When I mentioned the name of the restaurant we would be visiting while in Sydney, Gastro Park, some people gasped at it’s name. The word “gastro” doesn’t always conjur up the most pleasant of images and emotions on people’s brains, but for me it was different. When I heard the name Gastro Park, I immediately thought of the new and very science heavy way at approaching cooking – molecular gastronomy. A high degree of scientific knowledge, with a healthy dose of creativity, and you end up with some pretty unexpected creations. Gnocchi that explode in your mouth, ice shavings that taste like fresh tomatoes – every bite is a surprise and a delight. But not everything is science and wizardry, the base of all the dishes seems to be a reliance and understanding that good quality, fresh, and simple ingredients are key.
Gastro Park is the latest venture from acclaimed chef Grant King, who imagined and later opened Gastro Park after many years as the head chef at the three chef hat rated restaurant Pier. Since opening Gastro Park in April 2011, Grant King has already achieved two chef hats for Gastro Park, and it’s easy to see how.
When we first we dropped off outside the restaurant, we needed to do a double take to actually find it. Tucked away on one of the side streets off the raucous King’s Cross, the restaurants only signage was the small Gastro Park logo near the door. Upon entering we immediately felt the change as we left the already hectic street of the Cross and entered the moodily lit, sparsely decorated, modernist dining room. We were sat near the large windows, where we could watch the craziness of the Cross progress over time, through what seemed like a looking glass from our comfortable surroundings.
The degustation menu was presented to us on a printed sheet of paper. There is no use investing in fancy menus at Gastro Park, as Grant King likes to have the freedom to change the menu daily if necessary, which allows him to indulge in his sense of creativity, make sure he can source the freshest of the fresh produce, and keep diners guessing.
The seven course degustation menu offered a good overview of the offerings of Gastro Park. We started with some of the inspired bar snacks. The cheese balls with garlic flowers actually almost brought tears to my eyes, and like every dish on the menu, was perfectly paired with a hand picked wine by the restaurant’s sommelier Brendan February.
The selection ranged from the scientifically baffling – the liquid butternut gnocchi that actually exploded in your mouth, to the beautifully simple like the crispy scaled snapper whose crispy scales were actually made out of, well, scales.
But let’s get back to the Gnocchi – undoubtedly my highlight from the seven course menu. One of our servers attempted to explain to me the process – apparently it involves immersing the “gnocchi” in an algae bath to create the skin that encases the liquid butternut pumpkin, which is then softened by the broth it is served in. The result – balls of liquid butternut pumpkin soup that explode in your mouth.
The servers didn’t just bring out each course, and attempt to explain the quirky process that went in to creating it – they created a warm atmosphere which softened the modernist decor of the restaurant. Restaurant manager Matijn de Boer kept us entertained through out the night with stories of what can be observed in King’s Cross from the restaurant windows, and sommelier Brendan February wowed us with his sheer amount of knowledge and passion for the wines being served.
What Gastro Park truly offers is a full sensory experience. The sight, smell, and presentation of each of the dishes compliment the flavours. The wines are of the foremost quality, the staff make you feel like you are dining in a friends home, without being overbearing, and the scenes from the street inside which contrast so interestingly with the atmosphere within that you feel like you are viewing the world beyond through a portal.
So even if you are not impressed by the entertaining views, the charming staff, and the fresh modernist stylings haven’t tempted you – the food certainly will. Whether you want to be wowed by the scientific techniques behind creations like the exploding gnocchi, or the simple pleasures of well sourced ingredients like the sugar cured king salmon (see featured image), Gastro Park and Grant King will not fail to impress. Even the more simple of the bar snacks are worth raving about (I’m still day dreaming about those cheese balls). You don’t need a special occasion to splurge on the degustation menu either, with mains starting at $39, there is no excuse not to indulge your palate in a little playtime at the Gastro Park.