In a lucky stroke of fate, Blythe and I were able to get a last minute booking to Altitude on a busy holiday season Saturday night. It meant dining at 6pm and leaving by 8.15pm but we didn't mind, we were just glad to get a booking at a day's notice. Blythe is leaving tomorrow for London so she wanted to make her last night in Sydney count food-wise. I can relate to that.
_The view from the restaurant _
In the lobby the Shangri-la hotel is full of people eager to get up to the 36th floor, including a large and seemingly already tipsy hen's night party. Most turn left and go to the Blu Horizon's bar. We turn right and go towards the calm serenity of the Altitude restaurant. Cream alicebanded staff in brown and black dresses take us to the table, as we're the first, we take some pictures of the view before its obscured by diners. There's a stunning direct view of the Opera House as well as the Harbour Bridge.
_Blue cheese and sun dried tomato bread with herb butter and pink salt _
We're asking to break the rules here tonight, as I want to order the 7 course degustation menu $135 with extra cheese plate $15 while Blythe wants to order the 4 course menu $110. The kitchen recommend against this but as we are intending to do a plate swap for each dish, we don't mind at all so they oblige. A waiter appears with a selection of bread: blue cheese, 11 grain or sun dried tomato. During the course of the night, we try all 3 types, the Milawa Blue cheese being the clear favourite for both of us. The table next to us clearly likes the bread too, continuously having their bread supply replenished much to the detriment of their appetite.
_Amuse Bouche: Celeriac veloute with truffle oil _
Blythe's Amuse Bouche arrives, a celeriac veloute with white truffle oil. Its lovely, perfectly seasoned, rich and flavoursome. A perfect soup. I hold up the cup to my mouth to receive every drop.
Degustation item 1 : Herb crusted yellow fin tuna with blue swimmer crab
My herb crusted seared yellow fin tuna with blue swimmer crab is good, the delicately flavoured crab a little obscured by the liberal use of spanish onion but the onion benefits the soft seared tuna well.
Degustation item 2 : smoked Petuna salmon with avocado, fennel, pink eye potatoes and avruga salad dressing
My next dish is the smoked Petuna salmon with avocado, fennel, pink eye potatoes and avruga salad dressing. The Petuna Salmon is more delicately flavoured than regular salmon, this variety of salmon and trout are certainly my favourite and they need little garnish at all. The Petuna variety is actually allowed to grow at a more natural rate and farmed in pristine Tasmanian waters in a World Heritage listed area away from farming operations and human habitation. The creamy avocado, fennel and potato and avruga dressing is certainly a fit companion to this delicate fish. Its gone within a few bites and I mourn its departure. It comes with a crown of fried onion as a garnish and a long slender spring onion.
Degustation menu item 3 and 4 course menu item 1: Seared sea scallops with spring onion risotto and shellfsh bisque
Blythe and I both receive your Seared sea scallops with spring onion risotto and shellfish bisque. These are just how I like my scallops, juicy and 1 inch fat, seared on the outside, tender and raw on the inside. The scallops are delicious and come all the way from Canada which is where the chef Steven Krasicki hails from (according to the menu, he is from Winnepeg specifically). The risotto is heavy on the barely cooked white onion and the texture is al dente, we later learn that this is how he cooks his risotto as he doesn't like it to get soggy although for us, it tasted 5 minutes away from being fully cooked through.
Degustation menu item 4: Coriander crusted sword fish with courgettes au fleur, sauteed cuttlefish and roma tomato
Up next for me is the Coriander crusted sword fish with courgettes au fleur, sauteed cuttlefish and roma tomato. I do love the meaty texture of swordfish so I am not surprised that I really enjoy this dish but the combination of the coriander crust and deep fried zucchini flower on top is perfection. The zucchini flower is crispy and fresh, tasting straight of the sea although it has no seafood in it. Think of the nicest, crispiest fish and chips and that was the flavour that came through, the soft meaty sword fish providing a nice juxtaposition to it.
4 course menu item 2: Roasted saddle of Macleay Valley rabbit wrapped in pancetta with pistachio and pea
Blythe's next dish is the Roasted saddle of Macleay Valley rabbit wrapped in pancetta with pistachio and peas. I'm not particularly fond of rabbit but she is and I do try a bit. The beurre blanc sauce is gorgeous along with the beans but the peas are a little too starchy. The saddle of rabbit, rolled and sliced into rounds is good but again I am not a huge rabbit lover so I leave this to Blythe. What I do particularly like is the veal sweetbread served alongside the saddle of rabbit, its soft, slightly spongey and very flavoursome.
Degustation menu item 5: Aurora lamb with baby globe artichoke, buttered spinach and a thyme and garlic jus
My roasted and braised Aurora lamb arrives next with baby globe artichoke, buttered spinach and a thyme and garlic jus and a roasted clove of garlic for good measure. Despite the fact that I grow thyme in my herb garden, I don't particularly go for the taste of it. However in this dish it quite rightfully belongs. There are two pieces of lamb, the round piece which is the neck, is fall apart soft and gelatinous and the kind of meat you could eat for your last meal. The other cut is tender and good but I'm still pining for the soft cut.
4 course menu item 3: Bangalow Pork rack with potato puree, chou-croute, deep fried and crumbed pigs ears, snow peas and mount buffalo hazelnuts
We receive our last savoury dishes next, Blythe's Bangalow Pork rack with potato puree, chou-croute, deep fried and crumbed pigs ears, snow peas and mount buffalo hazelnuts arrives and it is magnificently enormous. Two large pieces of pork lion sit astride a huge section of pork crackling with swirled potato puree. Underneath there is chou-croute, a French dressed sauerkraut from Alsace and theres a sprinkling of hazelnuts for texture and taste. The crackling is a little too hard to tackle and this, usually Blythe's favourite part, has to be left behind. The pork itself is flavoursome, the deep fried pig's ears reminiscent of crumbed calamari, the potato puree just divine but we didn't anticipate such an enormous serving. Even my hungry husband would have trouble finishing his 4 course meal here and Blythe and I give up leaving about a half behind, not for disliking it but because our stomachs can barely hold any more.
Degustation menu item 6: Mandagery Creek Venison with aubergine caviar and cracked black pepper gnocchi
My Mandagery Creek (near Orange) Venison arrives in all of its bloody red glory alongside aubergine caviar and cracked black pepper gnocchi. I hesitate a little as I usually like my red meat medium rare but since venison is a fairly lean meat, I understand that overcooking is considered a culinary crime so I dig in. I'm so glad I do, the fat rectangular gnocchi and rare tender venison are a great combination alongside the velvety aubergine caviar which is akin to a very smooth aubergine puree. A particularly lovely end to the savoury courses.
_Duck fat roasted Kipfler potatoes $10 _
Along with these, our duck fat cooked Kipflers arrives, bronzed and burnished beauties. They're soft and with little crunch which we were hoping for a little of.
_Cheese plate, $15 supplement to degustation menu _
The cheese plate is the first dessert course to arrive and we're sharing it although truth be told, Blythe is a much bigger cheese fan than I who while I like cheese, I don't LOVE cheese as much as many that I have met and find myself reaching my cheese limit within a small wedge. The cheeses on tonight's cheese plate are a Artavagio Washed Rind from Italy, La Luna Mature Goats cheese and the Quick's cheddar from England (winner of many awards) served alongside fat muscatels, thinly sliced apple, honeycomb, rosemary crispbread and lavosh bread.
Cheeses left to right: Artavagio washed rind, Holy Goat La Luna Full Moon goats cheese and Mrs Quick's cheddar
The Artavagio is fairly strong, almost like a blue cheese to me and a little too strong for my taste although Blue cheese lovers would enjoy this and its Blythe's favourite. My favourite is the organic Holy Goat La Luna Full Moon goats cheese on the lavosh with the muscatels. Its creamy and nutty and almost grassy in flavour with a wrinkled yeast rind. The Mrs Quick's cheddar, seen on many English fine dining menus is salty, smokey and bitey and whilst I am a huge cheddar fan, this is almost too much for me at this time.
_Black cherry Eton Mess _
We're sitting back trying to somehow magically conjur up space for desserts hoping that our stomachs will hear our pleas to make more room when a pre dessert of fresh cherry Eton Mess arrives in a petite shot glass, the fresh cherries soft and sweet against the lightly sweetened stiff cream sans meringue. The assistant manager comes by after asking about my photo taking (this camera tends to attract a lot of attention) and thoughtfully gives me a copy of the menu and her card as well as Steven Krasicki's and lets me know that if I have any questions at all that I am more than welcome to call and ask either of them. Its a friendly warm touch to the service.
Degustation menu item 7: poached white peach with blackberry chiboust, white chocolate ice cream and pecan wafer
Our desserts arrive with my poached white peach with blackberry chiboust, white chocolate ice cream and pecan wafer. The white peach looks more like a regular peach and the chiboust, like a blackberry studded creme patisserie with stiffened cream isn't quite sweet enough for the white peach which isn't particularly sweet in itself. The two halves of blueberry and peach puree are also not very sweet. The white chocolate ice cream comes to the rescue and gives it sweetness and a rich creamy chocolaty-ness. The pecan wafer is crisp and buttery and delicious. Blythe and I almost fight over this.
4 course menu item 4: Mille feuille of brandy snaps and granny smith bavarois with star anise poached apples
At my urging Blythe ordered the Mille feuille of brandy snaps and granny smith bavarois with star anise poached apples. Mainly because I love brandy snaps, I love granny smith apples in desserts and I love bavarois. One word for this is Ambrosial. The lightly granny smith flavoured bavarois filling is voluptuous against the crisp gingerbready brandy snap and the refreshing granny smith sorbet is one of the most delicious sorbets I've had. Even an avid fruit hater like Blythe can't help to be impressed by it and she carefully gives me half and half only (she'd usually give me the whole of anything fruity). The candied diced apples have the slightest hint of star anise without overpowering it and the pieces are perfection with the brandy snap mille feuille and bavarois filling. The effect on my now too full stomach is miraculous. My tastebuds demand it to make more space and it does.
There there, good stomach, now you really were rewarded well tonight weren't you?
Level 36, Shangri-la Hotel
176 Cumberland Street The Rocks Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9250-6000
Open: 6pm to late, closed Sunday
Epi-curious menu available from 6:00-9.30pm