There is one area of Sydney in which I've always wanted to live. The Rocks area is the historic centre of Sydney in one of the prettiest with beautiful sandstone buildings, heritage listed houses with a sparkling blue Sydney harbour waterfront that shines like a diamond when the sunshine comes out. Legendary tales and ghosts abound and it is perhaps because of this other worldly company that I like it so - I figure I'll never be lonely around a ghost!
This Friday night, I arrive on Jack Mundey place off Argyle Street right in the middle of The Rocks where the area has been transformed for the annual vintage dinner. Many of the 260 people have dressed up in vintage clothing and the $150 per person ticket event sold out within two weeks. It's a perfect rain free Sydney evening and vintage lampshades light up the street. These lampshades were discards that were retrieved, each decorated and fixed up by hand.
The idea of the Vintage dinner actually comes from the idea of a wine dinner at a vineyard at the end of a harvest with share tables and good food and wine. There are two long tables, one on Jack Mundey place (he was an environmental and union activist) and the other on Kendall Lane. The other meaning of vintage ties in with The Rocks historical pedigree. Tonight, there are six of The Rocks's restaurants serving up food as well as several wineries and wine areas of NSW represented. The currency is a handful of twelve rocks, literally, given a linen drawstring pouch. Diners can select what they want from the stalls where each item ranges from one to three rocks.
We peruse the menu while at the table and each course has a suggested matching wine but nothing quite beats having a look at the food and seeing it up close. Portion sizes and popularity varies between each stand. The lovely Natascha Moy from the Food in Focus radio show and I decide to team up and share our rocks for maximum tasting opportunities. To be honest, at first, we thought that we wouldn't have enough rocks and that people might not like the idea of paying $150 to get their own meals on bamboo plates but everyone seems very happy. We figured that one rock represented about $12.50 just based on the number we received and the ticket price.
Sake's Pan seared Cone Bay ocean barramundi with butter soy and a buckwheat, tomato and edamame salsa dressed with sweet yuzu ponzu, 3 rocks
We wander down to the end and decide to try the barramundi from Sake. The queues aren't long and if you like to do a bit of chef watching, they're at each stand plating up their food. Everything is freshly cooked and the plates don't sit around waiting for customers which is good. The pan seared Cone Bay ocean barramundi had a lovely butter soy on it and was paired with a buckwheat, tomato and edamame salsa and a piquant, sweet yuzu ponzu dressing. The fish was very nicely cooked and moist within and the side was well balanced and seasoned although this was on the more expensive side at 3 rock's worth, given its size.
Pony's Thirlmere chicken with split green bean, fennel and asparagus salad, spiced aioli, 3 rocks
Natascha asked Pony's chef Damian Heads what he recommended from his menu and he suggested the chicken, something she or I don't tend to order when out. It is an enormous serve of char grilled Thirlmere chicken with a spiced aioli with a refreshing split green bean, fennel and asparagus salad. The chicken was succulent and filling and the salad provided a nice acidity for the char of the chicken although parts were a bit over charred.
Wine Odyssey's Beetroot, goats cheese and pistachio salad with balsamic vinegar, 3 rocks
This was given to us by a fellow diner Kathy and we wouldn't have normally spent the 3 rocks on a salad. We notice that they reduced this to 2 rocks a bit later which is more reasonable. The thinly sliced beetroot was sweet and luscious and there was a good amount of crunchy pistachios among the leaves although there wasn't a lot of goat's cheese and the dressing was mainly on top so it wasn't mixed through the leaves.
Wine Odyssey's Braised beef cheek with pearl barley and pine mushroom risotto, spinach and hazelnuts, 2 rocks
Wine Odyssey's other offering, the more substantial one, was actually just two rocks and was a softly braised beef cheek, done in a massive quantity. I really liked the pearl barley and pine mushroom risotto with spinach and hazelnuts although the beef did need more seasoning.
Scarlett's sticky beef short rib, pickled radish, coriander, shallot, ginger jelly, 2 rocks
What seemed to be the most popular stall was Scarlett's from the Harbour Rocks Hotel and people seemed to take plates and plates away of the sticky beef short rib. Fragrant with Asian spices and with a sticky sweet sauce it was the standout savoury dish of the night (and I'm not saying that not just because I was their guest! :) ) and it came with a pickled radish salad and small ginger jelly cubes to counter the beef's richness.
Baroque's Jean-Michel Raynaud
By now, we were absolutely sated with the savouries and it was time to move into sweet. We counted our rocks and discovered that we had enough to buy everything on Baroque's dessert menu with some rocks leftover! Baroque were the only sweet supplier so while they may have had a later start with diners preoccupied with savouries, they were hit hard come dessert time. Everything was assembled a la minute, or at the last minute. Chef Jean-Michel Raynaud was busy adding on all of the components to the desserts.
Baroque's Trio of chocolate milles feuilles dark, milk and white layered valrhona chocolate cremeux, layers of round arlettes, cryo tahitian vanilla anglaise, chocolate crumble, micro herbs, 3 rocks
The round layers of pastry were more a filo than a puff pastry and came layered with three divine Valrhona chocolate crémeux creamy custards in dark, milk and white. There is a chunk of Nitrogen Tahitian vanilla anglaise cream which starts out as a liquidy cream but becomes ice cream once he adds dry ice. There are glossy, rich dabs that taste like sweetened condensed milk and there is also a layer of chocolate crumble and micro herbs on top, pistachio, fresh redcurrants and white currants. The milles feuilles were so lovely and crunchy with an earth shattering crunchiness from the filo being assembled last minute so that the pastry doesn't get soggy.
Baroque's Raspberry mandarin and pistachio slice (raspberry chiboust with mandarin mousse layered in a pistachio financier, plated with pistachio and almond praline and mascarpone Chantilly with a touch of lemon zest inside), 2 rocks
The opposite to the milles feuille in terms of texture was the airy, light raspberry chiboust with mandarin mousse on top of a layer of pistachio financier and a thin layer of raspberry jelly on top. The chocolate and pistachio crumble also features on this along with the creamy dabs of sweet custard and redcurrants but there is also a mascarpone chantilly cream which in the corner with crisp nutty tuiles on top. This is a dessert for those who love things light and not so sweet.
Baroque's Café gourmand (two macarons with coffee), 1 rock
The cafe gourmand option usually comes with coffee but when neither of us wanted it, they offered to give us two macarons instead-yay! The green macaron with the iridescent red dust was the pistachio and cherry which was the hit for everyone with a little surprise griotte inside. We also had a salted caramel which was lovely (for Baroque's recipe, see this post) and jasmine, a springtime favourite of mine with a delicate jasmine flavour and another favourite, the tangy passionfruit that helps cut through the macaron's inherent sweetness.
Birthdays are celebrated with the singers and dancers and there's a little surprise at the end, a little booklet that allows diners discounts at the restaurants featured tonight. "I wish this was on every three months" I overhear another diner say.
So tell me Dear Reader, are you afraid of ghosts? And do you prefer vintage or modern style?
NQN attended as a guest of the Harbour Rocks Hotel and the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority
The Rocks Vintage Dinner Under The Stars
Was held on Friday the 21st of September, 2012