"Try this," I'm told. It's a tiny, purple garlic flower and it tastes like a more gentle, sweeter version of garlic. "These are amazing, too. They're wild spinach leaves that we serve with the goat dish you'll eat tonight." Welcome to Sixpenny, the only reason to visit Stanmore on a Thursday night.
We're in the backyard, in a garden, where chef and owners James Parry and Daniel Puskas pick herbs, flowers, and leaves to cook for your dinner inside. From Sixpenny's backyard and their farm in Bowral, the pair grow the majority of their produce and have a very particular point of view about food. "We want to do fine dining, because we like to think about things a bit more," says Parry.
What this translates to is a tiny seven-table restaurant in the culinary ghost town of Stanmore with degustation-only dining (Small menu: $115 per person with matching wines $65; Large menu $135 per person with matching wines $75). The chefs also bring you each dish themselves. Yep, Sixpenny ain't your local bistro.
A lovely touch is the parade of snacks that greets you, a fabulously fancy take on some unfashionable but delicious guilty pleasures. Thinly sliced salt and vinegar chips with herbed yoghurt, tiny handmade English muffins with cured pork (yes, like a bacon muffin on crack) and miniature potato scallops. A perfectly light-hearted (and incredibly tasty) note to start the evening. Matched beautifully with a hand crafted South Australian apple cider, I think I am going to like this place.
Since opening almost a year ago, January 2013 is the first time Parry and Puskas have changed the menu, along with the wine list. The restaurant is in a new league as a result. Only one dish remains the same, one that was breathlessly raved about by food-types everywhere: the crab, silky macadamia, and camomile. While it remains on the menu, it has been refined to a more cohesive textural experience with shavings of rich, buttery macadamia nut, perfectly married to sweet crab meat and soft notes of aromatic camomile.
Now let's talk about Sebastian Crowther. He is the new sommelier breathing international life into the previously NSW-only wine list. It's a major step forward for the restaurant. As admirable as the local wine philosophy was, food of this calibre really needs a broader wine list to play with, and now it has one. I'd really recommend getting the wine matches with your degustation; sharing a sommelier like Crowther with only six other tables is something you should take advantage of.
One such match vouching for Sixpenny's enriched understanding of the relationship between food and wine? The Philippe Balivet Gamay Bugey Cerdon, Savoie, France — a floral, aromatic sparkling — served with an incredible shaved strawberry granita with sour cream and fennel seeds (my pick for best new dessert in Sydney). Perfect play of texture, sweetness, and savoury notes. Or the Bloodwood Malbec from Orange, which is brilliantly rich and complex with the slightly sweet gamey goat meat, served with onions, sprouts, and wild spinach.
Technically brilliant at every step, I could gush for another 200 words on the cooking technique, excellent wines, the warm service, the new confidence coming from the kitchen, and the thoughtful philosophy of Sixpenny. But really the word that comes to mind, and the one I want to say a little too loudly into the open kitchen is "congratulations".