Quality local restaurants that risk pushing culinary boundaries are a rarity. Chef Leigh McDivitt (ex Three Weeds and The Morrison) originally dabbled in the CBD with One6eight, but decided to return to The Peninsula in the hope of reinvigorating the flagging dining scene on Darling Street. Legitimately, an independent restaurant without large backing to compromise its vision, it has both a soul and identity that is unmistakable. The striking plush red interior is as exuberant as partner Amanda McDivitt, who recently was deservedly recognised as a front-of- house professional of the year finalist by Gault&Millau.
House-made semi-sourdough with apple, 12yo Glenfiddich, and house churned hay smoked butter, is the best combination I have tasted since Tetsuya’s indulgent truffle butter originally wowed the town. Zesty Kingfish ceviche with lime and chilli dressing, with horseradish ice-cream as the perfect counterpoint, is a stunning way to awaken the palate. Confit Leatherjacket cheeks ($18); with quirky vongole popcorn and herb sauce, playfully offers the diner a portal into the mind of this talented chef, who clearly thinks and exists outside of the square.
Similarly, the service is just as vibrant and thoughtful, challenging the standards we would normally associate with a local. It is both extremely well-informed and intuitive, without the formality that often creates an irreparable and unnecessary disconnect between the restaurant and the diner. The large seats and generous spacing of the tables is set for a proper dining experience, with comfort and not turnover, the motivating factor. The compact wine list is interesting and diverse, and priced in the diners favour like the food, although keep the Sake and the intriguing cocktail list in mind also.
What is not to like about confit of duck tortellini ($20), house cured duck prosciutto and sea urchin custard? It is both lush and fascinating, not to mention moreish. Likewise, astutely spiced quail ($18) with mandarin gel and puffed buckwheat, delivers flavour and texture, obviously a trademark of this kitchen. Pan seared Mulloway ($35), with confit cuttlefish and complex shellfish reduction, further showcases the skill at play from a chef who can construct sauces with both finesse and depth. Whilst perhaps not as pretty in comparison, the slow braised pork jowl ($36) with caramelised white carrot and lemon balm is an unctuous sigh worthy flavour bomb that delivers big-time! Coupled with a side of truffle mash ($10), or chef’s hand cut chips cooked in aged beef dripping ($12), and a perhaps a defibrillator for good measure, it is a must order dish.
Spiced venison leg ($38), with chocolate gnocchi, pea powder and king brown mushrooms, intelligently reinvents some proven combinations without ever being lost in translation. Not overly boozy, but impressively well-balanced, the Jack Daniels ‘Tennessee Honey’ ice cream ($16) is a triumph, with honeycomb, salted caramel fudge and pine nut praline sealing the deal. A perfectly risen and impressively light rhubarb and strawberry soufflé ($16), with white chocolate ice cream, looks even more stunning in its copper pot, when served on a board. On weekends, High Tea is taken to a new level, inspired by Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland.
The occasional dish may benefit with one less component, however the daring nature of those multi-layered flavours on the plate, also makes Chef Leigh McDivitt’s style refreshingly unique. One6eight plates up original food that is thought provoking and worth making the short trip from the CBD for, especially when it is complimented by service that is this exceptional, and for that alone it will command a far wider audience. A far safer and ultimately more ‘beige’ approach could easily have been applied, but every worthwhile journey rewards risk with discovery, and this restaurant is all about providing the diner with an experience filled with ideas that genuinely encourages an open dialogue.
233 Darling Street, Balmain
Wednesday to Friday 6pm to midnight, Saturday to Sunday midday to midnight
(02) 9555 8750