I was quiet throughout my first dinner at Senses. When someone in our group of foodies noticed my silence, I explained that I was "appreciating". The least I could do for Chef Claudio Aprile's, highly creative, personal cuisine, was to give it my undivided attention. We see people eating dinner alone, and often reading a book at the same time. When they realize their plate is empty, they pay the bill and leave. That's like fuelling up at the gas bar.
But I'll bet you will never see anyone re
ading while eating at Senses. Could you concentrate on the latest Harlequin romance when you're presented with a gold and cream rice paper lined dish on which is set a small glass of green tea capped by a crisp savoury pastry hat with tuna tartare that's been marinated in champagne and dotted with black and golden caviar? I think not.
Like other artists, Aprile has gone through many stages and styles: Latin at Xango, Japanese at Nobu, simply fabulous at Charlie Trotters, and has returned to the new Senses after a summer hiatus with visions of a delectable, sensual cuisine dancing in his head. He offers a $99. per person tasting menu, adding $45. for wine pairing, and serves dinner only, Wednesday through Sunday.
Since I'm a person who likes to play with my own chips rather than relinquishing that step of the dining game, I order a la carte. But first, I need some answers from our server. What are Uni foam, spiced h2o, sudachi lime, tobiko, garroxta cheese and half a dozen other ingredients.
A printed glossary might be insulting-what would you expect the general public to be unfamiliar with? To their credit, the maitre d and servers are totally in the know and help guide us through the gastronomic maze to home base: a balanced, eloquent dinner.
Aprile sears fois gras on a fine mesh grill, creating a pretty cross hatch design and serves it with a quince tarte tatin, assorted sweet /tart berries and caramelized orange peel. His signature accessory is a small hot stone, on which smolder aromatic spices. Call it gourmet aromatherapy.
A salad of fresh, halved, marinated figs, saffron-tinged, crisp pearl onions, raspberries, rocket lettuce, radish, and greens wrapped in a medium hot pequilo pepper are anointed with very special olive oil from Kangaroo Island and white balsamico. Each ingredient is strong enough to stand alone-but as a salad-it's a dream. Our server lifts the lid from a hot earthenware dish and an oceanic, ginger scented steam rises from a pot of glazed scallops, Asian vegetables, tender and sweet prawns and exotic tiny mushrooms. The flavors are enigmatic and sensual, every dish a verse of culinary poetry. Take a simple menu item like roast lamb salad. Each slice of lamb has a red center which spreads out to a crisp brown crust. As accessories on the plate, cashews, a dash of smoked paprika oil, intensely orange kumquat preserves, some spicy green leaves and baked green tea noodles. Does the chef lie awake at night imaging colors and textures, conjuring up tastes of sweet, sour, salt and spice?
Getting back to basics after esoteric beginnings is easily done. Braised black beef ribs, slow cooked to melting in a sauce of exquisite, meaty, flavour nuances with pearl onions, caramelized wild leeks, sweet confit of carrots and black truffle gnocchi is the rich gourmet rendition of meat and potatoes.
I am having a problem with my cutlery! The bowl is so large that knives and forks just fall right in. While chopsticks would lie on a fancy chopstick rest between bites, no such tradition exists in the Western world. I can't bear to place a sauce coated fork on this beautiful Frette tablecloth, so the cutlery stays clutched in my hands.
Aprile's flavour matching are flawless, and in the half dozen times I've dined here, I've yet to taste discord or see an unbalanced food presentation. This is the result of thorough and careful research and testing. The glamour is in the dishes being served-the 36-seat restaurant itself is done in subdued shades of gray and beige velvets and soft fabrics that absorb sound. A private dining room for 14 is popular, and the plush bar and lounge has become an oasis in the area.
Desserts are extreme in their delicacy and unique design. Apple crumble, for example is warm and comes in a fine pastry tart shell with whimsical meringue mushrooms at each end, along with sweet punctuation of fruits and sauces. Cardamom ice cream adds an exotic note. This is definitely not Mom's apple crumble.
But if I were a guest in the hotel, I'd order the chocolate truffles and cookies and a glass of warm spiced chocolate milk, then go right up to sleep. It may not be everyone's idea of a nightcap, but after an exiting dinner of stimulating flavours that touch all five senses, I can't think of anything finer.