For locals and visitors alike, there is less than a handful of dining spots that warrant their names being tossed around so easily and frequently when talking about the region and its best recommendations. EXP has easily joined the crowd of those who go one better, offering something outside than the usual offerings which are now starting to stale. Its a time for change, and what's been the norm for a while in reputable establishments in the city are now fortunately overflowing to the regional hubs such as the Hunter.
EXP is extremely small, surprising my expectations in this respect. The size allows a very personable experience, and every dish is announced after selecting either a long or short version of EXP.'s tasting menu ($85 to $110, extra for matched wines). Its the new age of the modern open kitchen, and work here is methodical and harmonious, evident not only in observation but via executed dishes during the evening. Bread and snacks to start, and to my delight, this is fried cauliflower perched in black garlic. Not only delicious, the upturned char's colour fades out from the ground up. We get to mix our own butter, fresh herbs now crisp from the cracking dose of liquid nitrogen. Its an eventful start and concretes our excitement and expectation which is sated later on.
The curd is creamy and reminiscent of a beautiful young burrata. Basil oil is bright. Olive crisp has strangely spongy yet dense texture although can be snapped broken. The Daikon crisp with salmon is sandwich-like and extremely light. A noble cube of salmon crowns a plate of cucumber carpaccio. The cured duck 'ham' on brioche is one of the most moreish delights during the evening. Brioche light, spongy and ever so slightly sweet with the peanut and slivers of delicate cured duck. You'll never visit the supermarket deli counter again.
The chicken medallion is tender, and topped with a fried mix of capers and puffed wild rice. Spanner Crab custard is another table favourite, not dissimilar from a creamed corn soup - creamy, a little fluffy, and yellow in colour. There is prominent flavour of the sweet crab, and the finely grated macadamia atop works strangely well and helps amplify the savoury notes. Whilst iceberg and brown butter is planned by EXP as a side, I'm fascinated by rich savoury flavours with fresh & crisp textures, taking a top place for me, only wishing to be granted an extra portion
Service flows steadily. After a pink Milly Hill lamb dish with soft wasabi and mushroom mousse, flavours ease and brighten up. The honey and chai palate cleanser refreshes with effortlessness and supports the last few flavour profiles we're yet to experience. Sweet blueberries are softened with a dollop of creme fraiche hidden under a thin ginger-biscuit. Final course is a beautiful medley of honeycomb, sprigs of bronze fennel, slivers of milk skin and wafer-thin meringue-like shards. Somehow we've buried a few hours here at EXP without easily noticing. Its intimate and relaxed vibe is so easy to sink into. Could also be the food.