I was fortuitously taken for lunch recently in Sydney to a hidden away internal oasis called Palings. If you weren’t “in the know” or with someone cooler who was, you’d miss it for thinking its entrance was that of a modern office block, tucked away in a lane way off the main George Street.
Palings is very “Sydney”. It is owned by the Merivale Group. I can’t quite think of an exact London equivalent but Merivale owns a string of “it” bars and restaurants but are not in any sense a chain. Perhaps like Corbin & King?
The food was an eclectic mix. I didn’t know if it was pan-Asian, modern Australian, pan-Pacific or something from Korea during the war. The, let’s not beat about the bush, massive room was divided into a restaurant around the circumference, a slew of high-stool bar tables in the light-welled centre and tucked at one end a Thai Canteen of some sort with a separate menu to the main room. There was more tat to decorate the walls and ceilings than one would find in an obsessive compulsive’s garage.
I asked about the concept and was told that the idea was not to have one. Well, it worked and I’m not sure that they should be proud of it. The ‘concept’ is best described as Shoreditch Luau. In spite of the room’s size the kitchen was bashing out the food, and that is too its credit.
The head chef there should be bloody-well given awards for the challenge and constraints in which he works. I wondered what he’d be like with a room for just 20 covers. It could be something quite amazing. We shared a main as a starter (sharing platters coming soon to Sydney’s psyche) and the heavily peppered calamari, chorizo & pea with sourdough was light with a warming bite, nothing at all ‘cooked from frozen’ about it.
My main, known as the “Schnitty” was a crispy-crumbed, but delicately cooked pork schnitzel with ginger slaw. It was pretty darn scrumptious, but the ginger lacking from the slaw – it was Hellman’s bland. Had it been there, the simple dish would have been sublime for the mood I was in that jet-lagged Friday afternoon.
The Logan “Weemala” Riesling from Mudgee, in New South Wales (about 3 hours west of Sydney) was a star. In fact, so good, we ordered another bottle. The second bottle disappeared as quickly as the first and just before the pudding landed. I opted for the peanut butter ice-cream sandwich. The peanut butter ice-cream was placed between two thin and crunchy peanut butter cookies (had to have been made on the premises) with some chocolate sauce drizzled appropriately – it was heavenly, somehow light and resisted glooping to the roof of your mouth.
When we left I looked at the big natural light filled centre of the room. It was a nice idea given that the restaurant was buried mid floors of this building, but as it turned out – the light well wasn’t covered – if it rained, you get wet. Perhaps that would be welcome on a sweltry Sydney summer evening? And that’s where I’d sit if I went back. There, in the centre, and I’d take my chances. Sydney dining needs to be lifted from dark viewless, contrived and artificial environments. It needs the light. It doesn’t make much sense otherwise.