Sepia. The word itself has a romantic glow – high-contrast, red-brown photography that imparts a beautiful, surrealist cast on reality.
So it is at Sepia restaurant, where chef Martin Benn assembles Japanese ingredients into edible sculptures of surreal, abstract beauty, with contrast front of mind.
Take the shiso herb leaf, which the kitchen tempura batters then decorates with very wabi-sabi, alternating-sized dobs of smoked-prawn mayo. The leaf’s crunch is matched by the mayo’s plush, generous mouthfeel, while its spicy, rocket-like intensity cuts through the smoke of the prawn.
This could be the first of five to nine kaiseki-style courses, ranging from roasted duck topped with sheep’s yoghurt cream and a delicate flower of shaved, fermented Pink Lady apple, to a block of striped egg-white tofu and smoked-eggplant dashi gel, a dead ringer for liquorice allsorts.
Like the ingredients themselves, the precision and devotion to craft at Sepia is more than just the “Japanese-inspired” the restaurant calls itself. But there’s also a good dose of Noma-like attention to seasonality and creativity here, and smaller hints of molecular gastronomy and classic haute cuisine.
Benn’s partner Vicki Wild maintains the same attention to detail on the reserved, dark-carpeted floor. Every need is anticipated and catered for, with help from sommelier Rodney Setter, who maintains a staggering list of sakes, sherries and New and Old World wines, including several selections from Japan.