He serves his bread late, plays the Smiths loud and is about the only chef in Sydney we trust to serve us ‘fish milk’. This is Mark Best, and his restaurant Marque
No chef in Sydney is quite so contrarian and single-minded as Mark Best. For instance, he serves his bread almost at the end of the meal (why in the hell would you serve that spongy rye with creamy, fresh butter when the punters actually want it? That’s for suckers). But if this restaurant has caught you in its web of deliciousness and smart, polished service you probably won’t even care.
Unless you’re here for the $45 Friday prix fixe, it’s a seven-course, $160 magical mystery tour exploring just how far Best can push his diners. It’s pretty far. What’ll it take to push you over the edge?It’s unlikely to be the snack of crisp, thin potato chips sandwiching an oyster and wakame cream – a tasty after-school chip special with a briny crunch. But damned if that classic Marque dish of crab custard with a shower of cold foie gras and sea urchin doesn’t make us gag every single time. The shaved and frozen festival of rich and luxurious goo has a very loyal following. Just don’t count us among them.
If there’s any restaurant in Sydney more likely to mess with its diners more than Marque, we’d like to see it. But if there’s a person in the room that doesn’t throw their napkin down and dance around the table in delight after eating the nutty, savoury black lip abalone we’ll eat another crab custard. Thin slices of the fancy mollusc are stuck on the side of the dish – almost like an after-thought – framing strands of celeriac cut to look like fettuccine, dusted with dashi powder. It’s about the most delicious thing we’ve eaten all year.
And now, a word from the department of Who Knew: ‘fish milk’ is not gross. It is nice. Especially when paired with potato crisps and local hapuka fillets so small and plump they look like they’ve been cut from a baby fish. See also Best’s pumpkin consommé (Who Knew?) spooned over thin ribbons of smoked eel joined by a cluster of parmesan ‘gnocchi’ – slippery little guys fragrant with fresh white pepper.
What makes this a great restaurant is Mark Best’s complete faith in his own skill and vision. He doesn’t need inverted commas around dish names to let you know it’s probably “strange”. He’s got a kitchen brigade of skilled chefs and his own decades of experience to put it on the plate rather than on paper. It also means that when he feels like it, he can also just roast a really good piece of chook.
It’s his ability to swing from one extreme to the other from fancy gloop to a raw, earthy, bloody and sweet dish of venison served its own blood and garnished with pieces of puffed beef tendon and sweet little cured beetroot.
What Mark Best never, ever does is take the easy option. He might serve you fruit for dessert, but it’s a charred rhubarb soup with tarragon and blueberries that tastes like licking the lid off the top of a yoghurt. A chocolate mousse is crusty, malty and bittersweet, served with slippery, lurid fresh persimmon.
But who wants easy when we can have Marque?