I think it’s fairly clear by now there were a number of food highs and lows during my trip to Australia. Restaurants I thought were going to be amazing but did not live up to the mark, and those I had literally no opinion of (or did little research on) that went way beyond the hype. In a city like Sydney, which already has plenty to choose from, perhaps sometimes it’s the luck of the draw and a little bit of trusting your instincts.
In this instance, while staying at the Old Clare Hotel (separate review to follow), I noticed an insert for the nearby (practically next door) Automata and was intrigued by the lunch special (offered Fridays and Saturdays only). Fighting a cold and the weather (which couldn’t make up its mind for our last 3 days), we decided to stay closer to home for a long lunch over the weekend. Timing is everything, and I’m so glad it worked out.
For the five course meal, we were treated to a well conceptualized, excellently delivered menu — with dishes easily moving from one to the next. Adding in a perfect soundtrack for a lazy Saturday and an attentive, knowledgeable staff and this was my clear favorite for dining in Australia. Chef Clayton Wells (who has an insane culinary CV — stints with Quay‘s Peter Gilmore and Noma’s Rene Redzepi impress) has made this my overall ‘go to’ experience in the city.
With small, delicate snacks from the sea to start, the meal moved through the ocean and then to a heavenly pasta and onto a beautifully cooked, wonderfully tender lamb course. While we found something to love about each course, the buckwheat spaghettini was a sublime portion (and is definitely going on my best dishes of the month). I do get the feeling the menu changes regularly, so if for any reason the pasta is not a course, I don’t know, maybe
beg ask for one. Wine pairings here truly sing and at every turn complement the impressive menu.
My notes are very few — minor tweaks to some of the dishes to perhaps bring out a bit more acid or heat (overall, Australian chefs seem quite timid when it comes to spice). For seating, if you’re looking for a bit more privacy, try to request one of the individual tables, rather than the long communal table (however, as someone who isn’t particularly fond of sharing my personal space, I really didn’t find this much of an issue). Additionally, if you’re into ala carte dining, this venue won’t suit your tastes (it’s literally as straightforward as a single menu). I loved the simplicity of choosing 3 or 5 courses, but if it’s not your thing, I get it. In fact, I suggested to the servers that I would’ve loved to have enjoyed an 8-course menu by the kitchen (and they would be happy to comply, should I return).
The cost of the lunch tasting menu was a reasonable AUD$88 (with an additional amount for a very well paired selection of wines). The price point seems entirely in line with the service, food, and expertise (and perhaps even a bit of a bargain).
Would I go back? Friends — make a plan to visit Kensington Street while you’re in Sydney — you won’t be disappointed (unless, of course, you don’t make reservations — given the small number of seats, you will want to book in advance). Besides Automata, there’s plenty to see (and eat). In fact, we enjoyed it so much, we tried two other restaurants in the area. Overall, I guarantee the team at Automata will ensure you have a memorable lunch or dinner.
P.S. Ask for the pronunciation, so you don’t stuff up the name of the restaurant like I did. 😉
Have you been pleasantly surprised by a restaurant recently? Where was it?