- The snow egg first went on Quay’s menu 10 years ago.
- It became famous in 2010 when it was the final challenge on Masterchef.
- The chef says it’s time for change as the restaurant closes for a 3-month renovation.
Quay chef Peter Gilmore is killing off his famed snow egg.
If you’re not familiar with the dessert, which gained cult status eight years ago on Masterchef, then imagine Adele announcing she’ll no longer sing “Rolling in the Deep” at concerts, or the National Gallery taking Blue Poles off the walls.
The snow egg — a version of an English fruit fool featuring a toffee-crusted poached meringue with an ice cream centre on a bed of granita and fruit-flavoured cream — counts among a handful of truly iconic Australian restaurant dishes. Think Tetsuya’s confit of Petuna ocean trout, Kylie Kwong’s crispy-skin duck with plum sauce and the lobster roll at Melbourne’s Supernormal Canteen.
The fame of the snow egg began when it was the final challenge Masterchef in 2010, watched by 3.9 million people. It made Adam Liaw an instant celebrity too.
Quay owner John Fink recalls that after the show aired, the phone rang non-stop for five days. The queue outside Circular Quay’s Overseas Passenger Terminal was not for a cruise but Gilmore’s three-hat fine diner, where people asked if they could get the dessert as a takeaway. Since that fateful day, nine in every 10 dessert orders chose it — despite the allure of Gilmore’s equally remarkable eight-layer chocolate cake.
More recently, the figure was 70%, but it’s likely to jump up to 100% after Gilmore announced this week that he’ll retire the snow egg from the menu when Quay closes for a three-month renovation on April 1.
Trying it for the first time in 2008, and naming Quay restaurant of the year, this writer observed: “consider it a must-have. You’ll be changed forever.”
The reaction to the news of its departure has been akin to the death of a much-loved celebrity.
Fink said calls jumped by 150% yesterday and website traffic tripled.
The restaurant is now largely booked out until its close, with a just a handful of larger tables remaining.
Fink said they knew the decision was “going to cause outrage”, but it was time. He decided to have a little bit of fun with the send off, taking out newspaper ads and putting up posters around Sydney’s CBD announcing its demise.
“The snow egg is an iconic dish. It is part of the Australian psyche,” he said.
“It is recognised internationally as a particularly Australian dish. We had to send it off in the right way and have some fun with it.”
As Fink points out, Gilmore has taken several dishes regarded as family faves over the years — from the pork belly and scallops dish that went on to ubiquitous in nearly every Sydney restaurant, to the mud crab congee and the extraordinary “sea pearls” (see below), also from last decade.
In the chef’s case, Fink has no doubt something better will turn up.
“At first I never thought I would get over it – I would get so attached to a dish, and I thought we could never take it off – but then I saw new dish replacing the old, and I felt the same about them,” he said.
“It is not a business decision, so much, as a part of moving forward into exciting new territory.”
Quay is now a 30-year-old restaurant, Gilmore has now been in charge for 16 of those years, as well as now overseeing Bennelong at the Sydney Opera House, directly across the water, and the latest renovation will be the third iteration during his reign.
During his tenure, Quay has featured on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and most recently starred in the Tourism Australia’s Crocodile Dundee sequel ad for the US Superbowl.
He’s had other celebrity fans of his cooking too.
— Jimmy Barnes (@JimmyBarnes) September 7, 2016
Fink says the latest evolution is all about creating new inspiration.
“Over three decades I have seen the restaurant change direction incrementally,” he said.
“This is a new chapter: a new beginning. But a new beginning doesn’t mean throwing out everything that has come before. Quay is like a ship at sea. The boat is the same, but the journey is new and different.”
Change of this magnitude is not unusual in the world’s best restaurants. The dishes now served at Ben Shewry’s Attica, a 50 Best restaurant, are unrecognisable from five years ago.
When former No. 1 El Bulli in Spain was open, chef Ferran Adria would make a new 30-course menu from scratch every season. Noma’s Rene Redzepi has been busy reinventing his former No. 1 as it moves to a new location, declaring his culinary past over.
Peter Gilmore says he’ll “always be very proud about how iconic and loved the snow egg became” and it was a tough decision, but he wants to look forward.
“It will remain part of the history and identity of Quay and myself but to be able to truly move forward I had to say goodbye,” he said.
“We really wanted to emphasis the fact that Quay was changing. It’s going to be a new journey we are taking people on.”
More than 500,000 snow eggs have been served in the decade since it first appeared on the Quay menu, in 20 different flavours, and Gilmore has created one last combination to see out its end days: custard apple and mangosteen fool, with pear granita and custard apple ice cream.
And in a final hurrah to his past talents Gilmore is holding a retrospective dinner at Quay on Wednesday, March 28, featuring the sea pearls, mud crab congee, pork belly and sea scallops, free-range chicken with truffle and young vegetables, and the 2010 snow egg. Bookings are $500, including matching wines. Phone 9251 5600 to book.
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