SMH, Good Food

Bondi has taken to Drake like a duck to water. Even on a dull winter’s night, the place is a party or, at least, a dinner party. What was Robert Marchetti’s ambitious La Macelleria Italian butcher’s shop is now a neighbourhood eatery, no doubt a better business model to pitch at people who would rather eat out than cook at home.

Ironically, eating here is almost like eating in someone’s home. Doesn’t everyone buy in a bit of charcuterie to start, slice some Sonoma sourdough, then slow-roast a shoulder of lamb and some pumpkin? The first few weeks of business were without an alcohol licence, so you could even turn up clutching a bottle.

Drake is the first restaurant of 36-year-old chef Ian Oakes, formerly of the much-loved Grand National in Paddington and some good high-end gaffs in London. Design team Acme & Co has done a peachy job of the interior – simple yet stream-lined, Nordic yet New York, combining concrete, blond wood and recycled wharf timbers.

Roast Thirlmere duck, onion, carrot puree and gingerbread.

Roast Thirlmere duck, onion, carrot puree and gingerbread. Photo: James Alcock

A wait-and-drink bar runs down one wall, bare hardwood benches skirt around the streetside plate glass windows, and a wide-open kitchen is framed by shelves of ceramics and greenery.

It’s not the world’s most exciting menu, but I am beginning to suspect that the aim here is to the familiar and comfortable, rather than to the innovative and overstimulating. Olives, oysters. Cured meats and cheeses. Raw fish, spiced grains. Fish, duck, lamb, beef. Nice, easy, friendly.

What provides a level of complexity is, surprisingly, the vegetables, which are either an integral part of each dish or compelling dishes in their own right, rather than slung off to the side. It’s a deliberate move on Oakes’ part and it pays off, particularly with a big-hearted dish of wedges of roasted kabocha pumpkin, streaky bacon crisps and crisped brussels sprouts ($12).

Slow-roasted lamb shoulder with jerusalem artichokes and goat's milk curd.

Slow-roasted lamb shoulder with jerusalem artichokes and goat’s milk curd. Photo: James Alcock

Another, of undercooked broccoli and broccolini, is crunchy with anchovy crumbs, so crunchy that I fear the couple at my elbow can’t hear themselves speak.

Unusually for these artisanal times, the cured meats aren’t made in house. Capocollo ($9) is simply sliced and served, and bread is an additional $4.50. Crusty, slow-cooked, boned lamb shoulder ($29) is good for two to share, the meat relaxed, the top charred, the jus well seasoned. Nobbly, skin-on jerusalem artichokes are a surprise packet for those expecting spuds, and lots of wilted and charred kale adds to the fun, although dollops of cold goat’s milk curd seem an afterthought, and add little.

Thirlmere duck ($29) looks just as attractive, with its crisp-skinned confit leg and rolled-breast-supported chunks of roasted white carrot, golden cipollini onion and a lush, velvety carrot puree, and a scattering of gingerbread crumbs.

Roasted pumpkin with streaky bacon and brussels sprouts.

Roasted pumpkin with streaky bacon and brussels sprouts. Photo: James Alcock

Because it’s still unlicensed when we visit (fully licensed as of July 25), before we go, I track down at Five Ways Cellars one of the bottles listed on the proposed brief but balanced wine list. The 2014 Massena Moonlight Run GSM from the Barossa Valley, which will sell for $12 a glass and $62 a bottle, is gamey, smooth and supple – a good fit with the duck, lamb, beef side of things.

To end, white chocolate and honeycomb parfait ($14) is shockingly, childishly, sweet, with no acidity or freshness to balance the sugary hits of toffee and caramel.

However, there are more hits than misses here, with a good kitchen, well-sourced (and sauced) produce, decent service and thought-through food with lots of flavour. All ducky, really.

Best bit: Vegetables get as much love as meat.
Worst bit: Hard wooden bench seating.
Go-to dish: Slow-roasted Mirrool Creek lamb shoulder, artichoke, goat’s milk curd, $29.

Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.

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By |2017-06-14T03:50:49+00:00July 28th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on SMH, Good Food

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