The very first customer to walk into 12-Micron sat at the bar, ordered 12 desserts and then ate a plate of Flinders Island lamb with a roll of damper. 12-Micron might be Barangaroo’s most ambitious venue yet. The man behind it, Justin Wise (The Press Club), says it’s two venues in one. An immense, Australian-inspired, kind-of-fine-dining restaurant, and a dessert bar run by Melbourne pastry chef Darren Purchese.
Basing the concept of a restaurant on the Australian landscape is nothing new, but Wise takes it to the extreme. “I really want to get to the stage where I do not import anything. We have the best produce in the world here,” he says.
To hone in on what Australia is food-wise, he has left the flavours uncomplicated. “As you get older as a chef you learn it's not about putting 100 elements on a plate. It's about restraint and balance.” There are some elaborate dishes, such as the native-herb-spiced, paperbark-roasted seasonal vegetables served with goat’s curd. More common, though, are simple dishes such as the classic lobster omelette; the trio of pepper berry-sauce steaks; and the rotisserie-roasted half ducks and chickens served with fat-roasted potatoes and gravy.
Wise, who despite his executive-chef title project managed every aspect of the restaurant, has been meticulous in making sure every item and idea in the restaurant reflects Australia in some way.
Lyndsey Carr’s (Kensington Street Social) wine list is dominated by Australian producers and the cocktail offering even more so. The Smoking Chaplin has Plymouth sloe gin, apricot brandy, lime and rosella jam. And a sour Riberry Lily Tea has Rebellion Bay spiced rum, Orgeat (an almond syrup with flower water), Spicy Chilli Cinnamon Vedrenne, lime and riberry confit (a native berry). Wise is looking to work with more local spirit producers – the only obstacle is it’s hard for them to match demand because of the restaurant’s size.
All the tables, doors, crockery and even napkin rings were made here. “I spent a $100,000 on plates. I really want to support the local industry,” says Wise. “The only thing I couldn’t get done was the cutlery. That was annoying.”
The distinct colour palette is based on a gum leaf. “The concept and design started with the leaf. We looked at the colour when the leaf falls. It goes from pink to grey,” he says. Although the colour scheme here is more abstract in its representation of the Australian landscape, there are similarities with the recent ARIA refurbishment, particularly when you consider the setting. Like Matt Moran’s acclaimed fine diner on the other side of the harbour, 12-Micron is elevated enough to give it enviable views of the sea, harbour and everyone below.
The dessert bar
12-Micron’s 64-seat dessert bar is like a separate venue – there’s a different menu and it has its own feel (all the seats are at the bar, so patrons can see the chefs working). There is also less emphasis on the land and Australia.
Wise recruited Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio’s acclaimed pastry chef, Darren Purchese. “We used to work together at the Press Club. In my mind he's the best pastry chef in the country by a mile,” says Wise.
Purchese is redefining the desserts he’s known for in Melbourne. For the menu he is “taking all of my favourite cakes and signature flavours from Melbourne and breaking down all their components to a plated dessert”, he says. His favourite – the coconut, passionfruit and mint sort-of trifle from Burch & Purchese in Melbourne – is layered in a bowl so every component can be tasted in each mouthful. The salted-caramel cake, which hasn’t changed at Burch & Purchese since it opened, has been transformed into a sphere of chocolate with a liquid-orange sauce at its core, a tonka-bean ice-cream and a side of salted caramel under crumble. “One thing I like about Australia: it's very free. It's a mix of everything. There are no rules.”
Each of the 12 desserts is available individually at the bar or in the restaurant, but if you want to get the full three-, five- or seven-course degustation, that’s offered at the bar only.
Level 2, 100 Barangaroo Avenue (enter via Watermans Quay), Barangaroo
(02) 8322 2075
Mon to Sun 12pm–1am