One of the pleasure of fine dining, whether it is to celebrate a special occasion or just at any time (because you deserve it) is sitting at a table with a pressed white cloth, with good plates and cutlery and glasses, and attentive service. Although Sydney is renowned for its innovative world class cuisine some of our restaurants have you sitting on top of each other. I don't want to hear what's happening at the next table. We're not talking café Sunday brunch. Well not here. Not only does Altitude have panoramic views from its level 36 perch in the Shangri-La Hotel Sydney but the tables thank goodness are large and generous and spaced well apart.
In the history of cuisine, in Sydney and around the world, the hotel was known as the place that offered a refined dining room. Think Auguste Escoffier and the Savoy Hotel London, for example. One way to experience all that a high end restaurant has to offer is with the degustation or tasting menu. At the Shangri-La Hotel they call this the Epi-curious Menu. While Altitude Restaurant offers a la carte options Monday to Thursday, and a weekend menu, the Epi-curious tasting menu showcases the magnificent setting and the talents of the chefs. And like all such marvellous culinary experiences the menu is offered with matched wine.
"Our produce and cuisine is Rooted in Nature, featuring the finest locally and ethically-sourced ingredients" the menu declares.
And right from the start this is apparent. As is the traditional hand uplifted with Sydney Pacific rim influences.
Cloud Bay Storm clams are given a light Asian touch with coriander and coconut milk, galangal, lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves. The wine from the same area is at first glance a safe match. But then I look closer and it's not the Sauvignon Blanc for which the Marlborough region is best known, but 2013 Te Whare Ra ‘Toru’. Toru means three in Maori and the wine is made from three varietals, Gewürztraminer, Reisling and Pinot Gris. And we kicked in well with that match.
The following course was just as seemingly simple and just as surprising. I had to Google what karkalla is. Do you know? It accompanied the seafood, Moretan Bay bugs, avocado and lime mousse, sorrel leaves, and gazpacho jelly. This dish was superb, light and refreshing yet intriguingly and surprisingly complex. And the wine match was from the Hunter Valley, the region regarded for its Semillon.
If I seem excited it is because the meal just kept getting better. Have you ever matched fish and bone marrow? This, I would have to say was the ultimate 'Surf 'n Turf'. Just exquisite. The oily full flavoured flesh of swordfish upholds the unctuous creaminess of the fatty bone marrow. Yet it got even better when those lovely rich flavours were supported with bisque. This beautiful dish is worth a visit alone.
Next the bell curve took us to pork jowl, perfectly executed, served with hazelnuts and nectarines, the wine with a more colour, the Studebaker Pinot Noir.
At the crescendo there is a choice of mains, mussels lamb or beef. We chose different dishes and again I sighed with pleasure as the long slow cooked beef literally melted in my mouth. Like all the dishes, this was well delivered and nicely seasoned.
It is great to see a cheese course in its proper place before the dessert and the Altitude offering presents lovely ripe choices ready for eating. Or should I say devouring? The three cheeses are a supplement to the fixed price if you choose, and I recommend it. And then there was dessert. What more can I say? Except next time you are looking for somewhere special make a reservation.