'Slick' is the word I'd use to describe the overall experience of dining at Aria - professional and quite polished, if a little impersonal. We arrived for our lunchtime reservation and were shown to a table on the lower level, with a view of the Story Bridge and the river.
The interior is fairly minimalist, all curvy timber surfaces and sculptural vases and lots of glass, looking out to the river and Kangaroo Point cliffs beyond.
We decided on the two-course lunch option for $55 each. A main and dessert for me, and an entree and main for Mr Morag. When Mr Morag's pork belly arrived, an unordered venison terrine dish was put in front of me. It looked delicious, but disappeared as quickly as it arrived when I pointed out the error.
Unfortunately to Mr Morag's horror, the pork belly was also whisked away, despite assurances that this was the correct order! When it came back soon after, he declared it to be the best pork belly he'd had - tender and succulent with a crisp crackly top and accompanied by an apple and iceberg salad that complimented and softened the rich pork. A small piece of grilled cotechino (sausage) topped off the salad.
For main course I had the baked barramundi fillet with baby fennel, saffron potato puree and shellfish sauce. The barramundi was cooked perfectly, moist and juicy, garnished with a crisp shard of fish skin, which was visually appealing, if not that tasty. The tiny fennel bulbs were soft and delicately flavoured. The potato puree was so creamy and thin in texture that it was hardly identifiable as potato, and although saffron-coloured, not as flavoursome as it looked. The burnt-orange coloured shellfish sauce brought the whole thing together nicely.
But I had plate envy big time. Mr Morag ordered the duck pie with caramelised witlof and parsnip. It was a pretty little golden upside-down pie, with perfect buttery pastry and rich, moist strips of duck and greens within. The caramelised witlof was arranged almost like a flower with the leaves fanned out, and there was a little mound of crisp fried shavings of parsnip. I'm not normally a big fan of parsnip, but these little crisps were delicious. The duck dish stole the show for me, and I wasn't quite as interested in my perfectly lovely barramundi after snaffling a few more bites of it.
We also had a side salad of warm spiced pumpkin, fetta, Spanish onion and mint. There were subtle middle-eastern flavours in the large chunks of slightly charred pumpkin, rich fetta and shredded pieces of onion, and it was delicious although the mint was nowhere to be seen or tasted.
We tossed up between the banoffee and the peanut butter and jelly desserts, finally deciding to play it safe with the banoffee. It was very enticing in appearance, a perfect rectangle of banana brulee with caramel, almond praline and toasted almond milk icecream. But I thought it lacked a bit of contrast of flavours between the icecream and the brulee, and would have preferred the brulee to be more banana-ey. This possibly was the intention of the slices of banana on top, but these were a tad under-ripe and so didn't deliver much banana flavour. The thick, slightly salty caramel saved it for me, but overall it was good, but not great.
The service did seem to drop off a tad around dessert time, as the staff busied themselves setting tables and ironing napery for dinner service. Our coffees arrived after we'd finished the dessert and we were very pleasantly surprised by the arrival of complimentary petit fours which were a work of art - gorgeous little cubes of pink, brown and white. We actually enjoyed these more than dessert. There was a rosewater turkish delight with raspberry jam, salty caramel and a macadamia noughat. Each one was a chewy little bight of perfection.
Aria is definitely worth a visit, although unlikely to become a favourite of Miss Morag's.