Review by Franz Scheurer
Pier recently renounced both its three hats in The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide and three stars in the Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Guide. The reasons given: taking the restaurant back to the diner and back to the local community. The fact that the extremely talented Executive Pastry Chef Katrina Kanetani has left and then the Executive Chef Grant King is leaving mid-year played its part too. It certainly worked when it came to publicity.
So what has changed? The first thing I find it is still very expensive to dine at Pier. In my experience the best things about Pier was the freshness of the seafood and their ability to bring out inherent flavours and textures; alas on this visit, those things were not in abundance. Katrina Kanetani was named Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide’s Chef of the Year for the pastry work at Pier and during her tenure desserts were almost a reason to come to the restaurant in itself. Based on what I’ve seen since she has left, I don’t think I’ll be ordering dessert at all on my next visit.
Pastrami of king salmon with toasted sourdough is good, as is the squid on top of squid ink (black) risotto with gremolata. The risotto, though, has none of the texture or careful seasoning of a really great dish of this kind. An entrée of roast scallops with veal sweetbreads and cauliflower tofu is really elegant and the best dish that night. The sweetbreads are delicate and tender, the scallops great quality with cheeky bounce while still remaining giving. The asparagus and scallop soup - lobster custard - baby peas is competent. But the crab omelette with Asian greens is watery, bland and nowhere near as good as the one Neil Perry made famous at Rockpool. And in the post-Spice Temple, Spice I Am, Chairman Mao era - or even as far back as XO, Billy Kwong or Longrain - both dishes felt decidedly dated and third hand. Steamed bar cod with textures of mushroom presents well but fails to excite. A red curry of hapuka could be any fish as the curry sauce is so incredibly sweet and rich it's a waste of such a fine piece of fish. Lobster with chilli, kaffir lime and Thai basil showcases a small rocklobster (not sure if it was an Eastern or Southern rocklobster) tail, cut into four pieces, in the shell, with a sweet, one-dimensional sauce that lacked any depth and looks a lot less appetising than the $175 it costs.
For desserts we try the custard apple ice cream with granita and tiny meringues. Although it looks pretty, it’s not compelling enough to finish; presented in a tumbler, it almost invites comparisons to Quay’s famed snow egg; comparisons, it must be said, that are not favourable. The daily soufflé, pear, is fluffy and light (the waiter insists on making a hole into the soufflé to pour the sauce, despite protestations from the diner to the contrary), and the presentation of the panna cotta reminds me of the 70s. A piece of blue cheese is served at room temperature and it is a generous serve. Service was friendly but the timing of the dishes was on the daggy side.
The wine list is good. I ordered an aged Vouvray, but the first bottle was badly corked and I do question why it ever made it to the table for tasting. The staff handled the complaint well and a second bottle was perfect.
Pier is expensive and unfortunately to my mind, not good value for money, despite the new (marginally) lower prices. We paid $745.50 (plus tip) for four (and yes, that included one bottle of wine at $138 and the lobster at $175) but two of our party did not drink alcohol, only sparkling mineral water.
Pier Restaurant still has some of the best seafood in town but I do question the creative choices made in the kitchen at the moment, as the dishes do not always present in the most favourable light.
For more information or bookings:
594 New South Head Rd
Rose Bay NSW Australia 2029
Tel.: +61 2 9327-6561