139 Murray St, Pyrmont, Sydney
We arrived ... after taking in the bright lights of Vivid Sydney. We'd meandered past neon ballerinas, rainbow-bright installations and sticky-fingered kids eating glowing candy floss and were booked in for a late dinner - very late, given we were running two hours ahead on New Zealand time. The Euro-style wine bar was dimly lit and a welcome contrast to the waterfront hype.
We chose here because ... we were staying at the hotel attached: The Ovolo 1888. Like many of the buildings in this industrial-slum-turned-affluent area, the hotel and restaurant was once an old wool store. Original raw timber, brick and sandstone features remain. As has the name of a wool worker, one Percy Ewart, carved into a sandstone block.
Our first impression was ... that the old adage, don't eat in your hotel's restaurant, wasn't going to apply here. We were greeted by a sparkly waitress who, when we asked if we were in the right place for dining, replied with arms outstretched: "You're here! Welcome!"
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The decor in the dining space is lux with a fun twist. Nods to art deco New York in the curved bar and wrought iron arches give way to cool, cosy corners tucked under warm gargantuan lamps. Wegner elbow chairs are slipped under little marble tables for two while oversized couches and French trestles for big groups frame the dining area.
We started with ... Sydney rock oysters. Notably teeny compared to the Pacific globs of home, these were mild but sufficiently dressed with Tabasco and finger lime. And they were washed down with a pink Salted Paloma: tequila, mezcal and grapefruit and a Kingston: cognac, rum, vermouth and chocolate bitters. A fair descriptor of the two: very boozy and very delicious.
The menu ... much like the decor, is classy but approachable. It's a snappy little collection of antipasti, just three pasta, two mains, warm green sides and a short list of cheeses and desserts.
The highlight was ... threefold: First, the black Angus battutta was paired with the perfect acidic hit of vinegar potato crisps and caper aioli. Then the barramundi with charred pencil leeks and salmoriglio made for a dish with an impressive play on texture. Marrying the butter-soft fish with crisp sweet greens was perfection. And the fresh pappardelle with braised lamb ragout and salted ricotta was a punchy, meaty indulgence.
Dessert ... would have been regrettable not to squeeze in. We opted for the sorbet, white peach and vanilla were on the menu and made for the perfect little palate cleanser.
The bill ... Came to A$156 for two of us, well worth it for some pretty exceptional dishes. A$42 for a couple of cocktails does feel a bit steep, but seems standard for Sydney.