Not since Adriano Zumbo has there been such a huge adoration for a Patisserie chef in Sydney, Australia. Reynold Poernomo is young, slim and full of dreams. He has an eye for the aesthetic, the detailed and the captivating - not just visually, but in arousing our template and inherent urge for the forbidden culinary world. Human beings need relief from the mundane, the usual and the routine. Reynold provides this at the Koi Dessert Bar in downtown Sydney in the revamped village hub of Kensington Street in Chippendale.
The menu creates more excitement with names from fairy tales and Nature. The Forbidden Fruit suggests of a recreated apple, looking so red perhaps because of use of the raspberry Sorbet, but when you get digging into this, there are other treasures to discover - chocolate mousse, lime zest and raspberry gel, all sitting on a chocolate looking and tasting soil. There is a definite pleasure to contrast the richer chocolate with the lighter but still sharp raspberry.
Some other dessert offerings are more direct to figure out - Peach Please is dominated by peach jam, but is actually a rosemary flavoured yoghurt, enhanced with a Heillala vanilla mousse and sprinkled with a raspberry powder. This turns out to be rather harmonised both on the palate and to the eyes. Heilala vanilla is a brand found in Australia, often used in bakeries, noted for the vanilla seeds present and useful for light coloured recipes like Cream Brulee, custards and shortbreads.
T. Time suggests very East Asian, with a core of black tea ice cream, garnished by mandarins, chocolate pebbles, a five spice hazelnut sponge and the French Creme De Meaux.
Cocktails, licensed bar offerings and a dimension of a way about town permeate upstairs. It is as if you have climbed up a traditional two storey house in the South Sea islands, but this one is surrounded by glass on most sides. You can look down at a small flowering garden below. The romance you have been caught in, blurry eyed, downstairs can continue in an affair upstairs.
Mousse, sponge, Panacotta, gels, tarts and jelly. Asian reminders like Matcha, sesame, Yuzu, coconut, green apple and lime. Aussie standards like Pistachio, caramel, white chocolate and yoghurt. The compulsory little flower petals sitting on top of things that catch the eye. Shapes that persist - globes, pyramids, towers, rectangles and squares.
Colours do arise from the tropical origins of where Reynold's extended family came from. Purple, yellow, orange and more. They can at times remind me of the Straits Chinese kueh, but this a world away with Euro influences, fusion encouragement, East Asian beauties and the best of new fangled ingredients. Hidden in the delights is a reminder of the Bika Ambon, usually made with tapioca, sugar, coconut milk, yeast and eggs, but also versatile to combine with cheese and chocolate flavours. At the same time, Tonka beans from Central America and the northern parts of South America are also used at the Koi - the power of the beans is in their Coumarin, which is also utilised in the perfumery industry.
The expectations of customers can be subject to whims, sentiment and reality. This can apply especially when when two of the artistes and chefs behind the creations from Koi have been on public television.
Art can be a subjective thing - has Reynold Poernomo concentrated more on presentation, ingredients with taste? Going forward, can he can consider more on texture and theme surprise? To be fair, there have been this teasing play by Koi of how ingredients have been converted into shapes far from their what they usually are, for example fruits rediscovered in sheets. Reynold also does love to surprise and make us smile - several of his dessert creations involve cracking a surface, digging with anticipation inside and then changing our perceptions. This process sweetens our experience and increases our anticipation all at the same time.
Do the regulars prefer more variations as time goes by, while retaining the favourites? This is not easily answered. If you have fallen in love with one creation, you would not want that replaced, but to create more variety, that means more to be made for the display shelf.
Koi does not just offer non-savoury items and has factored in a degustation menu away from the patisserie and desserts. The non-dessert creations, from a chef with a background of Indonesian culinary influence, come from Arnold, brother to Reynold. Mind you, there is another brother, Ronald, in the team as well - and he specialises in cocktails. Three brothers , each with his own unique talent.
Back to Arnold, he was a judge in the Indonesian version of Masterchef. The one savoury dish from Arnold for me is the duck breast - roasted with charcoal; served with duck hearts, butternut pumpkin, Swiss chard leafy veg with red stalks and onions; and flavoured with orange maple cider and red wine.
The other test of culinary skills is in the Hiramasa kingfish, increasingly popular in fine dining these days and Koi garnishes them with salmon roe, a puree of caramelised onions and mushrooms, kelp oil plus smoked Dashi. Dashi is an important stock and base for many things in Japanese cooking - usually made with kelp and preserved and fermented fish like the Skipjack Tuna - and is essential to provide the significant Umami taste.
There are four variations as to how you wish to enjoy the Koi experience. Many phone in orders for catering to collect or take home. Walk-ins usually wait for a seat along the street and line up to obtain what is available on the display shelf. Before dinner time, yet others order from down stairs but get a table in better ambient surroundings upstairs. If you come after 6pm and want to go upstairs, you have to order from the degustation menus - dessert or a combination of savoury and dessert.
There are more variations at the licensed bar upstairs. Serious coffee lovers may make the leap with a Gotta Have Espresso Tini, where Canadian maple syrup, Japanese Mirin, vanilla Vodka and Licor 43 mix with an espresso to provide the best of many worlds. Licor 43 is reputed to have forty-three ingredients, but generally is a light citrusy liqueur from Spain, flavoured with vanilla and a host of aromatic herbs. Mirin has a lower alcohol content compared to its other fellow rice wines
For something refreshing, I love the Bitter Balance, where an innocent shot of Angostura Bitters makes company with Campari, dark rum, burnt orange vanilla syrup and lime juice. The seemingly healthy Banana Milkshake is laden with Baileys and a Caramel Vodka. And who can not help noticing the Kevin Bacon, where the theme of bacon, truly, flows through its ingredients - Atzec chocolate bitters, Choc bacon and Bacon washed Bulleit Rye whiskey, all washed with maple syrup.
On street level, at certain times, it may look like a queue for seeing a pop star. There is not much space to wait in front of the display, yet people patiently do so - Japanese anime dressers, middle class families from the North shore, tourists, matronly types, youngsters. Upstairs, there is a ruffle of activity and amidst the diners, there are single ladies, couples, party goers out on the town and the university people.
Koi Dessert Bar visited is located at 46 Kensington Street, Chippendale NSW. This is the side of Kensington Street away from George Street.
Opening hours are from 10am to 10pm every day except Mondays. Coffee and cakes are available from 10am to 10pm, whilst degustation dinner begins at 6pm.
Contact + 61 2 9212 1230
It has been announced for another outlet opening in Ryde NSW.
My other recommended creations to try at the Koi Dessert bar are:
Nomtella, served as a dome with a Brownie base and topped with salted caramel and Espresso flavoured mousse.
High Tea combination with matching tea blends - I understand this is the next frontier and adventure at Koi's.