Aria is famous for both I guess the right and wrong reasons. Right because it is opened by a high profile chef by the name of Matt Moran (think MasterChef) and with a view of the river, wrong because Matt Moran appears to be more interested in spending more time on TV (think MasterChef) and writing cookbooks than running the kitchen.
Fueled by its reputation, it was quite sad we only managed a 2 hour slot on a Saturday evening, which was too short to dig into the degustation menu. If there was a lesson to learn, I have got to book way in advance if I want to dine in a nice place on a weekend night.
Walk into the restaurant and it oozes professionalism, a formal greeting and someone to walk you to your table. The ambience is quite formal but the dark tones gives off a romantic feel but at the same time suitable to also say, discuss a million dollar deal.
I guess a comment by the Wife was that the waitress serving us that night had quite a horrible coloured eye liner making her a bit scary.
Aside from bad make up, we took our time to scan the menu and settled on an entree, main and dessert.
An amuse bouche of pea soup laced with parmesan oil I believe. Meant to drink it as a shot, it was smooth, distinct flavours but not overly intriguing.
Time and time again, I have said charging for bread is a sin. Thankfully this came complimentary with butter too. Got us chewing on something while our entrees arrived.
Another lesson I learnt that night, don't rely on the fact that there is an online menu. Barely two weeks since the meal, there is now a new online menu and guess what, the tuna dish we had that night is no longer available. Based on my fading memory, it was a duo of tuna tartare and a seared tuna loin accompanied with drops of a sweet and tangy sauce (no, it doesn't sound too posh from how i described it). Beautifully cooked and tasted brilliant.
One of the features of this restaurant is the fancy pretty plating. It is a joy to just stare at the plate before you realise you are meant to eat it.
The pork belly I believe is a signature dish but unfortunately it didn't live to its expectations. The crackling wasn't over crunchy and the meat wasn't exactly melt in your mouth. The use of black bean sauce wasn't the best idea even though it was a good idea to bring a savoury element to the dish. The apple puree was brilliant (although I realise that is quite easy to make; apples and sugar).
If I was being critical, I think the waiting time to the mains was slightly too long.
The mains consisted of a duck breast with a duck filling pastry and a rather bitter witlof with parsnip puree. The duck breast could have done with 30 seconds more for the Wife who is not the biggest fan of medium rare cooked meat but I love how crispy the skin was. The pastry brings another element to the dish and makes it a very substantial main.
There was a lamb loin and a bit of a shank on the plate served with a mini capsicum filled with cous cous. Give me well cooked meat and I am a happy man. However the use of a sweet spiced caper paste didn't exactly suited our taste buds. Again a very substantial main.
At this point I would be a very happy man but I succumbed to a suggestion to share a side dish. Like the waitress commented that night, "you can never take the chippies out from the men".
Boy the chips were good.
I am guilty to report that I polished the whole plate. It was just that good along with a generous amount of aioli.
At this point I was probably close to being in a coma but we were greedy and it was after all an anniversary meal, so we ordered desserts too.
The Banofee is a signature which seems to be retained in their latest version of their online menu. Smooth and made sweeter with the ripe banana slices and the ice-cream, this was a very satisfying dessert, especially we have recently reined in our sweet tooth and limit it to fruits on weekday nights.
This screamed chocolate, chocolate and chocolate. However, honeycomb and my teeth don't mix very well. The honeycomb was particularly chewy and just created a mess in my mouth and we had to leave most of the pieces alone. Special mention to their ice-cream, gosh it's good.
While there were many praises over their plating, well cooked meat and creativeness (plus the chips!), for a hatted restaurants, there were some negatives too. Depending on who served you, the description of your dish was vague or detailed. Unfortunately, we were being served by a girl who didn't exactly take her time to describe anything else than what she saw on the plate while the waiter next to us took his time going through how the meat was cooked and etc. Some of the elements on the dish wasn't perfect and perhaps fusion gone wrong like the black bean sauce in the pork belly and the spiced caper paste.
As expected, a 3 course meal with a drink and a coffee is in the region of AUD130-150. Since i am mentioning coffee, the latte here despite costing AUD7.50 (with petit fours) is one of the best i had!
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Verdict: 4 stars out of 5 stars. Some of their ideas may not suit and some would say their ambience be a bit too formal for their liking but you can't deny the fact that their food is good in most parts and if their standard remains, I don't see why they should not stay in the top range of town.