was a restaurant called Bilsons (now moved elsewhere) and the potentially lovely view over Sydney Harbour was blocked by a vast cruise ship moored alongside the dining room. This time there were no cruise ships, and I was able to enjoy the magnificent view through the floor to ceiling windows across the harbour to the opera house. The large dining room can seat 110 people at one time, is carpeted and had easy listening music playing in the background. Generously spaced tables had well-ironed white tablecloths, and the lighting was low to the point where it was not that easy to read the wine list, at least at my table.
Chef Peter Gilmore has worked in the distant past in London, but mostly at country house hotels in Australia before settling at Quay in 2001. Four courses cost AUD 155 or there was a tasting menu at AUD 220, with wine pairing for the tasting menu at an extra AUD 90 or AUD 190 for classier wines. The wine list was organised by style, and appeared to start at around AUD 60, with Harewood Chardonnay 2009 at AUD 60 for a wine that retails at around AUD 17. Other examples were Wanderer Pinot Noir 2010 at AUD 123 for a wine that you can pick up in a shop for AUD 36, Girardin Bonnes-Mares 1998 at AUD 450 compared to a retail price of AUD 220 up to prestige wines such as Petrus 1995 at AUD 4487, which is pretty much what it costs to buy in a shop, at least if you can find a shop that sells it. Four breads were offered, of which I tried a pleasant organic country white bread and a less good rye and spelt bread; the breads here were bought in from a bakery called Sonoma (about 15/20 based on the ones I tried). Quite why a restaurant on this sale is incapable of making its own bread eludes me.
An amuse-bouche was a glass in which was served ocean trout tartare, smoked salmon jelly, salmon roe and cauliflower cream. This was enjoyable though a rich dish, something that turned out to be a recurring theme at this meal (16/20). My starter was advertised as black truffle with Iberico ham and croutons. All very pleasant with nice ham, but the truffles had little taste and when I enquired further they turned out to be summer truffles from Piedmont rather than in-season black truffles (15/20).
Quail was poached, a breed of quail called coturnix, farmed in Australia though a Japanese breed. This was served with truffle custard, pumpernickel, chestnut cream and quinoa, with a little truffle (this time from western Australia) and some milk skin. The quinoa provided a nice texture contrast to the cream and custard, but the dish seemed to be crying out for some balancing acidity, the overall effect being very rich (15/20).
An extra dish of shaved abalone with pork belly with shiitake mushrooms, ginger milk curd and seaweed with a mushroom consommé and chestnuts had rather tasteless mushrooms, though the abalone had good texture and the pork belly was fine (15/20). Wagyu beef was grade 6 wagyu from northern New South Wales, and was poached, served with dried French morels, black pudding and breadcrumbs. The beef was nicely cooked and the overall effect was again rich, though at least with this dish a green salad was served on the side (16/20).
The best dish of the night was a chocolate cake made with Amadei chocolate, the cake having excellent texture, a silky and deliciously rich dessert (18/20). Service was mostly friendly but not perfect, especially for a restaurant at this price point. Bread was not replenished without prompting and my wine glass was sometimes left empty. The waiting staff seemed to have limited knowledge about the sourcing of ingredients or preparation of dishes, though they did go off and check things willingly enough.
The bill came to AUD 287 (£188) for one person, with a pleasant bottle of Pinot Noir, and coffee at a little matter of AUD 9 for a tiny double espresso. Overall I was a little disappointed with the experience here. Although the cooking technique was fine, ingredients were not of the quality I had encountered at some other restaurants on this trip, the bread was bought in and more than one dish seemed unbalanced in terms of being excessively rich. Although a perfectly pleasant meal, I would have hoped for higher quality at this price point. Still, there is that great view.
For historical interest only, here are brief notes from a slightly better meal in February 1997, at which point it had a different chef.
On Circular Quay itself, with a marvelous view over the harbour (it used to be called Bilsons when I first came here). My starter nibble was perfect cream cheese with chives on a tiny round of toast (18/20). There was an ex-Robuchon-trained chef. A starter of tuna was very finely judged, served with a sauce of oriental spices and Chinese cabbage - excellent. Ravioli of prawn and truffle was excellent, with a fine prawn sauce - 18/20 for this dish. Good service - easily the most consistent of the trip.
Starter of marinated salmon with a delicious salad of "mache" leaves in a "how do they do that?" French dressing (17/20). Main course of beautifully cooked John Dory with a smooth but slightly bland pea puree and crispy allumette (match-stick) potatoes (18/20), with wonderful mashed potatoes à la Robuchon (18/20). For dessert, peach mousse with peach sauce had good texture with pieces of peach, but was a little bland (16/20). We drank Craig Avon Chardonnay (unoaked).