Forty One

Well, on Saturday night we had our dinner at Forty One for my Dad’s 60th Birthday – opting for the degustation menu with matched wines. My overall impression: while it is an absolutely fantastic restaurant, it didn’t 100% do it for me.

Some context here: I went to Forty One with my family five years ago for a special occasion and I would rate that visit as the most spectacular dining experience I’ve ever had. The food, view, surroundings, service – they were all basically perfect. However, that was one of my very first ultra-high dining experience and since then I’ve been to some other exceptional places, like Galileo at the Observatory Hotel, Shoya in Melbourne, Restaurant Balzac, Aubergine, Atlantic, etc etc. In fact, quite high dining doesn’t seem to be a rarity for me anymore (not that I do it every week, but still much more frequently than I ever used to). In fact, the degustation menu at Forty One was the third degustation I’ve had this year, and there might be another one coming in a few weeks time. So, I’m conscious that I might be setting too high expectations for Forty One and that maybe I’ve been looking at my previous experience there through rose-coloured glasses. In fact, I can hardly remember the food from last time, except that it was very good.

On Saturday night we started with a bottle of Charles Heidsieck Mis En Cave (brut) – very tasty, one of the nicest champagnes I’ve ever had and better than the Veuve Cliquot we had before leaving home (did I mention that we really pulled out all the stops on Saturday night?! I can hardly believe I’m rating which French champagne is better than another! When did I become such a yuppy?!) However, I was a little disappointed because the first course arrived while we all still on our first glass of champagne from the bottle – and the accompanying matched wine was a champagne. Interestingly, the glasses came out with a little vodka in them, and they then poured the champagne over that – quite an interesting sensation and taste – but it really made it match the food quite well, which was a venison carpaccio. This was one of the highlights of the night.

Skip ahead with me a couple of courses to the john dory sautéed with oxtail, shallots, chanterelles & icicle radishes: this was another of the choice dishes, in particular (funnily enough) for the oxtail. The oxtail was presented much like a loosely formed sausage, but it had the most delicious flavour, particularly when combined with the john dory. The pinot noir they served with this course also matched particularly well. The medallion of white veal, potato gnocchi & WA yabbies was also quite exceptional – the yabbies were so fresh and tasted so wonderful. For the cheese course, I had a washed rind cheese with matched wine, which was excellent. I also tasted Tegan’s cheese (although I can’t remember what it was), but I only had one bite before giving it back.

The desserts were a bit uninspiring though – we had a dessert platter to share amongst the five of us (a larger version of their dessert platter for two) – a few things on here were good, the coffee and caramel parfait was exceptional, and the rest of it was just ok.

So, overall:

I feel that going to a restaurant like this and spending that much money you’re expecting two things: food beyond compare and service beyond compare. I didn’t feel we really got either on this visit.

The food was great, but it didn’t rate as one of my best dining experiences ever – there was very little in the meal that I thought was absolutely exceptional. Several other restaurants I’ve visited even in the last year have had better food, and at a much lower price. The last time we were there I remember being presented with several little ‘palate cleansers’ between courses, “compliments of the chef” as they said. Just as I was lamenting the absence of these on this visit one was brought out to us. Actually, these were probably amongst the tastiest things we had all night: I can’t remember what the first one was, but the second was an artichoke and truffle soup, presented in an espresso cup. We all agreed that this was so good, that the waitress brought us another one before the next course came.

Also, the service was good but not a patch on what it was five years ago – I guess that’s largely a matter of economics, that they are spending less money on staff and therefore have a lower ration of staff to guests, which would explain why the prices basically haven’t changed for five years. I figure that also explains why Forty One won best restaurant in Sydney and best restaurant in NSW awards back in 2001, but is now only a one chef’s hat restaurant in the SMH good food guide. Some examples: it was a lot quieter last time – there were less tables and more space between tables. Also, I’m certain the tables were a little larger last time. The staff displayed a much greater level of professional friendliness last time, by which I mean that the little bits of conversation while we were being seated or served at various points was appropriately friendly and complimentary (we still remember one waitress complimenting my Mum on her outfit last time and saying that she looked like a butterfly) – basically, I felt they had a higher calibre of waiter last time round. The service last time was also absolutely perfect – when they served meals or cleared meals, there would be one waiter per person on the table – they had a maître d’ or floor manager who oversaw the restaurant and coordinated the movements of all the waiting staff. This was great as it meant that when any course was served, everybody would receive their meal at exactly the same moment, while the maître d’ would be standing there to explain what had been served. And when meals were cleared, it was done so quickly that it hardly interrupted your conversation and concentration. This was missing on Saturday night’s visit and it was this absence, more than anything else, that disappointed me.

Of course, one major difference between Forty One and other similarly priced restaurants is the view, which is simply amazing – looking out over the harbour and towards the ocean. And our table was at a window, so that was quite impressive. Even the bathrooms have an amazing view – so I’m really glad that hasn’t changed.

On the whole, I was really glad to go there for a high quality, amazing family outing on a very special occasion, but I probably wouldn’t choose it again when I’m looking for somewhere to go on a special occasion for just Tegan and I. What we particularly enjoy is spectacular food, and Forty One didn’t quite have that; if the service had been what I’d remembered, that would have more than made up for it, but the service was merely really good, instead of its former superlative status. Next time we’re after a special restaurant for a big occasion, I think I’ll attempt to go to one of the other Sydney restaurants that is famed for its chef more than its location, e.g. Tetsuya’s or Rockpool or Claude’s or est.

Curious fact: funnily enough, Forty One is actually on the forty-second floor of the Chifley Tower.

I scanned in the copy of the menu that they gave us: Front and Back.



  1. Larakate 20 November, 2006

    I want to go to Claude’s sometime.

    I still enjoyed Saturday night, though. And yes, you are a yuppie with regard to champagne! I think the one we had at the restaurant could have been the best I’ve ever had… but it ought to be, for $155!!

  2. Tim 20 November, 2006

    I did enjoy Saturday night – it’s a shame if I didn’t give that impression above, but I really did enjoy the night overall. I just thought that 41 wasn’t as good as the last time we were there.

  3. Larakate 21 November, 2006

    How often is anything as good the second time around?

  4. Tim 21 November, 2006

    Plenty of things are good on multiple occasions. Sometimes you appreciate different things than the first time (e.g. watching Fight Club), sometimes they are just good and enjoyable everytime (e.g. kisses), and sometimes they’re just not as good, e.g. Forty One.

    Anyway, my assessment is based on observable measures, particularly the service; it wasn’t about the quality of the food or how much fun we had.

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