Automata, plural of automaton:
Machines that operate on their own without the need for human control, or people who act like a machine, without thinking or feeling.
When a restaurant calls itself Automata, I think of a restaurant that runs with machine-like precision and accuracy, where the staff are cool, calm and collected, and the kitchen executes every dish perfectly, every time.
Automata, a new-ish restaurant at the Old Clare Hotel, comes pretty close. As soon as we entered the restaurant, we got the vibe of a smooth running machine, with the industrial polished concrete and raw wood decor. We were promptly seated on a large shared table on the lower level, which had a clear view of the open kitchen. With Clayton Wells at the helm (ex-Momofuku Seiobo), all the chefs were working quickly and quietly – like a well-oiled machine – to push out food to hungry diners.
The five course set menu ($88) changes frequently – in fact, 3 out of 5 dishes have already changed since we dined there in late February. We also opted for the beverage pairing ($55), with each beverage being explained to us by the knowledgeable sommelier upon pouring. The pairing included an “orange” wine (skin contact white wine) and a cocktail of sake and yuzushu.
We started with some snacks – a baby gem lettuce with a striking violet mustard and chives, and wagyu beef with brown rice miso and enoki mushrooms. The gem lettuce was crunchy and tangy, readying the palate for more. The wagyu beef was super juicy, with slightly crunchy enoki mushrooms and a burst of umami flavour from the miso. The moment when I popped the wagyu into my mouth, I knew this was going to be an amazing meal.
After the snacks, we were given a serving of bread and butter. While the house made wholemeal bread rolls were super cute and fluffy, the real star was the butter with chicken jus and anchovy. Seriously, just slather on as much of this stuff as you can because it’s mind-blowing. Later on in the meal, we were offered more bread and of course we said yes, just to eat more of that butter!
The first course was a stretchy stracciatella cheese with tomato, konbu and shellfish oil. We could see the chefs taking individual portions of stracciatella out of the fridge, mixing the curds rapidly before tipping it onto the heavy ceramic dishes along with the cream. This made it really stretchy, and the creaminess served as a great base for flavours of the dehydrated and fresh tomatoes to shine, along with the konbu and shellfish oil.
Our second course was a perfect circle of raw kingfish tartare mixed with yuzu kosho and créme fraîche. On top of the disc of kingfish were thin slices of sour blood plum, cut into the same sized circle as the tartare, and dotted with capers. The kingfish itself was quite mild in flavour, so the punchy sourness of the blood plum was able to come through strongly.
Our first hot course of the night was a hapuka fish served with a purple fermented cabbage, bonito butter, cured John Dory roe emulsion and a sprinkling of wakame powder. The hapuka was steamed until just-cooked, staying perfectly soft and juicy. The fish itself was quite subtle, with the bonito butter and roe emulsion provided most of the flavour, with the chopped cabbage adding a slightly crunchy texture.
The main meat course was a pork neck with green olive puree, parsley and walnut miso. The pork neck had been slow roasted for 5 hours and was still pleasingly pink in the centre. The meat itself was a bit tough though, and even though there was an olive puree and walnut miso as a sauce, I felt that it was a bit dry. I did love the walnut miso which was nutty and flavoursome when eaten with the pork.
Our final course was a dessert of refreshing yoghurt sorbet, yuzu, black grapes and shiso. Sir D was super excited about the inclusion of yuzu in the dessert as it’s one of his favourite citrus fruits. The plump and juicy black grapes had actually been marinated in yuzu and scattered on top of a yoghurt sorbet and Italian meringue. Shiso leaves dotted the surface of the dessert along with a green kelp oil, adding a herbaceous flavour.
Throughout the meal, both the chefs and waitstaff truly did operate like automata to consistently deliver excellent food, and service that was top notch. Watching the open kitchen, you could see the level of detail and precision that went into perfecting each dish. The waitstaff weren’t quite machine-like (they were super friendly and nice!) but were detail-oriented and attentive, almost pre-empting what you needed from them. While everything was delicious, some of the dishes were really, really good, so I would definitely go back again – even if it’s for that bread and butter!
5 Kensington St
Chippendale NSW 2008
Ph: +61 2 8277 8555
Lunch: Friday to Sunday, from 12pm
Dinner: Wednesday to Saturday, from 6pm