Rating out of 5: * * * 1/2
Address: 46 Parnell Road
Phone: 377 2170
Opening hours: Lunch and dinner, Monday to Saturday; bar menu from noon to 10pm.
The opening of a new restaurant always fills me with a combination of anticipation and unease. I relish a fresh experience but I wonder whether I should give it some time to iron out the creases.
Restaurateurs are fond of the "we weren't ready" defence when things go wrong. I once gave a thoroughly deserved bollocking to a new place in town and the proprietor telephoned in high dudgeon. I should not have been so hard on a place that had been open only a week, he said.
I forbore to mention that his flyers advertised his years of experience. I simply suggested that if he wanted reviewers (and all other diners, presumably) to be indulgent for the first few weeks while he found his feet, perhaps he could halve his prices for the duration. To judge from his reaction, this idea did not much appeal to him.
At Red Brick Kitchen & Bar, they plainly know what they're about. It's the new enterprise of Mike and Carla Swan, who established the well-regarded daytime-only Citron Vert further up Parnell Rd.
It's an old coffee warehouse, the red-brick building, and its age means it has heritage protection, so the fitout is plain - polished wood floors, bare brick walls - which lends it an understated chic. The room neatly divides into bar and dining area.
The latter is presumably intended to be more tranquil, although the enthusiastic bellowing of the kitchen staff ("Yes, chef!"; "Two minutes, chef!") floating out of the servery hatch is perhaps more noticeable than strictly necessary. It's nice to have aural confirmation that they run a tight ship in there but it's a bit like a G-rated version of one of those kitchen reality shows.
The bar menu of "small plates" at $12 (duck wontons; tuna nicoise) will satisfy smaller appetites but the Professor and I didn't have one of those. I enjoyed seared scallops inventively teamed with a fine potato salad and she had her sights set on the house version of the insalata caprese (mozzarella di bufala, tomato, basil), of which she is inordinately fond.
She thought the cheese "unusual" but she was wrong. Lacking the creaminess of the classic bufala, it was dry and distinctly rubbery, more like the fior di latte (which it was not) than the classic bufala. To put it as delicately as I can, the sweet bloom of youth had faded from its cheeks. Our inquiries as to its provenance - the waitress after much investigation announced that it was Italian, which was not a lot of help - didn't seem to excite as much staff curiosity as perhaps it should have, so we moved on.
Her crispy-skin snapper was perfect and my rib eye, though two shades better done than requested, came topped with a single delicious raviolo stuffed with juicy shredded oxtail, and portobello mushrooms and creamed spinach on the side. It was a fine version of a bistro classic and we barely had room to share a single dessert - a generous wedge of coconut-and-lemon tart.
An extensive and intelligent wine list offers oodles of choice in 150ml and 250ml glasses, as well as 450ml carafes, and the service is relaxed and restrained. Red Brick will doubtless become a Parnell fixture and give established players some healthy competition.