Australian cuisine is very close to disappearing up its own fundament. Our fascination with food and foodie culture has cannoned out of control. The nation’s favorite TV shows aren’t great scripted comedies or drama starring great local talent but boorish depictions of joyless foodies screaming in their home kitchens. We seem to worship a lot of males (not so many females) who cook and share their opinions on things we shouldn’t really listen to them about. We buy their life stories and cook books, which as a whole genre must be less practically utilised than Stephen Hawking’s Brief History of Time is read.
Moreover, it’s probably worth noting that just because you can melt a nob of butter in a pan, it doesn’t make you an expert on dietary advice.
To put it simply, we’re a bunch of wankers. Unfortunately, it’s affecting other parts of our culture from live music venues turning themselves into gastro-pubs to once lively festivals being usurped by hipsters serving up bland pulled-pork rolls. Moreover, it’s affecting our restaurants. They’re losing their sense of fun.
Where once I’d visit a fine diner for great food created with a dash of whimsy, now it’s all about “the art” and paying homage to the great chef who has deigned to create something for your consumption.
A couple of weeks ago I was sadly reminded of our newfound joylessness at Mark Best’s flagship noshery, Marque, in Sydney. While recent visits to his Pei Modern outposts in Melbourne and Sydney have been hugely enjoyable, Marque exuded an air of super self-importance.
Only around half-full on a Friday night the food and service was more look-at-how-clever-I-am than welcoming. Sure, there were occasional highlights in the nine-course degustation menu. A Fraser Island Spanner Crab with Almond Jelly, Almond Gazpacho, Sweet Corn and Avruga stood out as did a near sublime Redgate Farm quail with Blueberries and carrot but too much was a try too hard melding of incongruent flavours.
Like a tradie with a new nail gun, the smoker seemed to be working in overdrive with smoke infusing at least three of the dishes. A smoky flavour obviously works with smoked eel with parmesan gnocchi and pumpkin but not so much with blood sausage and prawn custard. Then again, you have to be quite a fan of blood sausage to start.
Smoke lingered in the bass grouper with fish milk and scales as well although the matching 2010 Camille Giroud burgundy did work a treat.
No smoke in the highlight of the evening, which was a dessert of Blue Mountain Wild Flower honeycomb and cultured cream. It was one of only two courses that sang on the palate. It presented the tastebuds with a sense of joy rather than the tamped-down natural flavours of the other courses.
Part of the problem, is in endeavouring to crash often disparate ingredients together, Best’s menu on the night took away the natural flavours which set them apart. Like a fruit juice without the pulp or over-boiled vegetables, the flavour lingers but there’s a certain heft missing. It’s a dirge rather than a symphony and that’s what disappoints.
As for the latest coffee-snob fad of drip-filter coffee to finish … reinstall the espresso machine. Organic free trade beans or not, it still tastes like instant coffee from some throwback 1980s dinner party my mum used to host.
“Moccona anyone? It’s for lovers of coffee.”
355 Crown Street
Sydney NSW 2010
Image credit: Stuart Scott