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Amongst the CRAVE Sydney Food Festival “Showcase Dinners” was Magnus Nilsson at Marque. Through the magical mystery tour of randomness that is twitter, I found myself at the second of these dinners, as a Nice Someone’s dinner companion for the evening.
Turning up at 8.30pm to the sold-out dinner, I had no idea what to expect, as I’d read a few articles about Nilsson including this one, but not really delved into his dishes.
The menu was not given to us, as a momento of the evening, until after the meal, adding to the air of expectation of what was to come. Many of the dishes turned out to be adaptations of what Nilsson does at Faviken. He transplanted his approach to food to Australia, and in the process, made it one of the most ‘Australian’ meals I have ever eaten. As I didn’t drink any of the wine, I include that information for interest, but can’t comment on them or the pairing.
Served with Vouette & Sorbee 'Fidele' Champagne, France.
The cheese was basically curd. The pig's blood and urchins - had I known of this, there’s a strong chance that I would not eaten it, as I don't like blood pudding, and things of that ilk. I admit that it tasted better than I would have expected, even though I remain a bit uncertain. Strong, but not too much so. It looked like a bite-sized little chocolate, with the urchin on top. Faviken's equivalent dish is "lightly salted wild cod roe in dried pig's crust". The charcuterie, as you can see, was insanely fatty, but ever so soft, and almost juicy.
4. Angasi Oyster cooked over charcoal & tea tree branches
Served with Bridge Road Brewers 'Chevalier, Saison', Beechworth.
I mentioned that some of his dishes appeared to be a local variation of his own dishes. This was one of them, an adaptation of his "scallops cooked over juniper branches". It was a lot of fun to look at, with the smoky sweet oysters in their shell (the lids resting gently on top) buried amidst a plate full of branches and vegetation.
This is where my enjoyment started to go up exponentially. The marron was perfectly cooked, with such sweet flesh. The “almost burnt cream” and the barley in particular, just brought the marron up to something special for me. Perfect combination, and I wanted more of it.
6. Hapuka with Young Cale Steamed So Briefly That It Is Dying On The Plate, alcoholic vinegar & pine
Served with 2008 Goisot 'Corps de Garde' Fie Gris, Saint-Bris, Buorgogne, France.
I was still savouring the taste of the marron when this arrived. It was stunningly good. From the sweet flesh of one water beast to another even more sweet, it appeared to be coated in honey, and was slightly caramelised. My dining companion made a comment about it being similar to miso cod, which is a better description than I could come up with on the night. The kale/ cake and vinegar combination was nice and tart, to balance the sweetness of the fish. One of my favourite dishes of the night.
7. Raw Blueshell Mussel & Pea Pie
8. New potatoes cooked in leaves from last Autumn
I joked on the night that his inspiration for this was a pie floater, and part of the constant theme throughout this meal of how very Australian everything was, in the best possible way. Lasting but a mouthful, I can’t say much more than that it was full of flavour, and a lot better than a pie floater.
9. Leeks, cream whisked with beer, vinegar & dried mullet roe
Served with 2008 Egon Muller 'Sharzhof' Riseling, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany.
This rather austere dish was probably a tie for the dish that I understood the least, it was too subtle for me. The dried mullet roe, I could happily have eaten more of. Faviken's original is "preserved leek, sheep's milk whisked with vinegar fermented beer, grated cod roe".
10. Dice of raw beef heart with marrow, Spring flowers, toast and herb (celery) salt
This was the dish that I found the most confronting that evening. I don't like offal, and had I been told there'd be diced raw beef heart, I don't know what I'd have done. Squesmish of me it may be, but the idea of eating heart doesn't appeal to me, let alone raw. It was diced into very small pieces, the taste of the marrow more delicate than I had expected. The Spring flowers gave it the visual beauty that it needed, as well as some contrasts of texture. The combination of it with the celery salt and toast helped me a lot from the perspective of eating it, but I’m not sure that I understood this dish. The Faviken dish from which this was adapted is "dice of raw moose meat, forest herbs, bread crumbs, vinegar jelly, drops of sour milk, egg yolks and concentrated birch sap". I think I'd have preferred the moose meat version.
11. Really Aged Cape Grim Rib Eye with green juice & herbs
Served with 2005 Giuseppe Mascarello 'Santo Stephano di Perno' Barbera d'Alba, Piedmont.
If I could bottle up the fragrance of this dish, I’d make millions. This is now my benchmark steak. The aroma was just unbelievable. I put my nose down and wanted to do nothing but inhale. Pure beef perfume. The beef had been dipped in kidney fat (sounds awful, heh) then aged for 120 days. It was truly a magical meat experience. I don't know if I'll ever eat beef like that again. I've had Cape Grim few times before, but clearly, the ageing method and process are where it’s all happening. The other times? Chalk and cheese.
12. Raspberry ice
13. Oatmeal Sable, pudding of soured cream, wood sorrel and frozen buttermilk
Served with 2002 D.des Baumard Close St Catherine Chenin, Coteau du layon, Loire Valley
The dessert was an interesting experience. As soon as I saw sorrel, I laughed, as my previous sorrel dessert experiences have been alright, but not something that I’d have chosen. I just don't feel that I quite understand sorrel desserts.
As is my habit, I took a bit of the top layers of the dessert i.e. of soured cream, wood sorrel and buttermilk, and tasted it. Paused. I was then told to eat it as it was meant to be, cutting it so that I got a bit of every component in each bite. That made all the difference. What started off as my thinking that I was never going to understand sorrel desserts ended up with my enjoying it a lot. The whole was very much more than the sum of its parts; it had been cleverly constructed so that eating it all in a mouthful made the sorrel sweet, any sourness disappear, and just a really balanced dish, with the sable’s sweetness quite addictive.
14. Fruit and nuts
15. Coffee by Single Origin. Blends - "Santa Ria", "Matagalpa", "Huila"
Was it worth the $295? It's expensive, but yes it was. His restaurant is fairly isolated, and it sits 12 people. My chances of going there are minimal, even if I go back to Sweden.
Magnus Nilsson visited most tables, and was just a lovely humble guy, genuinely wanting to know whether we enjoyed each dish. Would I eat Nilsson's food again? Yes. I also want some more of that aged Cape Grim.
At our table of eight, there were two other doubles. There was also one couple who departed just as I was arriving, so I didn't get to meet them, but I was told that when they realised it wasn't going to be a romantic evening a deux, they left.
Paying six hundred dollars for a meal and deciding not to stay for it just because of seating arrangements? Your loss, in so many ways.
These are the sorts of meals where you may not get a ‘wow’ from every dish, because not everything will suit everyone’s taste, but there will be dishes that you will remember, and there will be tastes and combinations that will make you think about them not just during the meal, but for days afterwards. It was a privilege to be there that evening.