I’d been wanting to try Benchmark Wine Bar for a while now (for the food since I don’t drink alcohol) so a small group of us decided to test out the degustation menu for dinner. The others had it with matched wines ($155) while I stuck with the food only ($105).
I ordered a mixed berry mocktail to start off with. It tasted smoothie-like and stayed very frothy on top.
The others started off with their first wine.
There was lots of cutlery on the table including take away wooden chopsticks in its paper sleeve which stood out and looked a little odd.
Course 1 – raw oysters with lime granita. I wasn’t sure how to eat this as I’ve never had granita with oysters before. Unknowingly, and perhaps foolishly?, I placed a little bit of granita on top of the oyster which provided some sweetness to the raw oyster taste. I found it strange, (think of adding lemonade to an oyster), but my two dining companions liked it. I love raw oysters so I preferred just squeezing some of the lime juice onto it. I poured the remaining granita into my mocktail hehe. I felt a bit uncouth about it but I don’t care, it tasted better as a drink). I thought the $1 oysters at C Dinetasted a lot fresher and were bigger.
Course 2 – Sashimi of tuna, swordfish and salmon. I thought the sashimi was fresh and presented nicely. Loved the wasabi mayonnaise and this was slathered on everything. The batter on the crispy tempura seaweed was perfectly crunchy. Happy with this course.
Course 3 – zucchini flowers. This was one of my favourite dishes of the night. I was pleasantly surprised to find the deep-fried part of the flower stuffed with a nice blend of chevre (goats cheese) and red peppers. This had just been cooked and served warm. Yum! The salad was covered in a sweet balsamic vinegar which I thought was great – something I’d buy. I’d order this dish again.
Course 4 – pork belly and scallops. The scallops were smothered in spinach and pesto and covered in a very strong (vintage?) cheese which overpowered the scallop. I didn’t mind the spinach and pesto but the cheese was too strong for my liking. The pork belly sitting in the middle was okay but there was no crackling so my dining companions didn’t like that. We all agreed that this course should have been 2 separate dishes as the pork belly just didn’t mesh with the scallops.
Course 5 – eye fillet with potato gratin. The tender eye fillet was slightly red in the middle and tasted amazing to me – juicy and soft. The potato gratin is similar to potato bake with another creamy strong-tasting cheese in between. Not bad but I think I would have preferred mash instead. The broccolini were crisp and a wonderful shade of green. I don’t like olives so I left most of the olive tapenade on the side but the others lapped it all up.
Course 6 – Next came a palate cleanser of mixed berry sorbet and a limoncello shot. The sorbet tasted just like my mocktail so I think that must have been mixed into it.
Instead of the limoncello, I got a mock version of solo, lemonade, tonic water and lime cordial. The waiter mentioned it would be a little sweet but I enjoyed it. (Sometimes it’s nice to partake in shots, even if it is a mock version).
Course 7 – we received a plate of cheese, dried grapes, fig and sweet fruit bread. The cheese was quite strong but went really well on top of the sweet bread – a good balance of sweet and savoury. I would have eaten more if I wasn’t full. The dried fruits were nice but I mostly picked at it. Not a huge fan of dried fruits. I would have been happier with a variety of cheeses.
Course 8 – dessert! A summer berry trifle presented in a martini glass. A layer of jelly on the bottom, blueberries, sponge and thick cream mixed with vanilla on top. This was decorated with strawberries and blueberries and dusted with icing sugar. I quite enjoyed this but could only manage to eat half. Far too full at this stage. I would have preferred a bit more sponge and perhaps a layer of custard, but I was satisfied.
Overall, I was satisfied with the food here. It’s not as good as other degustations I’ve had but I did enjoy trying it out. There was good service from our polite young waiter. I appreciated him mixing a mocktail and substituting the limoncello shot with something non-alcoholic (though my friend asked for this for me). All the food came out together so we could all eat at the same time. Water glasses were regularly topped up. My dining companions noticed the waiter brought out mostly Australian wines. Although certain wines are recommended to be matched up with the food, this can be varied according to your taste and our waiter was more than happy to change it up. They also leave the bottles of wine on the table during the course (so you can help yourself to a smidge more which could be dangerous).
Benchmark is first, and foremost, a wine bar. I hear the bar is pretty good and they have a various selection of wines from Europe. My only minor complaint is that they must have turned the air-conditioning on because I had to wear my coat inside. Other than that, it was a nice dining experience in the company of good friends.