A degustation meal should not be rushed. The diner should have time to appreciate, discover, analyse, enjoy, understand, and get ready for the next set of sensations. This is especially true for Bilson’s Epiphany – Presque Quatre 15-course degustation, which I had the great pleasure to try last week.
6:30 pm. I arrived at Bilson’s and was greeted by the Maitre D’. I had a table in the best corner of the restaurant, right next to the bookshelf stocked with food-related books. The only downside was very dim lighting, which shows in the photos. Apologies for that.
The lovely house snack of fish & chips arrived straight away, two deep-fried long strips made with salted cod and dehydrated potato, served on a “newspaper” cone, with tartar sauce on the side. The chips were thin and crunchy and packed the full flavour of great fish and chips in a much lighter vehicle. The sauce was delicious and I wished there were more chips to finish it off.
After checking if I had any dietary requirements (and doing so in other tables), the Maitre D’ served me a glass of Ullyses Collin extra brut champagne, an excellent way to stimulate my appetite.
I got excited when the amuse-bouche of coconut and garlic arrived. It was my first time trying black garlic, and a dish based solely in garlic and coconut, which I found was a great combination. The slight sweetness and delicacy of the coconut milk foam made the garlic components (chips, chives and slices of black cloves from California) mellower. The crunchy coconut sponge on the left helped with the texture contrast. And the black garlic? I really liked it. It was sweet and sour at the same time, with a mild garlic punch appearing after a few seconds of chewing.
Coconut & Garlic Amuse-Bouche
A mini loaf of house-made bread (which I’ve seen been knead in my previous visit) and a lovely cup holding house-churned butter arrived at the table. The bread was not warm but there was no doubt it was fresh. Its chewy texture and hard crust provided a good contrast to the extreme softness and creaminess of the butter.
And this was only the warm-up.
Bread & Butter
Course #1: Sydney Rock Oyster, King Crab, Cous Cous, Apple, Yogurt. The oyster had been gently poached, so that it was smooth but not completely cooked. The sweet-fleshed Alaskan King Crab had been perfectly cooked in butter. Both rested over avocado powder and chilled apple cous cous, which was tangy and herbal, instead of sweet as one could have anticipated. The temperature was a key factor in this dish, giving it extra points for the freshness that such a seafood course require.
The champagne paired well with this dish, although a lighter wine could have worked even better.
Sydney Rock Oyster, King Crab, Cous Cous, Apple, Yogurt
A glass of dry Sherry was poured for the next dish.
Course #2: Semi Cooked and Raw Crystal Bay Prawn, Consommé, Baby Sorrel. The raw prawn at the bottom and the semi cooked (half of it raw and half of it cooked, lengthwise) prawn at the top were bathed by a light fishy consommé that rounded the marine flavour in this dish. Most people would focus on the prawns but I was amazed by the humble side of quinoa. It was toasted to an extreme crunchiness that didn’t fade off even after several minutes of being moistened by the consommé.
The pairing with the dry Sherry was unexpectedly brilliant.
Semi Cooked and Raw Crystal Bay Prawn, Consommé, Baby Sorrel
Course #3: Baby Carrot, Calamari, Ink, Macadamia, Cocoa. There’s something extremely sexy about a satin black stain on a white plate. The best thing is that it doesn’t only act a visual prop, but also as a flavourful piece. This excellent squid ink sauce helped bind together the tastes from earth and sea of macadamia nuts, steamed Dutch carrot, cocoa, coriander, and calamari slices so thin that could be barely seen but definitely savoured. Is common knowledge that carrot + coriander is a match made in heaven; now calamari can be added to that equation.
Baby Carrot, Calamari, Ink, Macadamia, Cocoa
A glass of Chenin Blanc with mandarin and mango notes was poured to pair with the next dish.
Course #4: Marron, Butternut Pumpkin, Mandarin, Mizuna. The marron tail poached in wakame salt was delicate and delicious on its own. But the rectangular box of butternut pumpkin caramelised with a blowtorch and the super sweet mandarin puree lifted the dish to another dimension. Some toasted pumpkin seeds on top of the marron provided a nice nutty touch. This was one of my favourite dishes of the night.
The acidity of the wine paired well with the sweetness and fruitness of the puree.
Marron, Butternut Pumpkin, Mandarin, Mizuna
Course #5: Egg Yolk, Cauliflower, Rye, Sprouts, Fresh Herbs, Vegemite. While this ingredient list screams “breakfast” and one may think it should be put at the beginning of the set, there are reasons why it’s not: the richness of the egg yolk and the fuller feeling of the dish as a whole. It’s like having a fancy brekkie in the middle of the day. A typical Australian breakfast could not have been complete without a tiny Vegemite square (which thankfully I couldn’t taste). The cream of cauliflower and horseradish was subtle, the crumbs of rye sourdough, the macadamia nuts, and the crispy pancetta in combination with the oozy yolk were indulgently delicious. The bean sprouts could have appeared as out of place but their flavour melted in nicely.
Egg Yolk, Cauliflower, Rye, Sprouts, Fresh Herbs, Vegemite
A glass of French white, this time Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatières Dom. Remoissonet, was poured in preparation for the next dish.
Course #6: Blue Eye Cod, Citrus, Chicken, Wild Rice. The fish fillet had been pan-fried and finished in the oven. It was perfectly cooked and topped with grapefruit jam. There was lime and lemon puree on the dish, as well as citrus segments, crispy chicken skin and a brown consommé. The combination of different citrus fruits and seasoning (I could taste aniseed) did wonders to complement the delicate taste of the fish.
The wine had a complex smell, almost like fungus, and citrus notes in the mouth. In my opinion it was a bit too earthy for the dish, even with the richness provided by the crispy chicken skin.
John Dory, Citrus, Chicken, Wild Rice
Course #7: Foie Gras Chaud-Froid, Apple, Buckwheat, Broth. A take on a rustic-style meal, this dish featured cubed apples seasoned with Manuka honey from Tasmania, buckwheat, and duck stock with liquorice and orange. Rustic yet classy thanks to the inclusion of foie gras. The apple was crunchy and sweet, bursting with honey flavour. The salty broth had a liquorice kick that wasn’t unwelcome at all, and found a nice counterpart in the sweet vinegar meringues. Another dish for my top list of the night.
Foie Gras Chaud-Froid, Apple, Buckwheat, Broth
A glass of red which details I didn’t write down was poured in a big glass for the two coming dishes. It was high in alcohol, hence the size of the glass for breathing purposes. It had a light burgundy colour and smell of moist earth, ripe berries and spices.
Course #8: Polenta, Zucchini, Parmesan, Hazelnut (El Bulli 2007). First vegetarian dish of the night. Polenta gnocchi with Parmesan cream, zucchini tuile, zucchini and squash. Gnocchi can be quite heavy if not properly made, but of course this was not the case, they were light and soft in texture, yet rich in flavour. The lovely tiny zucchini and squash pieces, as well as some hazelnuts (my favourite nut), matched the polenta-Parmesan combo perfectly. The beautiful zucchini flower tuiles confirmed that indeed this menu had been designed for autumn.
The wine was too alcoholic and acidic for the gnocchi. I think a mellow Merlot or Pinot Noir would have been a better choice.
Polenta, Zucchini, Parmesan, Hazelnut (El Bulli 2007)
Course #9: Mushrooms, Potato, Yeast. A fungus feast: Swiss brown, shiitake, enoki, mushroom foam. Each mushroom with its own characteristic flavour, plus a surprise: the enokis were sweet and sour, and oddly tasted like lasagna (not that it was a bad thing). There was a mushroom stem that had been sautéed with garlic. And there was potato, dehydrated, reconstituted, and shaped like a mushroom stem. Genious. The fried parsley was the perfect herb for this dish, which was another one of my favourites.
The wine pairing was good, the earthiness was shared by both food and drink, and the acidity in the latter was a good complement.
Mushrooms, Potato, Yeast
Course #10: Broccoli, Pistachio, Goats Blue, Baby Sorrel. A beautiful dish to look at and another wonderfully tasting vegetarian course. Over a goat’s blue cheese cream rested blanched broccoli florets, crunchy broccoli stems (some blanched, some toasted) and cooked pistachios, all garnished with sorrel and pistachio oil.
Broccoli, Pistachio, Goats Blue, Baby Sorrel
A visit to the bathroom greeted me with those special details that make a world of difference between restaurants, like cinnamon scent and individual hand towels.
Course #11: Squab, Baby Beets, Foie Gras, Mustard ‘Cherry’. A squab (young domestic pigeon) course paired with one of my favourite vegetables. The bird had been cooked sous vide and slow-roasted for 20 hours. There were different beetroot textures on the plate: powdered, roasted, in cream. All were good in their own uniqueness: the powdered was extra sweet, the roasted had a great orange flavour on the outside, the cream was just delicious. Next to the roasted beetroot sat what resembled another roasted beetroot but was a squab leg, bone in (the slightly off-putting claws gave it away). A tart and sweet cherry jelly resembling a mini cooked half beetroot held a small dollop of Dijon mustard, and complimented the rest of the flavours in the dish.
Squab, Baby Beets, Foie Gras, Mustard ‘Cherry’
I was given a hot towel to refresh my hands, and then I realised they expect the diner to eat the squab leg with the hand, thing I’m not very comfortable doing.
A glass of Twofold shiraz was poured to pair the next dish.
Course #12: Wagyu Shank, Kipflers, Watercress. The meat and spuds dish of the night. The kipflers manifested themselves in two incarnations: a silky truffle-scented potato cream and deep-fried potato skin. The wagyu beef was flavourful and correctly cooked. A strong-flavoured watercress puree and fresh watercress were the much-needed source of vegetable intake, and a nice complement for the beef. The only element I didn’t like in the dish (and thinking about it, in the whole meal) was the slow-cooked melt-in-the-mouth tendon: it was too fatty for my taste. Apart from that, this awesome dish deserved a place in my top list for the night.
The oakey shiraz was a good pairing for this hearty dish.
Wagyu Shank, Kipflers, Watercress
And dessert time arrived.
Course #13: Black Savourine Goat Cheese, Brioche, Quince, Vanilla Tea. Toasted brioche, quince paste, toasted fennel seed, and goat’s cheese from Yarra Valley that had been rolled in ash were the elements of the first dessert course. I loved the aggressiveness of the goat’s cheese, which worked wonderfully with the not-so-sweet elements of the dish.
Black Savourine Goat Cheese, Brioche, Quince, Vanilla Tea
A glass of 2006 Mas Amiel Maury Rouge ‘Reserve, a fortified red dessert wine, was poured to match the next course.
Course #14: Autumn Chestnuts. Quite a simple name for such a complex dish. Chocolate sauce on the bottom, a quenelle of excellent chestnut ice cream, a confit of chestnuts and praline, a log of chestnut mousse and cream with chocolate “branches”, a chocolate crumble that reminded me of Milo, maple syrup and vanilla to finish. Perfect flavour combination, outstanding presentation. My favourite dessert of the night.
The wine pairing was very good.
Course #15: Mandarin, Chocolate, Violet. Over a rectangular base that looked perfectly solid but was in fact gooey rested a box of chocolate mousse with a peppermint meringue on top, and a delicious mandarin jelly. That white square with the yellow dot on top which looks like a fried egg had an ultra smoked flavour. Apart from citrus segments, some violet flowers garnished the dessert, but unfortunately I’m not a big fan of edible flowers.
The fortified wine paired well with this dish, too.
Mandarin, Chocolate, Violet
I finally made it. I had been there for almost 5 hours, enjoying every single second. One could think that it was torture, but quite the opposite: time flies when you’re having fun. I was offered tea or coffee; I chose a cup of Earl Grey. The dining room was finally empty, the staff was getting ready to head home. Diego stopped by my table on his way out to say goodbye.
Earl Grey Tea
Chocolate Box. The reward for being patient and well-behaved comes at the end, with a box of house-made chocolates, which sit on chocolate shavings. Each chocolate is different, and as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t try all of them. Raspberry, Grand Marnier, cherry, and hazelnut were some of the flavours I could fit in. My heart was racing at this point, I can’t tell if it was the wine, the sugar, the chocolate, or the excitement of such a wonderful dinner.
Gaby @ lateraleating dined in Bilson’s as a guest of executive chef Diego Muñoz.
27 O’Connel Street
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 8214 0496