It was a very special day for this foodie on Friday the 15th of April. All of my hard work, the sweat, the tears and the intense stress (I'm positive the process of my thesis aged me ten years) paid off as I graduated with First Class Honours at the University of Sydney. Like many of my fellow classmates, I know there is no way I could have done it alone, and apart from my loving family and friends, there is one man who I feel warrants a special introduction: Mr Tonic. For the past four and a half years I have had this spectacular man by my side, both helping me through life's little obstacles and taking the time to smell the roses with me. Falling in love in Europe, we came home to find that we go together ... like Gin and Tonic - and we have been together ever since.
So in light of this major life event, how would Miss Gin mark this occasion except by a suitably fabulous foodie outing with the gorgeous Mr Tonic. We wanted fabulous food, we wanted ambience, we wanted class; so off we went to Aqua Dining.
If Aqua Dining has one thing in spades, it is exquisite ambience. Out in the sunshine with a light breeze, we sat closest to the view (the waiter attempted to seat us on the inside, which was returned with a look I like to term 'The Medusa') and looked out to the bridge and the glistening Sydney Harbour. To our side was also the beautiful North Sydney Olympic Pool which gave a summery feel and regaled us with the calming sounds of splashing water. However, in order to impress this dynamic duo, you need more than a waterfront locale.
As they were booked out for a function that evening, we decided to partake in a lunch with their 'Menu Fisso'. With this deal, you are able to order three courses from their a la carte menu for a reasonable $75 and even bring a bottle of your favourite wine or champagne for a $15 corkage fee per bottle (yes it's steep, but we reasoned it was better than spending that per glass!).
To start, we were pleasantly surprised to find a complimentary amuse bouche in front of us, which was a savoury profiterole. Whilst Mr Tonic decided that profiteroles had better be left for chocolate or cream, I found that I was much more partial to the amusing morsel. It had a subtle crunch and a unique combination of flavours that readied my taste buds for the meal ahead.
This was accompanied by some delightfully fluffy and crisp bread slices. We both decided we would only have a little so as to save our appetites for the three courses to follow, but with some truffle butter on the side, it was incredibly hard to resist and before we knew it, it was gone!
Subsequently, we found ourselves highly optimistic for the dishes to come. As we looked at the menu, we steered past the entrees to the pasta section. Being the good boyfriend that he is, Mr Tonic conceded that we could share all the courses and thus taste everything (what a gentleman!). Ultimately, I landed on a delicious (albeit altogether unknown) dish of calamarata (which for those of you as uneducated in pasta varieties as I, is made in thick, round, flat circles - almost like calamari rings) with guanciale and pecorino fondue. I must say, it was the pecorino fondue that piqued my interest, but when it came out there wasn't enough to please this cheese devotee.
Unfortunately, this was not the only disappointment for this curious calamarata. Taking his first bite, Mr Tonic found that one of his rings was not cooked all the way through (a little too al dente). Although I didn't experience this for my half, it's a rather egregious gaffe that shouldn't have happened at such an establishment. The flavours were delightful, but this rendered the dish less than stellar. Luckily, the risotto rode to the rescue with its cauliflower, chestnut and burnt butter flavours. A combination of silky smooth and crunchy textures, there was nothing wrong here.
Next up were our meaty main courses which were, unfortunately, the least inspiring of the day. Expecting a little bit more, we were presented with the duck and wagyu beef, both looking a little bit bare. I began with the duck and it just felt like a whole lot of meat without much else. Whilst the duck itself was tender, there wasn't much more to the plate than that, some bok choy and a little dollop of goat's cheese beneath some small mandarin slices. Sometimes believing the Simpsons mantra 'you don't make friends with salad', the bok choy didn't do much to enhance the dish. On the other hand, the goat's cheese and mandarin flavours, together with the duck, were simply sumptuous. However here, less was not more - more was needed.
The wagyu beef was presented in a similar vein. Although it looked more innovative with the crisp lightly resting atop it, this component was all flash for us and had no real taste of its own (Mr Tonic even commenting that it was excessively greasy). The beef was cooked beautifully, but once again, didn't really come to life with its accompaniments as one would hope for fine dining.
In the end however, it was one of the desserts that stole the show. A humble looking meringue shell, it housed a lemon myrtle paste and some melt-in-your-mouth popping pods of mint tapioca. Not only was this dish beautiful, but it was unlike anything I had tasted before - a true innovation. The second dishwas not quite as dazzling, with the usual combination of chocolate (albeit aerated valhrona chocolate) and berries tasting increasingly indulgent, but not inspiring. Easily our favourite dish by far, the first dessert was an exciting taste sensation that allowed us to glean the potential of this waterfront wonder. If all the dishes were as innovative and well-executed, they'd be well on their way to a ten!
All in all, Aqua Dining gave this graduation celebration the touch of class it deserved. There may have been a few dining difficulties to overcome, but the flavours were strong and the dishes were always well presented. Currently, it feels to this reviewer as though Aqua Dining is one of those restaurants one needs to visit once in order to tick it off the proverbial Sydney restaurant bucket list, but I'm not currently sold on a repeat visit. The ambience was certainly their not-so-secret weapon, but they shouldn't rest on their location laurels. More innovative ideas for their dishes would make them a true force to be reckoned with.