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"To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day."

Somerset Maugham

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Automata, Sydney

I can always rely on the Meat and 2 Veg to be brutally honest when it comes to food. Fine dining is not really his bag – he’s more of a, well, meat and 2 veg kind of guy. The problem, he readily admits, is that he can’t help letting the price influence his opinion.  In his words: “if it’s expensive, it has to really make my balls tingle”. Which is why I can be completely objective when I say that Automata, where one of my best mates is restaurant manager, was by far the best meal we had in Sydney when we visited over Christmas and New Year. His balls were tingling from beginning to end.

Just two hours later he was asking me what I would eat again now if I could. Even the amuse bouche were on his list. His favourite of these was the John Dory emulsion, which was like a very smooth and creamy taramasalata, encased in delicate brick pastry and topped with cured cods roe. This is also a revelation because two months ago, when I suggested we order the ‘smoked cods roe’ (currently all the rage in London and another fancy way of saying 'taramasalata'), he couldn’t have looked less impressed. But he ate his words along with another round of the tarama as a second starter. Now he suggests it every time he sees it on a menu, which fortunately for everyone involved is often. Long may it stay the latest fad.

If I had to choose things to eat again from the Automata tasting menu, first on the list would be the pork loin, puffed pork skin, red cabbage and umeboshi. Umeboshi is a Japanese pickled plum, which they blended into a smooth puree with red fermented cabbage – tangy with a hint of sweetness. The pork, steamed to retain its moisture and then grilled for colour and caramelisation, was topped with a crispy, salty crumb made from pork crackling and enhanced with nutty sesame seeds. On its own it tasted like a perfect Sunday roast, but add the puree and it changed completely into something hailing from the far East.

It was a round the world tour, my next fave destination: the heady aromas of the Middle East. Slow roasted quail, burnt eggplant, radicchio, green almonds and cumin would have been second on my seconds list. Quail, so often dry and overcooked, was brined to keep it moist and then roasted on the crown. The eggplant (aubergine) puree was smokey and fragrant, lifted by the cumin and mixed with leg meat from the quail. Pickled green almonds brought freshness and a hint of sour – a running theme in all the dishes, which each had some element of fermentation.

I’m not a dessert person, but according to my friend Dash, neither are the head chefs. This is perhaps why I enjoyed their desserts so much. Dash kindly treated us to one off the dinner menu – blueberry sorbet, muntries, rosemary, oxalis. Muntries are little berries that look like blueberries, but taste more like apples. These ones had been steeped in cider to enhance their natural flavour. The blueberry sorbet was so creamy, it tasted more like frozen yoghurt, which worked fabulously with the aromatic rosemary oil and tart ‘emu apples’. The result was sweet and savoury, rich and smooth.

Every dish we had was fantastic, it is hard to just stick to the top picks.  It didn’t break the bank either at $95 (£50) for 5 courses or $125 (£70) for 7. Matching wines are also very reasonable at $65 or $80, respectively. However, your average Joe (me when it comes to wine) might find some of the choices a little challenging.

I loved the rosato that was paired with the first course – sheeps curd, cherries, hibiscus, shiso. It was unusually dark in colour for a bubbly, made with shiraz, chardonnay and riesling. The initial flavour of forest fruits was matched well with the sweet, plump cherries on the plate and the dry finish paired delightfully with the mild and creamy sheeps curd. The pork was matched with the Ca' dei Frati Lugana I Frati 2017, a medium bodied white, ripe with blossom, apricots and melons, which provided a lovely counterpoint to the tart plum puree and complimented the sticky, caramelised quality of the pork.

I am sorry to say that the 3 tasters of sake that came compliments of Dash in an effort to convert me were unsuccessful, though I could see what they were trying to do with the pairing. Nor was I convinced on the big, bold sticky (dessert wine) that came with the cheese course. I didn’t think the ossau-iraty sheep’s cheese – medium firm and medium flavoured – stood up to it. It would have been better with a strong and very salty blue.

It was quiet when we visited, Dash says that Saturday lunches are always a bit slow, but I can imagine that it is buzzy in the evenings. The venue has had the modish, minimalist treatment, but manages to still feel cosy. This probably has to do with both the warmth of the open kitchen and the fact that it only does 60 covers, which means you get plenty of time and attention from the waiting staff.

This is fine dining at it’s best – beautiful produce, elegant and refined cooking and flavour combinations that make you go “wow, I’d never think to put those two things together” or even “wow, I’ve never heard of that”. From the M&2V it was just a solid “ball tingle” all round and I can’t ask for better than that.

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Reader Comments (1)

If I had balls they would be tingling reading your wonderful descriptions of all this delicious food.

March 24, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterma

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