Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Etch Restaurant - New Year's Eve Dinner, and the year that was

(Intercontinental Hotel - Mint Bar and Lounge)

      Etch Restaurant is located at The Intercontinental Hotel. The hotel holds a very special place in Ryan's heart and memory. It's the place where they celebrated all of his grandmothers milestones, and it was where she had one of her last birthday dinners before her health declined rapidly and had to move into a nursing home. This is the first time we've set foot into the hotel since then.

Happy New Year!
      2011 has been an absolutely fantastic year. We've had our highs as well as our lows, and it seems to have been the most busiest year ever. So busy that this little blog has sometimes had to take a back seat as I've just been too exhausted to write up any posts. Have barely had time and energy to do what I enjoy too, reading food blogs. I definitely have been busier than ever in the kitchen cooking, baking, experimenting and occasionally eating out at a few new places, and taking photos of all the food as I always do.

        Here's a recap of some highlights and lowlights to the year,
  • January saw some of my family lose their homes and all personal possessions in the Queensland floods. After the clean up, my brother, cousin and I drove up with a car load of donations from friends and family and spent the weekend up there. I even cooked my family some fish and chips with the fish we caught on a fishing trip with them.
  • February was when Ryan's grandmother passed away. Her funeral was a few days before Valentine's so we will now always remember her at that time of the year. Ryan's mum asked me to do the funeral flowers.
  • March is Ryan's birthday and we had a fantastic lunch at Quay to celebrate.
  • April saw two of our friends get married, and there was an awesome lunch catch up we had at Ryan's cousin's place. Then there was Easter.
  • May had Mother's Day and I cooked up a little Thai dinner for the family. There was also the 'Masterchef Challenge'.
  • June is my birthday and Ryan suprised me with lunch at Glass Brasserie at the Hilton and then cooked a wonderful dinner for some friends and I to celebrate. I also had a couple of cake orders come in.
  • This July Ryan and I celebrated 11 years together, look forward to celebrating number 12 with my best friend in 2012. One of my good friend's baby was Christened and I made a delicious 2 tiered cake and made my first ever fondant figurine tiger to go on top as a present to him. We were also busy finalising everything for our big trip in August where we spent 4 weeks half way across the world ticking off some major dreams - visiting Egypt, Israel, Madrid and Paris.
  • September was a bit of a write off with us suffering withdrawals from our travels and just adjusting back to life at home (and me spending the first few days recovering from food poisoning I caught on the plane ride from Paris to Dubai). The little boy who was Christened in July was also celebrating his first birthday this month and I was asked to make his cake and it was a raving success.
    Ryan also played part in a saxophone trio at the 50th Birthday of a close family friend of his which was also their 25th Wedding Anniversary. My aunty passed away this month and her funeral fell on the same day as the 50th birthday party. It was a very long and tiring few days for the both of us and I also did the flower arrangements for my aunty.
  • I took on my first ever major major baking project in October. I made my very first 3 tiered wedding cake with a cascade of macarons. The bride's cousin is married to my cousin who came to me with the request earlier this year. I may have been a little crazy when I said yes but I managed to pull it off. Needing a little escape, Ryan and I went away for a few days to Ettalong Beach thanks to a voucher I had actually bought at the end of 2010. We did not escape all the busyness upon returning back to Sydney, as we drove straight to the western suburbs for saxophone practice.
  • November was D day for Ryan and his saxophone quartet. They had actually been practising throughout the year for this (I went with Ryan every weekend) and the day had finally arrived. They played Pacabel's Canon as one of their old band associate members and close friend walked down the aisle.
    There was also my work end of year party where I managed to score a lucky dip prize of 1000 recognition points which is equivalent to $1000 on our rewards system. I cashed out my points for $1000 of Myer vouchers.
  • And come December, well it's been crazy. Ryan took me to a Society Ball, loved dancing to our first live Jazz band. There was also a wedding of two good friends and I did the flowers for the Bride and her Bridesmaids (and the Groom and his Groomsmen). Then there was the annual Christmas dinner at Ryan's Parish Church. And so much cooking and baking to do for various parties throughout the month (and year).
    Before you knew it Christmas came and went and there was another death within the family. My cousin's great grandmother passed away on Boxing Day so there was a rush to organise the funeral and I was asked to do the flower arrangements for it. Before I could catch my breath the end of the year was upon us and I feel like time was slipping away again. But I am looking forward to the new year ahead and whatever it may bring.

      Etch is one of many in Justin North's great empire of restaurants. It's also one that I have been keen to visit and when an email came out about a New Year's Eve special menu they were offering, Ryan and I were sold. It was a 5 course degustation for $100, which I thought was relatively reasonable for our pockets for New Year's Eve and with the matching wines it was only $150.
      I thought it would be a nice end to a great year and location wise it was conveniently located close to Circular Quay, so if we chose to we could stay after dinner to catch the fireworks.
     The restaurant itself was a little tricky to find as it's not directly in the hotel. It has it's own separate entrance on the side of the hotel's Bridge Street entrance. It's quite an intimate space and Ryan and I absolutely love the d├ęcor the moment we walk in.
      We're actually one of the first tables to arrive at 6pm as I was a little confused over the correct starting time for their first sitting for the night but it all worked out well. It was nice to have the place to ourselves for the first 15 minutes or so.

      As soon as we let our waiter know we are ready to start, a plate of bread and whipped butter comes out. I love good quality bread and butter and it's always the perfect start to keep my stomach from growling before our first course arrives. Ryan says that it reminds him of Paris, though in Paris the bread is actually not served with butter and it is topped up endlessly throughout the meal, and the bread is just so good in Paris.

Salad of prawns, mango, wasabi
NV La Zona Prosecco, King Valley

      Our first course arrives and it is quite a pretty plate. The 'salad' is actually prawns done two ways. The first is a ceviche of prawn and the second is poached prawn with mango and a sesame crisp. The dab of wasabi added a little kick to the sweetness of the mango.
     This is the first time either of us have had 'raw' prawn and we both actually enjoyed it. I know that a ceviche is technicially not raw though as the acids in the dressing would have slightly cooked it but I think it's the rawest we've eaten a prawn.  It was a great light start to the meal and all the flavours and textures in this one dish had me excited and looking forward to the rest of the dishes. I did wish there was a bit more on the plate though.

      The matching wine complemented the dish perfectly.  It was very light and crisp on the palette, thus it did not overpower the delicate balance between the prawns and the mango; rather it uplifted the flavours of the dish, in particular the mango. Also, as it was also a sparkling wine, it acted as a cleanser to prepare us for the next course. To sum it up, a very delicate and complex combination to start off dinner.

Scallop and crab lasagne, vanilla, Champagne foam
2009 Bella Modella Pinot grigio and Garganega, Veneto

     When we saw 'vanilla' on the menu, it had us intrigued. We've only ever tasted vanilla in dessert dishes.    But when the dish was placed in front of us, we got that first big whiff of vanilla.  On the first mouthful I sensed the aroma of vanilla filling my mouth, followed by the savoury notes of the other components of the dish. I must say that this flavour combination was slightly odd. I can't say I was a huge fan of the vanilla but overall the dish was nicely done, soft silky sheets of fresh pasta and chunks of scallop and crab underneath. Ryan was left wishing he had some bread left to wipe the plate clean.

    As for the wine (an Italian white), it was light on the palette and had lots of citrus undertones. It complemented the seafood nicely, and as the sauce had butter in it, the wine lightens the butter taste in the sauce so you could actually taste the seafood.   

    Our third wine for the night and I was already light headed. It's actually our first proper fine dining degustation and also the first time we'd had matching wines. I'm not a huge drinker and don't really much about different wines so this was quite an educational experience.

Tasting of Aylesbury Duck - Smoked breast, parfait & orange butter, consomme, crispy pancakes
2010 Petit Rimauresq Rose, Provence

     This was a truly decadent set of mini dishes. The first thing I smell as soon as our waiter arrives is the consomme. The duck breast was smoked to perfection and  the duck liver parfait was just the smoothest and silkiest thing I have ever eaten. Ryan was the first to taste it while I was still finishing my duck breast and was telling me how good it was, after my first fork full I was speechless. It was a little on the salty side, and combined with the richness of the parfait and the orange butter it was a bit of a struggle to finish.
      We both agreed that something a little tart was needed to break up the richness of the parfait and perhaps even a few pieces of bread would have been nice to eat it with. Ryan did discover that a sip of the consomme in between really made it enjoyable to eat and helped to take away the saltiness. I still can't get over how absolutely smooth it was. What we thought were crispy pancakes were not pancakes but pieces of duck skin deep fried to a crispy finish, duck crackling as Ryan described it.

     The accompanying wine was a Rose from Provence (I miss France!). It was actually quite robust for a Rose, as previous Rose wines that Ryan and I have drank previously have been quite light. What we noticed in the wine is that it had a "smokey" flavour that complemented the robust taste of the duck perfectly. It actually made the dish more appetising in fact.

Charred Wagyu scotch, carrots, Pedro Ximenez
2007 Clairault Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Margaret River

     Our final course before dessert. I love the fact that the aromas of the dishes hit me before the waiter reaches the table, when the food smells good it's got to taste good too right? Scotch fillet is naturally a very tender cut of meat, the fact that it was also Wagyu made it all that more decadent to eat. It was charred perfectly and the cubes of extra meat (not sure what cut of meat they would have come from) added quite a contrasting texture. I absolutely loved the carrots done two ways. I'm not usually a fan of carrots as they have a very strong taste but these pieces of carrot and puree were quite mellow and sweet and I enjoyed every last bite.

       The accompanying wine was a very powerful red indeed! I usually prefer a white and am only beginning to get used to red wines but this was very strong. It had a very savoury taste to it, thus I found it hard to drink, as I need a bit of citrus or sweetness in a wine to help me drink it more easily. The wine unfortunately obliterated any flavour of the beef and especially the carrot seeing that it was so delicate. Needless to say neither Ryan or myself could finish this wine.

Peach Melba
2008 McWilliams 'Morning Light', botrytis Semillon, Riverina

     I must admit, I was a little sceptical about dessert when I saw 'Peach Melba' on the menu. 'Peaches and raspberries, what's so special about that?' I thought to myself. As soon as the plate arrived I was quite taken aback as to how pretty it was. The peach component consisted of a poached peach served on a round of light sponge cake. Ryan thought it was a little too light and slightly denser cake would have been nice. The raspberry component was a quinnelle of raspberry sorbet which was nice and smooth with the right amount of tartness from the raspberries. The vanilla marshmallows were also a nice touch though Ryan thought they were a little too delicate for the dish. Overall I thought it was a nice way to end the meal, not too rich and heavy.

      The accompanying wine had very strong melon characteristics. Did I also mention that it was really sweet? My goodness the wine could've been a dessert in itself! At first Ryan commented that it was a very nice wine but when we had it with the dessert, the sweetness overpowered the peach. I must admit though it did complement the raspberry quite well. The tartness of the raspberry went very well with the wine. Too bad the peach was the main dessert component though.

      Ryan and I thoroughly enjoyed our experience at Etch and Ryan is still talking about that duck parfait we had. Not sure if it's even offered on their regular menu but it's definately a place I'd be keen to go back to again. We tried to catch the 9pm fireworks from The Rocks as Circular Quay was full but the buildings we were standing next to completely blocked our view and no fireworks were being launched from the bridge yet. Once they were over we gave up and headed back to Wynard for the train back to Strathfield and drove to Meadowbank to join Ryan's work mates bring in the new year with the view of the fireworks from afar. It was a great way to end a great year and I am looking forward to our adventures in 2012.

      Happy New Year to all my friends and readers of the blog. Wishing you all a great year ahead and also a prosperous year full of lots of good food ;)

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