I've been wanting to visit Absynthe for a while now. Gourmet Traveller have considered it to be the best restaurant in Queensland for the last two years, which meant my expectations were very high.
Before you read too much further, I'm warning that this is a very long post. I wouldn't be doing justice to the 7 course degustation menu if I didn't write about each of the amazing meals we tasted. I also apologise for the lack of photos. It was a bit of a celebration dinner, and I was more focused on enjoying the food than madly trying to take photos of wasabi ice cream before it melted in front of me.
We managed to sneak into the bottom of the Q1 tower just before a storm broke on us. It was a cool feeling sitting inside this really modern room, at the bottom of an enormous tower, listening to thunder cracking around outside, with occasional flashes of lightning. I guess it just added to the whole experience.
The room was surprisingly half-full for a Saturday night. Perhaps the presence of schoolies still at the coast put off more discerning diners - who knows?
On Friday and Saturday nights, it's a degustation menu only at Absynthe. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they were only too happy to put together a vegetarian degustation menu for my wife. The menus were on the table as we sat down, and were headed "A Journey into Taste".
The first stop on the journey was "soft green olive, vanilla crouton". The theatrics of this amuse-bouche added to our enjoyment of it. We had two Asian-style large soup spoons, each with a tiny vanilla crouton sitting on them. Our waitress arrived at the table with a jar of green olives, and ladled out an olive onto each of the spoons. We then devoured the whole lot in one go. Although you couldn't really taste a lot of the crouton, apart from its crunchiness, the olive was divinely soft. It didn't have the usual harshness of green olives, rather tasted like you were eating the best extra virgin olive oil you can imagine. It was a great start to the night, leaving us anticipating what was to follow.
Next up was the imaginatively named "Bite Me Un, Deux, Trois!!!". The un, deux, trois were a golden egg, a beetroot soda and a cauliflower velouté & pesto. The presentation of this course was amazing. The golden egg was an egg shell, filled with an extremely rich, eggy mousse. Perched on top of the egg mousse was a small square of soy & maple jelly, which was in turn topped with a piece of gold leaf. Just to complete the presentation, the egg was sitting in the coolest metal snail shaped egg cup I have ever seen (it even had little snail feelers sticking out of it). I enjoyed this, but after I'd eaten the soy & maple jelly with the first mouthful of mousse, I found the rest of the mousse extremely rich. The beetroot soda was served in a tall shot glass, with a handle on the side and a straw sticking out the top. It tasted like an extremely concentrated glass of borscht, and was fantastic. The concentrated beetroot flavour completely wiped out the richness of the egg mousse. The final part of the trio was the delicate cauliflower velouté, served in a small tea cup. The velouté had a spherified blob of pesto floating in the middle of it. The taste when the pesto sphere burst in my mouth was one of the highlights of the night. I'm not normally one to hunt cauliflower down in restaurant menus, but this was fantastic. This course was served with a glass of 2007 JE Ngeringa rose (made from pinot noir), which was a fairly good match for the disparate flavours on the plate.
Our journey then took us to "North Queensland" for cured trout, chocolate cannelloni & wasabi ice cream. The cured trout was beautiful, and just melted in my mouth. A small blob of wasabi ice cream was sitting on the trout, giving the dish a Japanese feel. The cold zinginess of the ice cream worked well against the rich flavours of the trout. The chocolate cannelloni seemed to be some kind of fish roe wrapped in a cannelloni of white chocolate. I didn't enjoy the cannelloni as much as the trout, but at least it added another contrast of flavours. This course was served with a glass of 2008 Ravens Croft Verdelho from the Granite Belt. Although it's great to see Queensland wines being served at a calibre of restaurant like this, I found it a bit underwhelming with the rich seafood flavours on the plate.
At this stage of the night we had our only real blip on the service front. Our French waitress brought out one of the North Queensland plates for my wife, who quickly reminded the waitress that she was vegetarian (we'd made that clear when we booked). The waitress quickly took the dish away. She also wanted to take mine away too, which I thought was an excellent way to handle the situation. I insisted that mine was fine, and could stay on the table. Eventually I had to start eating it though, as the wasabi ice cream was melting quickly. I should have listened to the waitress.
Our waitress re-emerged with a beetroot salad for my wife. This was presented on a cool, round glass plate. The small chunks of beetroot were accompanied by goat's curd, cherry tomatoes, shallots or leeks and a scoop of wasabi ice cream. Although I didn't get to try any of the goat's curd, I was told it was amazingly good. I did eat plenty of the rest of the salad though, and it was lovely.
The next course was simply called "The Ocean", which was a fillet of pan-fried barramundi with a horseradish crust and pumpkin & citrus puree. Although the barramundi was perfectly cooked, and I really enjoyed the pumpkin & citrus puree, this was probably my least favourite dish of the night. Not that there was anything wrong with it, I just enjoyed the other courses more. I found the Iron Pot Bay sauvignon blanc/semillon (from Tasmania) to be a good partner for this course. It was a more delicate style of the blend, which worked well with the barramundi.
The vegetarian course was a Burgundy black truffle risotto. This was listed as an optional extra course on the menu for $15, unless you're vegetarian. Although it looked small, it was beautifully rich, the rice still had a good bite and there were plenty of truffle shavings.
From the ocean I then went to "The Farm". At Absynthe, the farm consists of confit rabbit loin, potato gratin, chanterelles and pencil leek. It was served with a glass of 2006 Jaboulet Crozes Hermitage "Les Jalets", which was the perfect match for this food. I absolutely loved both this dish and the wine. The rich, gamy, mushroomy flavours on the plate were complemented by the beautifully perfumed shiraz. I was scraping every last drop of this off my plate at the end.
The next vegetarian course was a modified version of my rabbit, with a type of mushroom cannelloni, served with the potato gratin and chanterelles. My wife found the cannelloni casing a bit too meaty tasting, but enjoyed the richness of the rest of the dish.
It was now time to leave the farm and move on to "Heavenly Sweets", as you do at this time of the night. Not one, but two courses of heavenly sweets here at Absynthe.
The first dessert course was candied apricot, basil syrup and lychee sorbet. There were 3 pieces of apricot, which had a lovely flavour. The flavour of the lychee sorbet was amazing, and the basil syrup lifted the whole dish. This was an excellent, lighter, fresh style of fruit dessert.
The candied apricot was followed by a "Banana Split". To be perfectly honest, I was really dreading this, as I'm not the biggest fan of banana at any time. I certainly would have never ordered this dessert off a menu. It turned out to be fantastic, and probably one of the best dishes of the night. The banana had been caramelised, and sat on a strip of thick strawberry jelly. However, the real star of this dish was the frozen chocolate cream, which was served out of a canister. The chocolate cream had been frozen in liquid nitrogen, which gave it the most unique texture. Although it looked almost crunchy, it just melted away the moment it hit my mouth. When it was topped with the creme anglaise that came in a little beaker, it was a brilliant dessert.
The banana split was served with a glass of 2007 Vietti Moscato d'Asti Cascinetta. I was a bit let down by this wine, which I think was probably the weakest match of the night. It was a really light style of moscato, and I found it was completely overwhelmed by the food on the plate.
We were then offered coffees, which we elected to skip. The couple next to us were enjoying coffee and petit fours, but I thought the banana split was a fantastic way to finish the night. Not to mention by this time we were both pretty full.
The 7 course degustation dinner at Absynthe is $98. In my opinion, that's amazing value. I know some people will disagree with me, but having 7 courses of food at this standard is something you don't come across very often. I hadn't asked the cost of the degustation menu when we booked, but I was expecting it to be much more.
You can elect to have the matched wines with your degustation dinner for an extra $77. For 5 glasses of wine that works out to just over $15 a glass. Otherwise you can select your wine from the huge wine list. You'll need a decent table of people though if you are ordering bottles of wine, as it will be difficult to find one or two bottles that will match the diversity of food arriving at your table. The wine list runs to 37 pages, covering everything from Badel Sljivovica (Croatian plum brandy) to an amazing 1966 Moet & Chandon Cuvee Dom Perignon Oenotheque (at $2,600 a bit out of my price range). Or, if you are really looking to wipe yourself out, there are 9 varieties of absinthe to try.
The room itself is a pretty modern, sleek design. It really gives you a sense of entering somewhere special, and adds to the anticipation of an amazing meal ahead. Also, tables have a good amount of space between them, which is a great thing if you are here for a special meal.
Other than the slight blip I mentioned earlier, service throughout the night was professional and efficient. As each course arrived, its contents were explained to us, and our waitresses were happy to answer any questions we had. There was a good space between each of the courses and at no stage of the night did we feel rushed. I did wish my glass of Crozes-Hermitage would never end though, so that was a bit disappointing when it did.
If you're looking for a restaurant to enjoy a special dinner, Absynthe is it. I'd have to say that overall, this is probably the best meal I've had anywhere during 2008. And considering the quality of the food, I think it's well priced too.
What does all this mean? A high class journey into a variety of flavours and quality ingredients, with excellent service and a huge wine list. Food doesn't come too much better than this.
food bling ratings
Food - Top shelf
Service - Great
Ambience - Classy, understated dining room with spacey, modern fittings
Value for Money - Good
Wine - Top shelf
Vegetarian - Great
Shop 4, Q1 Resort & Spa
Surfers Paradise Boulevard
Surfers Paradise 4217
P - 07 5504 6466
E - firstname.lastname@example.org
W - http://www.absynthe.com.au/