A taste for the finer things: The $100 gold-leaf martini. Photo: Cole Bennetts
Australians are splashing out more on food than ever before. Motivated by cooking shows and smartphone equipped bloggers, there is a constant search for the essential foodie experience.
The proportion of money spent at restaurants, cafes and takeaways has steadily risen and accounts for 14 per cent of annual retail turnover, Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows.
As Sydneysiders search for those special-occasion dishes, goodfood.com.au has rounded up some of the city's most expensive food and drink.
Otto Ristorante's $95 lobster pasta. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Bar de The's Paul Wilson says the chase for the ultimate experience sparked the creation of the bar's $100 gold-leaf martini. "This drink is a real and unique experience in its own right," he says.
Hospitality consultant Tony Eldred says diners should consider the cost of highly-trained staff, premium rent, quality ingredients and luxury tableware when deliberating top-end prices.
"Generally, the raw cost of the food is 30 per cent of the price, but so much is built into it," he said.
Spice Temple head chef Andy Evans says the restaurant is "taking a beating" by lowering profit margins on dishes such as its $12 lobster dumpling. "The lobster siu mai [dumpling] has $8 of meat in it, so it should be double the price," he says.
For the frugal diner, smart strategies could save a buck. Sydney Morning Herald chief restaurant critic Terry Durack suggests splitting Otto's $95 plate of spaghetti all'aragosta between two. "There's more than enough lobster to share. Somehow $47.50 a head doesn't sound anywhere near as scary," he says.
The other way to sample luxury is to prepare a similar version at home. Rockpool Bar and Grill's 200 grams of wagyu rib-eye with a 9+ marbling score costs $115. The same size and cut at the swanky Victor Churchill in Woollhara can be had for $36. Just make sure you have fine-tuned grilling skills.
"The level of flavour, the level of tenderness, the level of softness. For me, [David Blackmore's] wagyu is in the same elite class of products as caviar, truffles and foie gras because of the sensory experience delivered," owner Anthony Puharich said.
Sydney's most expensive food and drink
STEAK – Dry-aged Mishima Sirloin 350g, Rockpool Bar and Grill – $190
There's wagyu, and then there's Mishima. Celebrated farmer David Blackmore owns what is likely to be the only Mishima herd outside Japan and he sells highly-prized cuts – rare, succulent and perfectly laced with fat – only to Rockpool. "It is more nutty in flavour, a bit caramelly and buttery in taste because of the marbling," he says. (Photo by Sahlan Hayes)
DUMPLING – Lobster Siu Mai, Spice Temple – $12 per piece
Yum cha dumplings usually come in threes and fours, but Spice Temple's lobster siu mai will arrive alone. Thirty grams of lobster meat, worth $8, is seasoned with sesame oil, shallots and pinches of salt and pepper, before being wrapped in pastry and topped with flying fish roe. (Photo by Sahlan Hayes)
PASTA – Spaghetti all'Aragosta, Otto Ristorante – $95
At a whopping $95, a smidgen of sauce is valuable. Six hundred and fifty grams of lobster chunks are tossed with al dente pasta and a napolitano sauce, dotted with cherry tomatoes, textured with baby basil, and warmed with cognac. Head chef Richard Ptacnik serves 50 dishes a week. "The nicer the weather the more we sell!"
COGNAC – Hennessy X.O Mathusalem, Waitan – $50,000 a bottle
At Chinatown's luxury foodie playground Waitan sits a six-litre bottle of cognac waiting to be quaffed with crispy Peking duck. The luxury drop, paired with an Arik Levy-designed travelling case, is claimed to be the only one in Australia. Official tasting notes refer to "peppery notes... the warm, spicy clove and hint of old leather; the mellow notes of vanilla, cinnamon and candied fruit." Convinced?
CHOCOLATE – Harana Chocolate Bag, Boon Chocolates – $299
An edible bag to fill up with chocolates.? There's no better way to leave a sweet shop. Boon offers a 200-gram harana-style ladies bag moulded from South American chocolate. Fanny Chan handcrafts the made-to-order showpiece in two to three days at the Darlinghurst shop. "We probably sell one a year, for very special occasions," her brother Alex says.
PIE – Snapper Pie with Smoked Tomato and Mashed Potato, The Boathouse – $48
The snapper pie at the Boathouse requires onions to be cooked for four hours. It's usually wheeled to the table and silver-served, leaving a vapour trail of truffle oil. The hearty pie is flanked by mashed potato and smoked tomatoes. "People love it because it's also quite theatrical," restaurant manager Christophe Dubois says.
CAVIAR – Beluga Caviar, Gourmet Life – $9900 per kg
The supremely delicate and buttery roe extracted from 25-year-old beluga sturgeon in Iran will be on shelves this month at a head-spinning $1237.50 per 125 grams, or $495 per 50 grams. No, $10 for a gram of the poshest of nosh is not possible. Luxury caviar, or "berries" as connoisseurs call it, should be eaten off the wrist. "It would be a spoil any other way," says seller Josh Rea.
TACO – Crab Taco, Four in Hand – $29 per piece
Far from the packet taco, Colin Fassnidge's take uses pork crackling cups and fennel brulee instead of tortilla shells and tomato salsa. The filling is picked Alaskan crab. The dish is completed with a garnish of roasted hazelnuts and fennel fronds. "We offer five entree dishes, but the taco is either the first or second bestseller," chef Paul Farag says. (Photo supplied)
FISH AND CHIPS – South Coast John Dory with Chips, Doyle's on the Beach – $44.50
It comes with no fuss and no frills. John Dory fillets, steamy and melt-in-the-mouth delicate inside a crunchy Hahn premium lager batter, on a bed of stubby, slightly salted chips. The dish is gussied up with julienned carrots, chicory endive and red cabbage, and reliable chilli plum sauce. A fat lemon wedge, overflowing pots of tomato and tartare sauce, and unbeatable water views, complete the package.
COCKTAIL – Gold Leaf Martini, Bar de The – $100
This glistening martini is gold-plated, literally. The inside of the glass is coated with three palm-sized sheets of 24-carat gold before Ciroc vodka and Lillet are poured in. "The gold sort of slides into your mouth like melted chocolate," Bar de The co-owner Paul Wilson says. Hot tip: Ask martini maestro Ana Page to make the drink. The Rolling Stone's go-to cocktail maker will be flying to New York later this month to help hydrate guests at Pharrell William's Halloween Party.