I’m not really familiar with Newtown as a foodie suburb. Truth be told, if I have any say in choosing suburbs to eat in I generally try to avoid Newtown. Not because there is a shortage of choice for food lovers and shoppers alike – that there is plenty and I love the upbeat vibe and atmosphere of the suburb – it’s just not driver friendly! The number of times I’ve tried to park near a specific location only to find there is no right turn for 5 blocks and when I can turn, I’m led down a succession of dark and increasingly narrow rabbit warren tunnels like Alice in Wonderland where attempts to backtrack invariably lead me further from my desired location and deliver me to a blackhole where I engage in automotive do-si-do with other lost cars down narrow one lane streets.
So it takes a rather lucrative tasty carrot to lure me to Newtown, and Oscillate Wildly just so happens to fit the bill. Oscillate Wildly is one of those restaurants that has been high my restaurant wishlist but just haven’t found the right occasion or opportunity to make it there. Having dined at Sepia knowing ex-Oscillate Wildly head chef Daniel Puskas was in the kitchen dampened my enthusiasm as I’d assumed without the star attraction at the helm, Oscillate Wildly’s bright shine may have retracted into dormancy. But a recent glowing review in SMH gave me confidence and reason enough to head there with good friends and experience it for ourselves.
Joining the Co-pilot and myself for dinner are good friends and fellow food lovers DanW and KatieB. To save me from any possible Newtown-related driving anxiety or murderous rage, the Co-pilot kindly drives and safely delivers us to Newtown without hiccups. The evening is still young, the restaurant din quiet and reserved when we arrive but the commotion in the kitchen couldn’t be more different.
We’re lucky to be seated in the perfect vantage point near the kitchen allowing us to easily peer over the counter into the tiny kitchen where three chefs jostled and toiled through their chereographed dance at a frenetic pace. Mesmerised we watch them weave and tuck around each other. Eventually they realise they’re being stared at and when our eyes lock over the counter top we all quickly duck our heads below the safety of the counter slightly ashamed and giggling like guilty schoolgirls caught red-handed.
We decided to start the meal with a glass on champagne as eating is reason enough to celebrate! Sipping our champagnes we peruse the menu and see that all the courses at Oscillate Wildly have similar name structures – just 3 or 4 seemingly disparate ingredients or elements describe the dish. The descriptions offer a taster of the dish to come, but remain vague enough that you’re pleasantly surprised when the dish arrives. As KatieB is vegetarian there wasn’t a print out of her courses so we just left ourselves in the kitchen’s capable hands.
Before long, our starter of Jerusalem artichoke soup arrives. It is creamy, rich and fills the mouth with the full flavour of artichoke, whilst the nutty drizzle of walnut oil on top is nicely complimentary. I learn from DanW and KatieB that Jerusalem artichoke isn’t actually an artichoke at all – it’s actually a tuber that resembles ginger. And apparently, it’s notorious for ..er.. promoting gaseous exchange.
The next course that arrives is beautifully presented and causes me to gaze at it in wonder. Two plump and perfectly seared scallops sit on a smear of creamy foie gras butter and towering next a small crumbling of hazelnut picada, (a Spanish style nutty flavouring) where taut microherb sprigs stand proud and tall. It evokes a vision of whimsical scene in a forest clearing, where boulders sit next to mossy toadstools and green saplings strive to flourish in a race to the forest canopy. It was as much a pleasure to eat as it was to admire.
It’s ironic then that the vegetarian option that arrives hot on the heels of the scallop dish actually does contain toadstools! Well, king mushrooms, but close enough. From KatieB’s rapturous expression, I’m guessing she enjoyed it too.
The next dish to arrive appears to be a glistening runny poached egg on toast but the waitress informs us that things are not as simple as they seem. This is a bantam chicken egg (a small breed of chicken) cooked for 60 minutes at 62 degrees C using the sous-vide vacuum cooking method. This method of cooking is currently in vogue with the rise of molecular gastronomy. The method involves vacuum sealing the ingredient in a bag and cooking it at a set temperature in a water bath. By doing so you cook the ingredient without oxidation, supposedly preserving the flavour and often the appearance and colour of the ingredient. This would explain the milky white translucent quality in the albumin (egg white). The egg yolk is rich, the brioche buttery and the truffle generous – delicious! But do we think the sous-vide method added anything appreciable over simply poaching the egg in this case? Probably not. But we may be biased, as the company on this night includes ex-scientists. Water baths are really commonplace instruments in a lab – it’s going to take a really sexy piece of equipment to impress us.
The fish course that arrives next gets me prematurely excited when I spot the gleaming black beads on top. Caviar! I love caviar! So I was a little disappointed to learn that it wasn’t my beloved caviar but actually black sesame pearls. Nevertheless, the dish was still very enjoyable – the fish soft and tender; the fennel resting beneath the fish and foam intensely strong in concentrated fennel flavour and the crunchy fried speck a welcome contrast in texture. The flavours work well together and I find the black sesame pearls merely add texture and aesthetic pleasure as their flavour is almost too subtle to detect. Perhaps caviar would have been better…
The corresponding vegetarian dish substitutes confit tomato for the mulloway and has additional fennel veloute drizzled in vivid green pools on the plate. KatieB reports that the tomato is beautiful – the flavour rich, sweet and intense – what tomato should always taste like.
The next dish is another sous-vide creation. What appears to be seared rounds of pudgy Weisswurst reveals itself as organic chicken breast cooked using the sous-vide method for 80 minutes at 62 degrees C and finished in the pan. It sits on top a mound of celeriac, puffed buckwheat and wild rice. The fact that the cooking of the chicken has only taken a mere 20 minutes more than a small egg is not lost on us. We poke and prod the chicken before apprehensively taking a bite. Good news – it’s not only cooked, it’s also incredibly soft and tender. The muscular fibres you normally detect in chicken breast are almost not detectable and I’d liken the texture to a semi-firm tofu instead. Well, what d’ya know, maybe using the controlled water bath does work. The blackened puffed grains scattered across the plate don’t look impressive but the crunchy, tasty little toasted morsels are also a hit with us.
The corresponding vegetarian option is surprisingly different to ours. Hidden under dollops of maple flavoured foam, a variety of mushrooms lie strewn across a block of celeriac. Amidst mouthfuls and moans of pleasure KatieB tells us that the mushrooms are nectarously sweet, nicely contrasted with the celeriac which has more savoury overtones.
We’re starting to feel fairly satiated at this point, so it’s just as well that the dishes that come next are the last of the mains. Sitting in front of us are fleshy, rare slices of venison cooked again in the sous-vide method, this time for 30 minutes at 62 degrees C, then they’re dusted in cocoa and finished off in the pan. It’s incredibly tender and fills our mouths with it’s molten flavour. Given the difficulty in cooking venison well without overcooking it, perhaps sous-vide is the method of choice for this particular type of meat. The venison is paired with semi-pureed baby beets and a bitter chocolate millefeuile. The sweet beets complement the venison, and we can see how the bitterness of the chocolate would have provided the necessary counterbalance, but we’re not taken with the flaky, dry texture of the millefeuille.
The equivalent vegetarian dish also contains the baby beets and the chocolate millefeuille but has substituted the venison for quinoa and those puffed grains we saw in the sous-vide chicken dish. This elicits a joyous cry of yippee from KatieB as she felt she’d missed out on the puffed grains when they were absent in her shiitake dish.
Between the mains and the dessert courses we actually had the cheese plate (additional $12). I am ashamed to say that we forgot all about the photo for this dish – oops! But my notes remind me that we enjoyed a range of hard and soft cheeses with excellent homemade lavosh and a moreish apple and cumquat preserve rich with spicy cinnamon and nutmeg flavours.
But onto the desserts. The first course was chilled custard flavoured with Calvados (an apple brandy), perfumed with the subtle scent of jasmine flowers and topped with tart pink lady apple jelly and strands of Persian fairy floss. It looked so inviting and it visibly took every ounce of strength for DanW to resist digging in whilst I tried to capture this shot (in fact we had to take it back off him a few times). It was devine, devoured in a frenzied flash and gone remorsefully quickly. I could’ve eaten 3 times the volume that was served to me.
The last course of the degustation comes as a colourful precariously balanced stack. Eyebrows raise in skepticism when we hear that we have celery sorbet, cocoa wafer, chocolate chantilly, poached pear and basil seeds in sugar syrup. Celery sorbet? Surprisingly, the flavours really mingle seamlessly – the poached pear is still firm, the chocolate rich and the celery flavour so intense yet indescribably refreshing. Instead of feeling dreadfully full we feel uplifted, our palates refreshed. What a clever combination of flavours and textures!
We reflect on the night’s dishes over coffee and petit fours of fizzy, sherbety cubes of blood orange jelly that tasted like orange preserve and chocolate sarsparilla lollypops. We really enjoyed our journey, at times challenged with seemingly disparate flavours that proved to work so well together and other times perceiving fanciful metaphors in the presentation. And for 8 courses at $95, excellent value!
Given the menu changes frequently with the seasonal availability of produce, I’m looking forward to going back for a second ride. Yes, it’s good enough to convince me to head back to Newtown. And, in case you were wondering – those infamously well publicised long wait times are gone, as my booking for a Friday night took a mere 3 weeks wait.
275 Australia Street, Newtown; (02)9517-4700
Open for dinner Tues – Saturday; 6pm – 10pm
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