Friday, March 22, 2013

Palings Kitchen and Bar



“Food you love to eat.” This was the brief given to Palings Kitchen and Bar Head Chef, Christopher Whitehead by Merivale captain Justin Hemmes. The latest evolution in the ivy open-air courtyard, Palings Kitchen and Bar, has seen the birth of an upmarket food-hall style of dining, serving everything from deli sandwiches, roasts and gourmet salads, through to fresh seafood and hearty fare from the grill. 


With its al fresco charm and rustic decor, with walls clad in odd bric-a-brac, and furniture that looks like it’s been rescued from a council clean-up, Palings Kitchen and Bar has taken over the beer garden of ivy’s level 1. Mad Cow (despite receiving a coveted hat from the Sydney Morning Herald) was given the chop late last year and replaced by a kitchen that had more flexible dining options and could cater for a broader range of customers. “We want Palings to cater for everything from lunch through to a three course dinner” says Whitehead.

Laced with corporate types, Palings Kitchen and Bar is the ideal CBD spot to grab a slick lunch or entertain a larger client group somewhere a little bit fun. This venue has its fair share of whimsy and shabby-chic appeal, with mis-matched cutlery in metal buckets adorning its tables and enamel plates reminiscent of camping trips of yore. The deli menu accounts for most of the lunchtime fare with its array of rolls, sandwiches and salads.  A twist on an old favourite, the Cheese toastie, is increasingly popular with the lunch crowd; oozing Pyengana cheddar, nutty and bold, with leek, chicory for a dose of pep, and walnut on sourdough. The roasted cauliflower salad with pomegranate, fennel and lime is also a hit, marrying the heft and clout of creamy-coloured florets with zest and zing.

At night time, the buzz of the beer-garden is injected with steroids and becomes a roar. If you are after a relaxed atmosphere to unwind over a steak and beer, do not stop here. There is a DJ mixing tunes and over that there are hundreds of patrons trying to be heard. This makes polite conversation nearly impossible and one must converse in a semi-yell. But there certainly is atmosphere, so if you’re inclined to a party-like-it’s-the-weekend vibe on a Wednesday, and want a decent meal and bevy, by all means, pull up a chair. 

Palings Kitchen and Bar takes reservations, which some of you may give a sigh of relief over, frustrated by the ever-increasing number of new Sydney restaurants not inclined to take reservations. There is plenty of space too, and no doubt even a rather large unannounced party should be able to find a place to perch somewhere in the garden. With a venue of this size, the waiters do their fair share of hoofing it round the floor, so sometimes it is hard to grab their attention, especially when fighting the noise too. Be prepared to engage in a bit of semaphore for prompt service. Styled to within an inch of their lives, the wait staff do their best to maintain a pleasant demeanor in the face of the thronging crowds and mayhem that abound.

If you’re the kind of diner who enjoys a plate of goodies to share before your main meal, the snack menu proffers an array of choice. The mushroom and taleggio arancini with roasted garlic aioli ($12) are perfect golden balls of crunch, their soft centres woody and creamy on the palate. Southern fried chicken wings with ranch dressing  ($12) aren’t as “finger lickin’ good” as imagined and fade into oblivion after the first couple of bites. There are standard bar snack offerings of local mixed olives and flat bread ($10) and a cured meat plate ($19) to satisfy the grazers as they linger over a bottle of wine.


For something more substantial yet still light, the grilled fish of the day with creamy potato, cucumber and sorrel ($25) is a safe choice. The crisp-skinned salmon is a little over-cooked, as salmon is always at its best when that lovely jewel-coloured translucence is still present in the middle, but nonetheless it is still moist and the fattiness of the fish works well with the freshness of the cucumber and sorrel. 


When appetites are ample, the grill menu has something to satiate. Spiced lamb chop on cool cucumber, mint, pea and yogurt salad ($27) is a gorgeous picture of blush-toned flesh. It’s juicy and the lambiness is offset well by the Indian-inspired accompaniments. No self-respecting beer garden restaurant is complete without steaks, and there is even a relic of the old Mad Cow menu with Whitehead keeping the David Blackmore skirt steak (wagyu, marble score 9+) with stuffed peppers and green sauce ($38.50) on the menu. “It’s not known as a prime cut of meat, but it just has such incredible flavour” says Whitehead of the skirt steak. A firm favourite for him, he just had to keep it on the menu, especially when relating it to the conceptual vision of “food you love to eat”. 


The Cape Grim rib eye on the bone ($34.50) is a manly serve of meat, weighing in at 400g. It is tender and succulent, however, it lacks seasoning. This is easily rectified with a shake or two of the salt sitting on the table, but isn’t it always better when food arrives perfectly seasoned and doesn’t need additional input from the diner? This lack of seasoning extends to the Rangers Valley rump steak ($28) as well. Perhaps they are trying to cater for those conscious of salt-intake in their diet, but I suspect these salt-conscious diners would not be ordering the old steak and fries combo in the first place. Lack of seasoning aside, the meat on the menu is of obvious quality and this notion of quality is imperative to the Whitehead’s philosophy -  “We’re concerned about quality and seasonality. We source whatever produce is freshest and we try to mainly source everything from the Sydney Food Bowl.” 

A daily roast menu ($25) is also popular with diners, earmarking which night they eat by what is being served. With a nod to classic American cuisine (trending hard at present) the beef ribs make Thursday nights increasingly popular. Or if you are more of a traditionalist, why not swing by on a Friday night, for roast pork with apple sauce? Kudos to that apple sauce, thick and sweet and the antithesis of anything found in a jar. 

Desserts are the creations of Lorraine Godsmark (ex Patissier of Yellow Bistro and Rockpool) who negotiated a space of her own (Lorraine’s Patisserie) one level down, where customers can watch and salivate as she and her team bake some of Sydney’s iconic sweets. The New York cheesecake ($9.50) is a joy of tangy, textured fluff and caramel biscuit crumbs. Strawberry marscapone ($12) will also delight; a perfect brick of coconut and strawberry goodness.

The wine list is rather extensive and covers a broad range of budgets and tastes. There are sixteen wines by the glass starting from $7. It’s refreshing to see bottles of house bubbles, white and red for $29. The Jasper by Merivale is a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc which is crisp and light, a fine choice for balmy summer evenings. Less common, but more fashionable varietals, like Malbec, get a decent airing and for $35, it’s hard to go past a bottle of Rio Mendoza Malbec from Argentina. Its robust tannins make it ideal to partner with something meaty from the grill. 

Having a talent for creating venues with loads of personality and pizzaz, Justin Hemmes doesn’t leave any sense underwhelmed. Palings Kitchen and Bar is an inner-city hub of bustle; it is visually arresting, aurally assaulting and orally pleasing.

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