May 01, 2009

Oscillate Wildly

Oscillate Wildly is a "trendy" restaurant in Newtown with a reputation for good imaginative food. We've been wanting to try it for a while, but it can be difficult to get bookings. We had heard that they had changed chefs so were curious to see if they were still as great as we had heard. Last Tuesday we had a friend in town and it turned out they had an opening that evening! So off we went.

There is one fixed menu for the evening at AU$95 per person. They're fully licensed now, but thinking they were still BYO we took a nice Rippon Pinot. We were seated at the back of the dining room, near the kitchen. I joked that we had gotten "the chef's table" but was actually pleased as it gave me a chance to watch the kitchen. It's a smallish place, looks like it seats around 20 and they do one seating per night. It's pretty dark, so taking photos was a challenge.

They brought a nice warm crusty malty bread to the table, opened the wine and explained the menu to us. The first dish was an unusual nut based dish, consisting of walnuts, new crop chestnut puree, honey, and a sugar glass. The textures of the walnuts and chestnuts contrasted nicely, I 
think the walnuts may have been blanched to reduce their brittleness, and the sweet honey balanced the savory chestnuts nicely. A promising start.

Next was a tuna sashimi with lightly vinegared cucumber, a wasabi cream garnished with pomelo. Obviously intending to evoke a Japanese sashimi course, the classic combination of flavors worked well and the pomelo added a nice brightness. Tasty and comforting if not sparklingly innovative. The baby shiso leaf on top added a nice color contrast and continued the classic sashimi theme.

Next up were potato gnocchi, with toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) dressed with a coffee foam and espresso grains. The gnocchi were nicely executed, soft with delicate potato flavors, the pepitas were excellent. I love toasted pumpkin and these were crispy with good roast flavors, an excellent texture and flavor contrast to the gnocchi. The coffee foam and espresso grains were an interesting idea, but I think the flavors were too close to the pepitas flavors to really work.

This was followed by a fish dish of whiting on a bed of sweetcorn puree, and squid ink pasta with a light citrus foam. The whiting was beautiful, delicate and tender, the rich squid ink pasta and toasty corn flavors all worked well together. This was one of my favorite dishes of the evening. It's easy to over work whiting, but here it was left alone to great effect.

 

Next was a poultry course, a sous-vide chicken breast over puffed grains and celeriac. Another winner, with the sous-vide preparation resulting in a soft tender chicken contrasting nicely with the crispy crunchy grains, which included a puffed wild rice that I thought worked particularly well. Too many places use sous-vide for it's own sake, not putting a lot of thought into how to integrate it into a dish or a meal. I thought this combination worked. Technically the attention to detail was gratifying with the skin wrapped around the rolled breast, browned, and garnished with crunchy salt.

The next dish, venison with chocolate mille-feuille and beetroot, was also prepared sous-vide, but I was not as impressed. I found my venison to be slightly tough with a few strings still in it, which is a serious defect in a sous-vide. At least part of the point to sous-vide is to create something silken soft and smooth, fully cooked but without overheating or damaging subtle flavors. I was also slightly unhappy with the mille-feuille in that it tasted like it might have been sitting out for a little longer than was good for it. Never the less, the flavors worked well together and the crispiness of the mille-feille provided a nice foil for the softness of the venison. This dish was all about deep earthy flavors, and the beetroot rounded that out while providing a nice sweeter note.

This was followed by a lighter palate cleansing fruit course of watermelon, coconut jelly, and candied palm seed. This was a visually stunning presentation with layers of watermelon sitting on a bed of clear coconut jelly, topped with a nugget of candied palm seed, all presented in a crystal clear double walled glass. The flavors were light and refreshing, and recalled Indian or Indonesian desserts. The rich fresh coconut, nutty palm, and fresh fruity melon flavors worked well together, as did the textures of silky coconut, slightly chewy palm, and crisp melon. I ate every morsel.

The more traditional dessert course followed. We had chocolate ganache over poached pear, garnished with chocolate crisps and topped with a celery sorbet. Yes, celery sorbet. I liked it, it reminded me a little bit of that classic New York drink, Dr Brown's Cel-Ray Tonic, though I'm not sure I agree with pairing it with chocolate and pear. The chocolate and pear combination however was strong enough to carry the dish, especially as the chocolate was excellent, including chocolate nibs in the ganache. The inclusion of basil seeds provided a nice visual contrast, and the basil flavors did work well with the celery. An interesting dish and tasty though perhaps too clever for its own good.

Finally we had petits-fours. I'm always interested to see what restaurants do with their petits-fours, they often save their best wit and humor for last. Oscillate Wildly was no exception. The petits fours consisted of three floral lollipops, and three cubes of blood orange jelly, similar to lokum, topped with effervescent hard candy. The lollipops were very fragrant and delicate, which is tricky to do with hard candy, but the effervescent hard candy made me laugh out loud. It was similar to "pop rocks" but with smaller more "fizzy" bubbles. Much fun.

Overall we had a very enjoyable evening, the food was fun, interesting, and well prepared. However I think they were trying too hard to be clever. The dishes were clever, and showed off some impressive mastery of technique, but ultimately I didn't get a feeling of passion for the food or for what they were doing, and it ended up feeling a bit hollow. So - fun to try once, but I don't think we'll be regulars.

Oscillate Wildly
275 Australia St
Newtown NSW 2042
Phone (02) 9517 4700

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