I have this horrible habit of snacking before a meal. It’s not just chomping on a Mars Bar to get through the 4 o’clock slump—I’m talking demolishing a bag of corn chips and dip half an hour before family pork chop night. Like lots of bad habits, it can’t be explained.
So when a conga line of introductory “snacks” is brought to the table at Sixpenny, they’ve already won my heart… And stomach. Best of all, we’re encouraged to pick up the little treats with our hands. I could, George-Costanza-style, opt to eat the pickled cucumber with apple and rose with a knife and fork, but why would I? The perfect oblongs of cucumber dusted with rose powder taste like a remarkably refreshing Turkish delight and it’s fun to lick the remaining rose powder off my fingers.
Cheese and green tomato gougerès are bite-sized, deep-fried puffs of pillowy, parmesany delights. I’m not at first convinced about the corn silk nestled atop the ‘Sixpenny corn’ (it’s like chewing on dental floss), but the combo of lightly scorched corn kernels, tarragon, and urchin butter is like freshly popped popcorn, cranked to 11. It’s luxe and luscious with umami goodness.
And though I could snack all night, I’ve committed to Sixpenny’s large menu, a 9-course degustation with matching wines. So on to the ‘proper’ real-meal dishes.
A perfectly roasted baby potato is topped with cabbage powder and cured duck egg yolk. But the star of the dish is the fresh mustard green—a vegetable that I’ve applauded in previous reviews. The mustard provides a complex, slow-burning heat, that makes your everyday supermarket Keen’s-in-a-jar seem… Pretty crass, really.
There’s a pattern of delicious bitter leaves across the dishes. The pork belly with cidered garlic is a welcome re-imagining of the classic pig ‘n’ apple combo. The caramelised witlof, with its complimentary smoky, bittersweet flavours, really elevates the dish.
Head chef of the night Daniel Puskas does a lap of honour around the dining room, acquainting diners with a special extra dish of “anniversary duck” (there’s a lot of couples tonight celebrating anniversaries, apparently). The whole, smoked bird is displayed proudly to each table, and re-appears moments later on a plate, pink, plump and expertly carved, accompanied by a sticky plum sauce. For a Nordic-inspired restaurant, the dish is a bit of a nudge-and-wink to Australia’s old-school Cantonese eateries of the 90s. It could have been a bit too rich, a bit too heady, were it not for the braised radicchio, injecting a bit of delightful bitterness to the dish.
Thankfully, the desserts (notice the plural) are of the lighter, soil/granita/curd variety, a much-needed reprieve at the tail end of the meal. My favourite is the delicate mound of milk curd crystals with honey. It’s like eating snow, but your mum won’t yell at you about it.
I love Sixpenny for its understated-ness. The dishes are innovative without being wanky, and the chefs are tremendously talented without the ego of other establishments. Walk past the kitchen and you’ll find three chefs huddled around a group of dishes, exacting the final elements. The only sound is of the dishwasher in the background. It’s a beautiful, quiet tableau that underscores the care and finesse that goes into each and every dish. Even the dining room has a down-to-earth feel about it. It’s cosy, seating about 30 diners, and bathed in a warm, sepia hue. I feel like I’m in a dining room of the nostalgic past, eating the food of the future.
Image credit: Sixpenny