Does The Sails degustation sink or swim?
MoVida. Marque. Rockpool est. 1989. The lovers of Sydney fine dining were dealt blow after blow last year with the closure of so many iconic restaurants. There’s no denying it’s a huge achievement for a restaurant to stay open longer than a few years in Sydney let alone an impressive 40 years, as is the case at Sails on Lavender Bay. A well-known institution in Sydney’s north shore, the amazing harbour views are inescapable, with large windows encasing the restaurant. Their kitchen is now heralded by chef Jim Wilson, who is back in Australia after a few years abroad working in Paris and London Michelin-starred kitchens. Diners have the choice of ordering à la cartel or trying their seven course degustation tasting menu for $120 per person. Add the matching wines for another $70. Compare this to restaurants such as est or Sepia, who charge $195 per person for the menu only and you have yourself a more affordable degustation. But how does it add up?
We’re invited to try a compact version of their degustation, having five courses instead of seven. The first three courses consist of seafood: the first is king ora salmon, with cucumber yoghurt and Champagne vinegar. It’s matched with a 2015 Laurenz V. und Sophie ‘Singing’ Gruner Veltliner, a white wine from Austria that certainly harmonises with the silky piece of salmon. This teeny tiny serving is full of flavour, with the cucumber yoghurt being a nice creamy accompaniment to the cured piece of salmon. The salmon is a tad warmer than expected, which is odd, and we are not sure if it works. Nevertheless, it’s a nice start.
Next is the king prawn with fantastic pieces of confit lemon, sea purslane and beurre blanc. Prawns and lemon go together like chips and gravy and this is a delicious dish, matched with a French wine, the 2014 Domaine Pichot Vouvray Sec. The prawns are cooked well, and the pieces of confit lemon are a great addition. Another small degustation style portion, this one ups the ante in terms of creativity.
Then, the pink snapper arrives, with carrot ginger puree, rainbow chard and grapefruit. The fish is cooked to perfection, with a healthy dose of greens and a vibrant puree to top it all off. However, while this dish tastes nice, I’m waiting for the wow factor. Perhaps a nice crispy skin on the snapper, or more interesting accompaniments would get me excited.
We then move away from seafood with a generous chicken breast. The protein fills the entire plate of what is a main sized portion. Our knife slides through the piece of chicken breast, paired excellently with a warm red, the 2015 Helen’s Hill Pinot Noir from Yarra Valley. This is the stand-out dish, with the prawns a close second. The pancetta give a salty crunch along with the swiss brown mushrooms, all tied together with a delicious sauce. This dish does feel a bit disconnected from the first three courses, a little out of place amongst the delicate degustation style experience. But it definitely feels more relaxed and somewhat comforting.
Usually the degustation menu consists of comté cheese and valrhona chocolate gateaux to finish. Our dessert today is however taken from the main menu – a delicious lemon and thyme panacotta. It’s creamy and delightful, with great accompaniments of blueberry, macadamia and sheep’s yoghurt sorbet. Served in a deep bowl, you can scoop up on the moreish dollops of panacotta to your heart’s content, not missing a bite. We have to remind ourselves we are at a sophisticated establishment and contain ourselves.
Sails on Lavender Bay serves an adequate offering, with beautifully plated and delicate looking dishes. Jim Wilson’s menu is described as “interesting, unpretentious and delicious” and while I agree it’s unpretentious, keeping their menu simple and elegant, I don’t feel it’s very interesting. The whole meal was packed with quality ingredients however I’d love them to shake things up, take more risks and truly show us something unique. Then again, maybe playing it safe is what’s kept them going the past 40 years. That’s one for you to decide. If you are looking for a more affordable degustation, somewhere consistent with stunning views then Sails on Lavender Bay may be just right.
Sails on Lavender Bay
2 Henry Lawson Avenue, McMahons Point
Open Tues- Sun noon-3pm, Dinner: Mon – Sat: 6pm – late