The Kings Cross dining scene – whether it be in Rushcutter’s Bay, Potts Point, Elizabeth Bay or whatever you call the call-it-anything-but-the-Cross – is perpetually on the way up, even though we’re still waiting for that one truly great restaurant to call home here. And I’m talking one notch higher than the respectable locals like Fratelli Paradiso, Jimmy Liks, Mezzaluna, Lotus and the Bayswater Brasserie. But in the meantime, it’s getting something else it needs: more chilled-out places to dine.
Well, maybe it was because everyone was out checking the lunar eclipse the night I went and I’m sure word still hasn’t gotten out yet about Penny’s Lane (except for those who read Good Living religiously), but the new eatery was very, very chilled. The possie helps, situated around the bend from the Cross’ somehow “iconic” Coke sign, up the hill and on a quiet corner across from the dosh-adelic Elan building where nothing else is happening but locals schlepping themselves home from the train station. Nothing, that is, until the boutique hotel attached to Penny’s Lane opens up later this year.
The man behind Penny’s is Manuel Spinola, who owns The Tearoom atop the CBD’s Queen Victoria Building. It’s an interesting move, seeing that Penny’s clean and casually stylish space is quite a jump from the more classic, refined Tearoom. Of course, the bloke really running the joint is Alistair Smith, a Brit who’s seen more than a few burners, having done his time at the city’s Bistro CBD, Paddo’s Bistro Lulu and Woollahra’s Light Brigade, not to mention the Michelin-starred thang in Europe. Smith is friendly, tall and may possibly have the strongest handshake in the business, and his emphasis here is on making comfort food that sits between formal fine dining and cheap-and-cheerful.
I’m here tonight to profile the restaurant for the food section of Scoop Traveller NSW, a relatively new magazine that’s a twice-yearly regional travel guide aimed at Australian visitors to Sydney. It’s a nice-looking mag put together from folks out in Perth who do a nifty lifestyle magazine for WA called Scoop. Yes, it’s a shameless plug, but it’s worth checking out. As for me, it’s a great way to eat my way through Sydney’s new restaurants without having to foot the bill. Hey, don’t hate me ‘cause I’m hungry.
Smith’s food travels between Italy and France, and for me there’s plenty to like, although I’ve gotta admit that I’m hoping that as the chef finds his feet here, there will be more to love. The entrees wow more than the mains, with the veal carpaccio being beautifully tender and topped with softly shaved parmesan, livened with a squeeze of lemon and accompanied by the subtle taste of golden beetroot; and for me, subtle is a good thing when it comes to beetroot. My better half Sarah gets the quail special, cooked with raisins (sultanas and muscadelles I think, but don’t quote me), and it is even better than my dish. Sarah gives me a brief taste and then scoffs it quickly, not leaving me enough time to develop menu envy. Also accompanying us at the table is my friend and top food PR pro, David Wasserman, and his lovely wife Lisa – and Penny’s Lane is a client, so I better watch it. Lisa gets the chicken and duck pate (‘parfait’), while David starts with the broad bean, pea and spinach soup, and it’s so bright green, you think the kitchen just plucked the broad beans from a garden out back (Dave will like it that I said so). He slurps it all down while I’m trying to learn how to use a new Nikon D80 digital SLR I’m thinking about buying. The fiddling doesn’t completely pan out, so the veal carpaccio photo here is the sole successful effort. Take it from me; shooting food in low light is tough work.
For the main event, I get the roast blue-eye, which is pleasant enough, although it’s about as memorable as an Owen Wilson movie (David won’t like that bit as much). It’s pretty, but I wouldn’t mind at a bit more complexity. The highlights? Dessert, and a Bass Phillip ‘Village’ pinot that knocked my socks off. The former consisted of banana fritters that just rocked, and a deeply rich chocolate pot special ceiling’d with a brulee-like crust. As for the pinot, it was so super-smooth and tasty, I greedily downed it before working out what the amazing fruit characteristics were. For once, Sarah is spared from me being a wine wank. Mostly.
Didn’t even realise that Penny’s Lane is open for brekkie as well, and I’ve got a hunch that the casual, breezy atmosphere will work even better in the daytime. I’ll have to check it out, or if you get there first, send out a head’s up.