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Aria Sydney

October 27, 2016

Our first full day in Sydney was one of the days of this trip that I most looked forward to.  When my husband and I made the decision to travel to Sydney, one of the first things I told him was that I wanted to see koalas and kangaroos.  So, we made plans to travel to the Taronga Zoo in Sydney where we booked a behind-the-scenes tour with an animal keeper who would introduce us to the unique Australian animals they had at the zoo.  We saw quokkas (I’d never heard of one before!), emus, fed grass to kangaroos and wallabys, petted a bilby and a couple of echidnas, had a feather tailed glider eating out of the palm of our hands, and got to take a selfie with a koala!  At the end of the day though, we needed to travel on the ferry from Taronga Zoo back to Circular Quay and this was the perfect time to sit and enjoy dinner with a view.

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My husband discovered Aria, right at the heart of Circular Quay where we were able to snag a table during their pre-theater seating.  Opening its doors in 1999, Aria is the brainchild of chef and owner Matt Moran who serves what he calls modern Australian haute cuisine.  Having won numerous awards both locally and internationally for its excellent cuisine and extensive wine list, Aria sits in one of the most coveted spots in all of Sydney.

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Situated right at the end of Circular Quay, Aria offers a glass-walled dining room with unfettered views of both the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.  Popular with the Opera House crowd for pre- and post- show meals, for a visitor to the city, the views from a window table are worth the price of admission alone, and this is before you’ve even eaten a lick of food.

The menu at Aria is a seasonal one, and as such, changes depending on what is local and fresh from the local purveyors of meats, fruits and vegetables that supply Aria with a bountiful supply of goods.  Meals are served off of a fixed menu where you start by deciding if you want to enjoy one course, two courses or all three courses.  The menu is then divided into three separate courses with each course offering at minimum 6 different choices of dishes.  Choose a dish from each course for the number of courses you wish to enjoy and you’re off to the races.  Sit back and wait for the food to be delivered to your table.  My husband and I, not surprisingly, both chose to enjoy a three course meal.  We could splurge a little considering we didn’t eat lunch at all on this day.

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After we made our selections for each course, the waiter brought to our table a small starter courtesy of the chef.  We were presented with a small tartlet filled with avocado, Spanner crab and sweet corn served upon a rustic cured section of carved wood from a tree.  It was all very rustic and creative and looked amazing.  The tartlet was quite delicious.  Perfectly baked and flaky without being overcooked.  The avocado was creamy and the corn was crunchy so it was a nice contrast.  The crab was soft and creamy, but between the sweetness of the corn and the creaminess of the avocado, it was really hard to taste the crab itself.

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Following our starter from the chef, traditional bread and butter was brought to the table.  However, this wasn’t actually your traditional bread and butter.  The bread was a sourdough roll, and we were presented with two different types of butter to go with our roll.  There was a salted butter, but the interesting and unique butter was butter made with dashi and seaweed.  Easy to make, but never really a combination that I would have thought of.  The flavor was really interesting and different and tasted a lot like nori.

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Out came the first courses that we each chose.  My husband’s first course was nasturtium and ricotta dumplings with grilled king oyster mushroom and Thai shallots.  If you are like me, I had no idea what nasturtium was, but all my husband saw was ricotta and ricotta means cheese, so in his mind, how could a cheese dumpling be a bad thing?  In reality, nasturtium is a tasty and edible flower.  The dish came with two large dumplings in this bright green colorful sauce along with some enormous shallots and grilled king oyster mushroom that looked almost as if it was a piece of grilled meat rather than a grilled oyster.  My husband said that the mushroom was incredibly meaty and woodsy.  But the star of the dish was the dumplings which were really tasty and delicious.

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For my first course, I chose the saikou salmon with apples, dill and horseradish.  I’m learning all sorts of new stuff with this dinner because I had no idea what saikou salmon was.  It turns out that saikou salmon comes from high in the mountains in the South Island of New Zealand where it is raised in a eco-sustainably manner with as little human intervention as possible.  The salmon has very little fish oil aftertaste and is sweet on the palate.  This salmon was different from anything I’ve experienced, but it was quite tasty.  The apple crunch was amazing and really provided the textural contrast the soft salmon meat needed.  The white flakes was freeze-dried horseradish and it was this horseradish that added the tang and flavor to the dish that it really needed to bring the whole dish together with the sweet salmon and the sweet apple.  This saikou salmon dish was quite interesting, but something I’d definitely order again.

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With my second course, I went with a meat dish.  My chosen entree was the black angus flank steak with smoked kipfler potato, garlic shoots, yuzu and soy dressing.  The steak was hearty and perfectly cooked to a nice medium rare.  The meat was quite tasty and flavorful and the jus sauce from the meat was really good.  The star of the dish for me was the smoked kipfler potato, it had great flavor and the perfect consistency.  The braised onions or shallots in the yuzu sauce was tangy and tart, but a little too much so that the flavors detracted from the flavor of the meat and potatoes, so I could have done with it.  The garlic shoots also seemed to just be decoration on the plate that didn’t add flavor or serve a purpose, so I could have done without those as well.  But then again, I’ve always said I’m a meat and potatoes kind of girl, and all I need is the meat and potatoes, everything else is just window dressing.

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My husband also decided to go with a meat dish for his main course.  His selection was the pork belly and blood sausage with sugar loaf cabbage, cipollini onions and apple sauce.  My husband is always willing to try new things, and blood sausage was right up his alley.  If he can eat, and enjoy, blood pudding, then blood sausage is nothing.  The pork belly was flavored with mustard seed, which at first my husband was turned off by.  He was thinking of scraping the mustard seed off the pork belly until he tasted and then absolutely loved the flavor of the mustard seed.  In fact, he thought that the mustard seed was the best part of this dish, it had the right amount of tang and flavor, but without overpowering the pork and pork fat itself.  The blood sausage, my husband thought was quite tasty and good and he really appreciated it.  And the cippolini onions were actually quite good too and perfectly caramelized.  This dish was filling, but good to the last bite.

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With the third and final course of the meal being the dessert, my husband, the contrarian decided to order the cheese plate instead of a sweet dessert.  Listed on the menu as a selection of Australian and international cheeses, my husband was actually presented with 4 different cheeses along with an accompaniment of raisin bread and grapes.  The cheeses included a Stilton blue cheese, a wash rind French cheese that was semi-hard, Comte, another French cheese, and a goat cheese from Victoria (Australian representative).  With the Comte and the Stilton blue, my husband already knew what to expect as he has had both of these cheeses many times over.  Of the four cheeses, his favorite was the was rind French cheese which he thought was tangy and quite tasty.

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I stuck with a more traditional sweet dessert for my third course.  I chose the warm caramelized pineapple with lime and rosemary sorbet and poached meringue.  The dessert sounded different and interesting and I thought I’d give it a try as it contained ingredients that I could eat.  The caramelized pineapple was different and very creative, it reminded me of the dessert my husband got at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal when we were in London last year.  The rosemary sorbet was interesting, and at the time I had the dessert, I didn’t remember that the sorbet was rosemary and I couldn’t quite pick out the flavor of what it was on my own.  The flavor was subtle enough that I knew that it was herbaceous, but not strong enough that I could pick out the rosemary.  The combination of the woodsy sorbet and the sweet and tangy pineapple created an interesting combination in textures and flavors.  This dessert certainly had creativity and flair and I appreciated that.

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At this point, we thought that our meal was done.  However, the kitchen staff had other ideas as we were presented with a plate of petit fours that included lemon and poppy seed macarons, homemade vanilla marshmallows, and chocolate and hazelnut praline truffle.  For me, my favorite of these petit fours was the chocolate and hazelnut praline truffle, it was rich, but not too sweet as the chocolate and hazelnut make a great pair.  The lemon macaron was also terrific as it had a nice tart and tangy lemon flavor to it with just a hint of sweetness.  I loved the presentation of these petit fours to end our evening at Aria.

Aria was a terrific choice for dinner.  I would have dined here for the view alone, but the food was so good that it gave the restaurant a boost to be worthy of the spot it occupies.  As a visitor to Sydney, what more could you ask for than a fine dining spot with some of the best, most amazing views of iconic Australian landmarks.  Being able to dine with views of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge right in font of us was amazing.  The creativity of the food presented to us and the ingredients used were perfect and a great representation of modern Australian cuisine.  For anyone looking for a signature Sydney restaurant with views that can’t be beat and a menu that is just as good, then Aria definitely fits the bill.

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