Update May 2017: Gastro Park has since, sadly, closed it’s kitchen.
Ok, first things first. The name. When telling people Jude and I were going to Gastro Park to celebrate two years of marriage I was met with looks that ranged from horror to downright disgust. No, we weren’t subjecting ourselves to a Dreamworld of salmonella for our wedding anniversary, as fun as that sounds.
While Gastro Park may be a name fail, it’s anything but a food fail. This Sydney restaurant is indeed a ‘gastronomic playground’. A fine dining adventure park. One that’s not pretentious or stuffy, with everything perfectly paired back to let the real hero take centre stage: the food.
Not exactly where you’d expect to find a hatted restaurant
When it comes to location, Gastro Park is in the beating heart of Kings Cross – Sydney’s infamous red light district – only a few doors down from strip clubs and empty needles. Not exactly where I would have expected to find a fine dining gem but alas it adds to the adventure that is dining at Gastro Park.
So, forget any fantasies of harbour views. When we arrived, the maître d proudly escorted us to a ‘window table’, where we enjoyed a front row seat to a live recording of the Real Drunkards of Kings Cross. We watched a fight between a pack of boofheads, some guy casually carrying a Dyson vacuum cleaner up the street and two girls rummaging through the bin in the alley opposite (they settled on pocketing an abandoned lamp shade).
Inside, safely tucked away from the eyebrow-raising chaos outside, the small dining space is very minimalist, a bit like Tony Stark’s house. For those who don’t know who Tony Stark is or have any clue what his house looks like, this just means there’s lots of concrete, head-to-toe glass windows and that you need to watch Iron Man.
The menu is full of brave flavour pairings
Gastro Park’s menu is as ambitious as Malcolm Turnbull. There’s brave flavour pairings, technique mastery and texture combinations that are worthy of a Nobel Prize. Apparently owner and head chef Grant King doesn’t want any on-trend pendants or fancy vertical gardens to overshadow the culinary bravado and precision on show. Fair enough.
Consequently, dining at this gastronomically-acclaimed restaurant requires a healthy sense of adventure. Throughout the week there’s an à la carte menu to choose from. However, on Friday and Saturday evenings, you’re in the hands of the chef because the only choice you have is whether you’re going to do the five, seven or 10-course set degustation, and if you want your wine paired for you.
And if you’re going to kiss it, you might as well marry it. We went for the 10-course degustation, with wine pairing. Someone should have advised us to strap in because the pace was fast and the wine pouring generous. While the menu is ever-changing, here’s what we had:
1. Snacks | Paired with Ruinart R De Ruinart, Reims, France
The appetisers set the scene nicely for what was to come. The wagyu grissini with shaved pecorino was the blinding highlight – it’s the best tasting hairy bread stick you’ll ever have in your life. The fermented garlic tart with a delicate goat’s cheese finish was also pretty damn good, says someone who has an anti goat’s cheese t-shirt. Finally, the ultra fishy potato chip sandwich of cod fish paste was, well, ultra fishy.
2. Scallop and pomegranate ceviche | Paired with 2014 Brundlmayer Gruner Veltiner, Kamptal, Austria
Arriving in a cloud of dry ice, these silky AF scallops impressed. While as much as the accompanying red onion complemented the scallops, it skirted the boundary of completely overpowering the delicate little molluscs.
3. Grilled Moreton Bay bug, with tomato ceviche and burnt coconut | Paired with 2013 Bilancia Pinot Gris, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
You may not be able to buy happiness, but you can buy Moreton Bay bugs. This was my favourite dish of the decagon. The Pinot Gris was perfectly paired too.
4. Liquid butternut gnocchi, with mushroom consommé | Paired with 2013 McMahon Chardonnay, Yarra Valley, Victoria
While they aren’t particularly photogenic, these little sacks of butternut pumpkin soup burst in your mouth and are unlike anything you’ve ever had before. Gastro Park’s signature dish, they’re paired Einsteinly with the mushroom consommé and Chardonnay. The evening’s food theatre continued with the gnocchi broth being poured from a teapot.
5. Seared salmon, with pomelo, finger lime and basil | Paired with 2011 Partridge Calling Birds Riesling, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
Hmmm, I didn’t write any notes here. Clearly too busy eating and staring into the eyes of my husband of two years (or more likely watching what was happening on the Real Drunkards of Kings Cross outside).
6. BBQ quail, with sea lettuces, weeds and shitake | Paired with 2015 Provenance Golden Plains Pinot Noir, Geelong, Victoria
By this point, I felt like I’d eaten a baby Stegosaurus, and have to admit that I barely touched the quail, sliding it to the other side of the table instead. Your second wedding anniversary gift is BBQ bird right? Paper, BBQ bird, leather.
7. Rangers Valley Wagyu beef shoulder, with pickles and beets | Paired with 2013 Goodman Cabernet Sauvignon, Yarra Valley, Victoria
The beef shoulder, beets and Cabernet Sauvignon = fist pump.
8. Passionfruit and pink grapefruit silk | no wine pairing
This silky liquid was the perfect palate cleanser.
9. Wild marigold ice cream and mango | Paired with 2013 Domaine du Mas Blanc White Banyuls, Languedoc, France
The penultimate course was a refreshing bomb of citrus that perfectly continued the degustation story. The freeze-dried mandarin pieces that sizzled on your tongue were also a cute accompaniment.
10. Chocolate, honeycomb and vanilla sphere, with cardamom, saffron and ginger | Paired with Solera Alvear Pedro Ximenes, 1927 Jerez, Spain
Cracking open the chocolate sphere revealed a gooey vanilla inside, while the frozen honeycomb balls off-set the richness of the chocolate. It was the perfect decadent grand finale for a seriously decadent restaurant experience.
The wine pairing…
As a South Australian wine snob, I had much scepticism about the non-South Australian wine pairings.
“Where is the Barossa?” I demanded.
However, I’ll eat my demands. The pairings were perfect and brought the entire degustation together in a beautiful, symmetrical, polka dotted bow.
The only questionable part was the service that came with the pouring of wine. When forking out for the wine pairing, you expect the sommelier education that comes with it. Right? Instead our waitress poured each wine with the accompanying commentary of whether she liked it or not. For the record, she doesn’t like Riesling, Cab Sav or dessert wines.
Coming off the back of an amazing degustation experience in Canberra (Aubergine – you can drool over that one here), Gastro Park had big plates to fill.
While the Aubergine experience was all-round amazing, the Gastro Park experience is one big show-off in technical mastery. I mean, how the eff do you get soup to resemble gnocchi?? Mind blown.
Sure, it’s not a Tuesday night at the movies (we paid a total of $560 – there goes take-away coffees for a year) but you get a shit load of top quality food and booze for that price. In hindsight, it was quite ambitious to attempt the 10 courses and nine wines. Let’s just say we staggered back to Kings Cross Station very full and very merry. We probably could have even auditioned for Season 2 of the Real Drunkards of Kings Cross.
Gastro Park | 5-9 Roslyn Street, Potts Point, New South Wales
Phone: (02) 8068 1017