Restaurant openings can often be similar to the release of a new movie.
So many come out in a year, but only a few can catch your attention and incite excitement in the 90 second trailer. The good ones stimulate you to mark your calendar for the premier. Just like with restaurants, when you hear one is opening and your interest peaks, you mark your calendar, and grip your wallet in preparation to dine within the highly anticipated walls. However, there are a few restaurants that are so in demand that it’s hard to get a ticket, I mean reservation. Gwen was, and still is, one of those restaurants.
Making a reservation in advance isn’t a problem if you can quell your stomach into patience for weeks. Lucky for me, I happened to score an invitation to a media evening. It was like being granted a screening pass to popular film. Something like Star Wars or Sex and the City would be an ideal comparison. With the latter, I’m referring to the first movie, not the sequel where predictability and lack of a clear direction was rampant throughout the film. I repeat, the first one. As I walked to the restaurant, it was exactly like a movie premier. There was a red carpet, a step and repeat, lights, and cameras. All of it was for celebrity chef and Melbourne bred culinary expert, Curtis Stone, but don’t think for a second I didn’t pretend like it was for me. It was the shortest of seconds a second could ever be.
As I let my red carpet moment disappear from further delusion, I walked into the gorgeous restaurant. Chatter, laughter, and introductions were bouncing throughout the venue from various media personnel, vendors to the restaurant, and waiters. I added to the decibels as I conversed with those around me. We were all there for the same reason: to experience the “Best of Australia” dinner hosted by Curtis Stone in collaboration with G’Day USA, the premier brand for Australian engagement in the United States. The menu on every table setting showed a culinary itinerary that was a bit of a deviation from the restaurant’s normal 16-course dinner menu, The Feast ($95 per person). With the special menu in hand (no prices available), I was eager for the show to begin.
No curtains were pulled and no previews were played, but to start, we were given wine. And that’s a great way to begin anything. While we thought the brand, year, and location of each glass would be listed on the wine menu—it wasn’t. Instead we were informed that the wine selection was wrapped around a game. We were given a card that showed options of what could be the wine per course and it was our job to find out which it could be based on taste and scent alone. I knew from the beginning that I would lose. Sure I can tell the difference between Sprite, Seven Up, and Sierra Mist as if I created the beverages myself, but my skills aren’t as advanced to distinguish between different types of wines. Instead, I simply drank each one that came my way, tried to get the staff to divulge the answer (didn’t work), and then guessed to my heart’s content.
I later found out I was wrong on each one.
By the time I reached the third glass, I threw in the towel to avoid getting too much liquor in my system. I ended up asking for a soft drink, turns out they don’t serve any. Instead, they create specialty non-alcoholic drinks that change almost weekly. The drink for this evening was a Kiwi Ginger Beer. As you know, ginger is not a flavor I enjoy which meant I winced when I heard this. Since it was Taking a few sips of this drink that was dressed with an orange peel and mint leaves was more pleasant than I had given it credit. The ginger was faint yet offered a gentle sharpness to the noticeably sweet kiwi.
In between each glass of wine that I was unable to identify was a menu of courses that I was glad I could recognize. A charcuterie of cures and spreads served as the opening scene to the plates that would soon follow. Petite portions of a smooth and pale Rillette and a spicy Nduja were placed in front of us and the waiter quickly waltzed off into the darkness. Seconds later, another waiter set down a plate of Coppa, Fuet, Apricot & Sherry Salami, Finocchiona, and Duck Speck. Following him, a final waiter delivered a handful of Pretzel Bread. It was all executed so nicely that it left me feeling like I watched the choreographed number of “Someone in the Crowd” from La La Land. I enjoyed the varying zests in the Nduja and how even the rillette was. I found myself skipping between each of the cures to find a favorite and ultimately landed on the salami as a winner. Unfortunately, the pretzel bread was too salty for my liking, which let me take in the standard bread instead.
The first main to the table was the Beef Tartare. An unassuming plate in size was surprisingly grand in its taste. The Thomas Foods South Australian Angus Pure Beef was covered with a cured egg yolk, shiso, capers, and focaccia. The moment I tasted the tartare, I received a minute level of spice that I couldn’t dismiss even when it was gone. The beef tasted wholesome and rich; the yolk was gentle and weaved itself through the meat easily. The totality of the plate conformed to my tongue for a matter of mere seconds and then faded away faster than I hoped. It was a delicious yet disappointing situation to be in. All in all, I was shocked at the way Stone was able to contain so much flavor in such a small dish—it was incredible!
After the tartare was the Glacier 51 Toothfish. MSC Certified Australian Glacier 51 Toothfish was served with citrus, sunchokes, and chervil. I loved how pretty the plating of this dish was. There were beautiful transitions of color from white to black to pink that displayed like colorful scenes from a Baz Lurhman film, Moulin Rouge maybe? The movie doesn’t matter because what was important was the fish itself. The toothfish, also known as Chilean seabass was buttery and fatty. It had to be one of the smoothest and delicate fish I’ve tasted. From the golden skin to the filet of the fish, there was very little change in texture. It was one seamless piece that wasn’t over seasoned. In a way, I could have asked for a pinch of salt or garlic but I was too busy swimming the toothfish in the black olive oil to make such a request.
The final plate to conclude the entrees was the Lamb. It didn’t come to the table alone, but with a few equally robust accompaniments. Served with Lamb Shoulder, Denver Ribs, Cauliflower, and Bacon the finale was incredible. Each plate presented beautiful forms of lamb. Whether it was an upright cut paired with a cauliflower puree and bacon, a stunning set of ribs that glistened underneath the light, to the succulent pieces that stood alone. Each one was exceptional, but it was the fall-off-the-bone meaty and glazed ribs that could have won an award for such a stellar performance.
Closing the entire show were the desserts. A Yuzu Pavlova, Passion Fruit Glace, and Petit Fours. I loved the sweet and decadent white chocolate and the tart attributes of the Thai Basil. The coloring was stunning while remaining minimalist in its display. Opposite of it, the Passion Fruit Glace looked sprightly and tasted just the same. The mango and cashew alongside the delicate foam gave me such a rich chocolate in the dessert that it was best eaten slowly. The Petit Fours appeared casual in comparison to its companions, but it was delightful just as it was. The three plates were the best way to end the show.
As I put my fork down on the final plate and took the last sip of my drink in pure satisfaction, I was sad to see the beautiful night come to a close. The same way a movie comes to a perfect end was the sentiment I had with Gwen. I was given all I could, partook in a night so enjoyable that no more enjoyment could be had that there was nothing left for me to do but leave. Walking away from my seat, down the stairs, and out the front door I was suddenly stopped in my tracks. I paused, turned around slowly, and couldn’t help but wonder, “What if there were after credits?”
- Food tastes great
- Beautiful restaurant
- Friendly Staff