Cotton Duck, a well timed but logical progression that further builds upon the ethical sustainability of Danks Street Depot offers the diner complete flexibility in shaping their menu with any two courses for $55 or four for $85. Some would say it’s ironical that Sydney is now rapidly embracing the more uncomplicated Melbourne approach to cuisine that it used to deride regularly for its lack of sophistication and technical edge. Of course this couldn’t be levelled at Chef Jared Ingersoll who has been swimming against the tide way before economic necessity prompted the inevitable realignment of our wider dining culture.
Of the eighteen listed courses, twelve are savoury with four as main sizes complimented by six desserts, including one cheese course. I elect to share eight, four entrée size, two main and two desserts, but the possibilities are only limited by either your appetite or imagination. Floor staff encourage rather than impose choices under professional Manager/Sommelier Laiana Ryan, formerly of Berowa Waters Inn, whose experience assists in matching wine from the intelligent and well priced list to any possible menu construct. I opt for the 2003 Helm Classic Dry Riesling from Canberra ($80) for a little aged complexity and it’s showing brilliantly under screw cap whilst also covering more than a few food bases.
Tap water is provided immediately on arrival, but I can definitely recommend the Sparkling Tasmanian Rain Water should you wish to upgrade your H2O. The funky rough concrete and timber interior with large dangling ceiling spirals works particularly well in Surry Hills, but what really wins me over even more is the extremely generously sized tables and spacing given the amount of shared plates leaving the centrepiece open kitchen. The restrooms shared with the complex are conveniently located and Holt Street is quiet enough for the fully unscreened window front not to be an issue.
The amuse of asparagus wrapped in pancetta, is not groundbreaking, but solid enough. The cuttlefish, jet black from being very lightly cooked in its ink with peppers and rich walnut butter swings between light and luxuriant and is served with pate style biscuits, but is best mopped up with the heavily seeded house bread. In stark visual contrast, the salmon and smoke terrine is pure multilayered art, circled by a sharp chive and shallot vinaigrette which cuts straight across the richness of the dish without drowning out the spice and tobacco notes.
Freshly made pasta sheets with butternut puree, blue swimmer crab sage and hazelnuts is a light, playful dish which is surprisingly seasoned to the absolute edge. Not normally a problem for me, but perhaps the delicate flavour of the crab suffered on this particular occasion. The steamed aromatic scallops with fennel, peas, beans with some undercooked elements and an ineffective parmesan jus, is a nice idea that read well but did not work in translation.
The free range pork loin with fennel seeds and served with flavoursome sweet vinegar tomatoes on a particularly nice onion soubise looked the part but was both disappointingly tough in texture and lacking base flavour, with only the crackling delivering any payback on its promise. On a more redemptive note, the medium rare BBQ John Dee eye fillet has absolutely divine texture, but perhaps cabernet jelly, pumpkin puree, parsley puree, roasted fennel and a thin red wine reduction was just a little too busy by half.
The pumpkin pie, a decadently divine silky pumpkin cream with gin and a topping of translucent pumpkin jelly, is textural heaven and nigh perfect were it not for the very slightly undercooked pastry. The accompanying brandy snap is absolutely faultless and this dish is an absolute keeper if they want to keep the peace. The rich baked chocolate and raspberry tart with sweet raspberry mousse is moreish once a little room temperature takes the chill off the casing but it had an impossible act to follow.
Surprisingly devoid of an espresso machine, the filtered single origin sourced from a local roaster is somewhat of a revelation with its distinctive flavour profile benefiting from the more subtle form of extraction. With so much new ground being covered, some risks will succeed whilst others fail or just need a tweak. Whilst the concept behind Cotton Duck is a bold snapshot of our dining future, a little more consistency of execution needs to be found before its potential is fully realised. The pedigree of the Chef and his Manager/Sommelier suggests we won’t have to wait too long for that to happen, but don’t let that stop you getting a slice of that pumpkin pie. It’s that good.
50 Holt Street, Surry Hills
Tue-Fri 12pm-3pm, Mon-Sat from 6pm