Restaurant Review: For our big anniversary dinner last night, the Snook and I headed out to Neil Perry’s latest venture, XO. It’s at the site of the old MG Garage in Surry Hills. We were really looking forward to it as our previous Perry experience (Rockpool in 2002) was just magnificent. Also, my co-worker Leanne’s boyfriend Brendan is an apprentice chef there and we heard great things about it from them. Read on for the full review.I never saw the site when it was the MG Garage, but the new fitout is really lovely: all dark woods with cozy pools of light and subtle Asian design flourishes. We were excited to see that the Banquet Menu was available (since we’d thought it was only for larger groups), so we both had that. It’s really the little touches that make a fancy dinner, you know? Like ordering a G&T and being asked which of three gins you prefer. And asking the waiter for a wine recommendation and ending up having a whole conversation about up and coming Australian vineyards. (We went with Nick’s recommendation, a Lake George Chardonnay, which wasn’t something that we’d have picked out ourselve. It was really excellent.) Then the food started coming. The pork wontons were very yummy in a moreish kind of way. The chili squid was surprisingly tasty; I usually find it rubbery and fishy. But this was firm and thick and spicy, and we had fun trying it with the three different Asian sauces they’d supplied. I’d been slightly dreading the trout salad, of course – I have fish issues – but it ended up being one of my favorites. The combination of the meaty fish with the coriander and pawpaw was wonderful. Of the mains, the tea-smoked duck was unusual but the smokiness was a little strong for my taste. I was apprehensive about the steamed fish fillet but it was fine; actually the Snook liked it less than me as he’s not such a fan of freshwater fish. (“It tastes kinda like mud.”) My favorites were the pork belly and the Eight Treasure Chicken. Of course, we were getting pretty stuffed by this point. We’d also polished off the whole bottle of Chardy and an additional glass of Pinot, each. We were really looking forward to that salty peanut toffee ice cream on the dessert menu, though. Imagine our surprise when the waiter said that Brendan was instead preparing a whole dessert tasting plate for us! So instead of one dessert, we had four. (I’m so going to Weight Watchers on Monday.) We had the peanut ice cream along with chocolate cake, panna cotta, and a fig and walnut ice cream. It was just a completely fabulous evening. I wouldn’t rank it equal with Rockpool; the food wasn’t quite orgasmic enough. But it’s definitely up there. I don’t know why Perry seems to get things right where other restaurants so often fail. His formula seems simple: good food, beautiful dining room, excellent service. I just can’t stress enough how much a difference the service makes. We left Nick the biggest tip we’ve ever left in Australia and still debated afterwards whether he was worth more. We highly recommend XO if you’re in the mood to be treated like royalty.

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