[THIS VENUE IS CLOSED] After five years cooking at Noma, Sam Miller has launched his first solo venture – and it’s as brilliant as it is inspirational
[THIS VENUE IS CLOSED] It’s not every day a new restaurant opens specialising in a 17-course degustation – and where the head chef spent half a decade working directly under one of the world’s most influential chefs at the third best restaurant in the world, Noma. It’s also not every day that he brings three chefs and one front-of-house employee with him over from Copenhagen, nor is it usual that the staff go out every fortnight to forage for the native flora of Sydney – wakame and ice plant from Mona Vale, samphire and sea blight from Marrickville…
But that’s exactly what’s happened. Silvereye opened in September in the Old Clare Hotel in Chippendale, and it’s outstanding.
The chef is Sam Miller, and the food is straight out of Noma – except that it’s uniquely, thrillingly Australian, with Indigenous produce used in abundance. There are two menus to choose from, a short one (11 courses) and a long (17). An extra $35 gets you the bigger one, which isn’t much when you’re spending a small fortune anyway. But you don’t have to decide beforehand – grab a cocktail at the bar downstairs while you make that decision (which undoubtedly will mean you’ll end up spending the extra cash: don’t say we didn’t warn you).
The menu changes depending on what’s good that day, but we go long (that damn cocktail) and try the matching wines and juices. No matter which way you swing, though, they’re going to start you with a pork crackle, which is like a big, thin-as-ice cracker made from pig trotters and fat, dusted with wattle seed powder. Lots of snacks arrive in succession, including little lettuce cups of raw shrimp coated in bisque-like roast shrimp butter, burnt cream and dulse seaweed powder; geranium and sunflower flatbreads topped with raw and pickled zucchini, geranium and zucchini flowers and creamy, roast sunflower mayo. There are little cannolis made from parsnip skin ‘pastry’, cep mushroom crème fraîche and parsnip powder, and whole baby turnips which have had their grassy, green tops dipped in malt tempura, paired with macadamia nut milk for dipping, and yuzu salt for that hit of citrusy tang.
The bones of whole red spotted whiting fish are fried and filled with the filleted meat (lightly smoked and pickled), oyster and parsley creams, with beach succulents – samphire, sea blight, warrigal greens, ice plant and sorrel from South Sydney – decorating the top. Pick the whole thing up and eat it in its entirety: the head has a stronger, more deeply savoury flavour than the white meat lower down.
Little artichokes come ready to dip in burnt butter emulsion (like a nutty hollandaise) à la Caravaggio, and we find our hands slicked with butter as we do without cutlery. Speaking of informalities, our wait staff for the evening are so friendly and warm that you might forget they’re actually paid to serve you. It’s that thing about world-class restaurants: you don’t feel like you’re in somewhere posh; it’s all about pleasure.
The interior too, isn’t pretentious or over the top. The tables are timber and in the Nordic style, the lighting is soft and the kitchen is actually centred within the restaurant, with only low-level workbenches keeping you apart from the action. It’s almost like being in someone’s kitchen (albeit a really, really rich person’s kitchen).
But back to the food. Believe it or not, all the dishes thus far are categorised as ‘snacks’, so they don’t come with matched wine. The first dish-proper though – a diminutive bowl of peas (cut in half – skills, man), broad beans, citrusy ice plant that pops in your mouth, fragile green almonds, sea lettuce jelly seasoned with bergamot, and chilled, salted wakame broth – arrives with a pleasingly acidic 2013 Wittmann Estate riesling from Rheinhessen and a cucumber-Earl Grey juice for the anti-boozers. Springtime has never felt so elegantly represented on a plate.
Fine silks of earthy, salt-baked beetroot come with sour blackcurrant sauce, fragrant herbs (dill, coriander, lemon thyme) and soothing, herbaceous chamomile flowers. A matching 2013 pét-nat (naturally fermented in bottle) rosé by French winery J C Garnier offers frizzante, but the rose and raspberry broth that is provided as the juice-match option blows it out the water. We could drink this just-sweet, gently toned drink by the gallon.
A barely-visible, cellophane-like layer of salted and cured pork lard encases softest fennel that has been reduced in yoghurt whey and dressed with butter, while a firm piece of cobia fish on a bed of fennel vinegar thickened with spinach sits aside, but it’s the wine pairing that takes this dish to the next level. It’s a 2014 Ravensworth ‘7 Months’ Field Blend, the oakiness of which plays off the woody notes of the lard, creating a flavour profile reminiscent of the best nutty, fleshy jamón ibérico from Spain.
Cod is brushed with butter and honey and grilled to gelatinous tenderness. It’s served with mushroom consommé and a pile of green-as-grass brassicas (Portuguese cabbage leaf, cavalo nero tops). A slice of pork from the leg tastes of burnt butter (which feels a bit repetitive from earlier on, but still tastes incredible). Lamb is smoked with juniper branches and served with flecks of pickled Monterey pine cones foraged in Braidwood in the ACT, which are sour and taste of the forest.
Desserts range from fresh, milky cheese paired with spicy lemon myrtle granita (hot flavour, cold temp) and acidic sorrel rubbed with smoked bone marrow to give the dish body; and a yolk-toned pumpkin syrup with cherry blossom ice cream, the flowers of which imbue the cream with the flavour of Amaretto. We’re served a beautiful 2010 Domaine Mosse ‘Tenderness’ chenin blanc with this, which brings out the honey tones of the syrup.
The next dessert is a controversial one, because it feels like it was designed for a Scandinavian palate, not an Australian one – so people are either going to love or loathe it. Salted liquorice is a big thing in Denmark, and this dish – dill-topped celeriac compote infused with leatherwood honey and miso alongside a dollop of cream whipped with beer – is salty, savoury and very, very liquorice-y.
More small dessert-style snacks arrive as we sink further into our comfortable chairs. We’ve been here for hours, although it doesn’t feel like it. We’re relaxed, but inspired.
Great food – like great art – often challenges as much as it invokes pleasure – and that’s what Silvereye does. It’s not cheap, but why should it be? After all, great art isn’t either.
|Venue name:||Silvereye (closed)|
|Opening hours:||Tue-Sat 6.30pm-late|