Stanmore is a neighborhood right outside Sydney that has a feel of a small ghost town because of its quiet roads and tattered storefronts. It’s not the place where you’d think to find a restaurant offering a degustation menu.
But that’s where I was, wandering the quiet streets of Stanmore on one of the rare sunny days I had in Sydney, looking for the Sixpenny restaurant. I’d made reservations for a Saturday lunch, and arrived early after a 15-minute train ride from the Central Business District.
Don’t get me wrong, the neighborhood wasn’t dodgy; several homes I walked past looked quite nice. But it was definitely quiet, and the street signs confused me as I tried to follow Percival Road to the restaurant. It didn’t help that the restaurant, right at a corner, doesn’t have a sign and cloaks its windows with gauzy curtains, making it appear closed from the outside.
But once I finally realized where it was and entered into the cool and modern interiors, I was warmly greeted by the hostess, who called me out by name (I was probably the only person with a reservation for one) and took me to my table. I appreciated the friendly, welcoming service, as they gave me a chance to settle in before starting up the food.
The tiny restaurant, which has been opened for less than a year, offers only a degustation menu and almost everyone dining there had reservations and came from somewhere else. Rarely do neighborhood residents ever drop in for a bite. Apparently, that’s the experience Chef James Parry wanted to create – a dining destination that would entrance food lovers from around the world.
A five-course (AUS$110 or $102) or eight-course (AUS$135 or $125) menu is offered for lunch, and I went with the eight courses since I worked so hard to find the place. 😉
At Sixpenny, all the dishes are brought out by a chef from the kitchen. Unfortunately, a few times I had chefs who had a very strong Australian accent, so I really couldn’t understand their descriptions of the food (I’m sure I sounded just as strange to them with my American accent). So my apologies to the restaurant if I misidentified any of the dishes.
The opening of amuse bouche included a gougeres with a filling of tomato paste that was like tomato jam, a mushroom with verbena and cooked Treviso with dandelion emulsion and cheese. They all looked simple and sounded complicated, much like the rest of the meal.
Elegant and Sophisticated
Many of the courses were elegant and beautifully plated, and I enjoyed the creativity in preparations, using recognizable ingredients but displaying in new and different ways. For example, marinated veal was served in a savory glaze of anchovies and served next to a cooked cabbage wedge. Two very common combinations — the savory meat offset by the bland cabbage — but the plate with the two items looked almost like ceramic pieces in gallery showcase because of the interesting glaze on the veal and a green powdered sprinkled over the cabbage.
One of my favorite dish was a pastrami pork cheek (I probably would love anything with the word pastrami in it), which initially scared me because of the clearly visible layer of fat. But it was the type of fat that was so buttery, it didn’t have any gelatinous texture often associated with raw fat. It was all encased by a crispy thin skin and supported by the moist tender pork cheek.
Not every dish was a success, but I appreciated the attempts to be creative. A stone crab dish with shavings made with macadamia milk (I call this dish the “white period”) looked like a fluffy white medallion, but the flavors didn’t seem to blend well with the crab. I felt it needed some acid to offset the richness of the milk.
And a dessert of pumpkin yogurt ice cream sandwich looked creative coming out on a plate made of dehydrated pumpkin skin, but the flavor was mild and not very “pumpkin-y.”
Still, these are just minor quibbles to what otherwise was an enjoyable and satisfying meal. A simple dish of potatoes hidden under spinach leaves looked like they were roasted but instead had the moist texture of steamed potatoes with a sprinkling of finishing salt that added a nice crunch and flavor. (I have to say, all the dishes were well-seasoned to my taste.)
A plum dessert with jasmine curd and prune chocolates was a rich but delicate taste of the sweet prunes with the crunch of chocolate blending with the coolness of the curd.
The Last Bite
This no-rush meal made up of beautiful and tasty dishes was a major treat during my Australian vacation. Sixpenny gave me a glimpse of how modern Australian cooking can compete on the world stage while honoring the local ingredients showcased on the plate. It takes a bit of work to find this spot, but it’s worth the discovery.
Rating: 3.5 out of 4 camera snaps
Sixpenny, 83 Percival Road, Stanmore, Sydney, Australia. PH: +61(02)9572-6666. Open dinner, Wednesday to Saturday from 6 p.m.; and lunch weekends from noon. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.sixpenny.com.au
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