Last week's dining adventure was at Subsolo which is a Spanish Portuguese restaurant toward the law court end of King Street. My dining companion describes the location as "in the middle of suit-world".
It is a subterranean setting that is said to be popular with the legal profession for weekday lunches. As you can see by my photos, I dined in the evening when it was reasonably empty.
A great reason to check out this space, one part flame red boudoir, one part dark, moody bar, is to indulge in the uncompromising Spanish wine list. (Yes, that means no Australian wines. If you absolutely must, you can BYO a bottle of wine, but bear in mind, the fee for doing so is priced to make you not want to do that unless it is an expensive, very special bottle of wine.)
I loved the wine list's tasting notes. They're not written in the usual wine-speak, which means you don’t have to be a wine buff to make a great choice. I drank by the glass. I particularly loved the 2006 Castro Martin Albariño ($85/bottle $18/glass) described as “pear and honey with a tingle on the tongue.”
They also serve cocktails. The better of the two I tried was the Sub Sangria ($15) which includes seasonal fruits poached in Tempranillo. It's on the left in my photo below. The one on the right is a Spanish Mulo ($16) made with Zubrowka Vodka, poached cinnamon apples and lime juice, topped up with Spanish cider.
A great sharing option is the Ensalada a la Española ($19/$25) which includes intense garlic calamari, tasty thinly sliced Manchego and exceptional smoky chorizo (a highlight). There was also jamon, salami, marinated mushrooms, lovely Spanish omelette, chickpeas and pimentos.
There are some stellar tapas options here including the barbecued Lamb Cutlets ($18/$25) with minted fig salsa on chickpea puree, and drizzles of pomegranate.
But not every dish from head chef Jacqui Gowan excels – the Crumbed Meatballs with Manchego and Romesco ($19/$24) for example, were intensely salty.
They were recommended by the thin, ballet dancing Maitre d', who (when we mentioned the salt) said: "Oh, I love salt." Incidentally at the beginning of the meal, she said something along the lines of: 'I might be thin, but I can eat, so don't disregard what I say about the food because I am thin.' She incidentally advised us to over-order, and I needed to cancel dishes before we got overwhelmed - though, to her credit, the chef did throw in an extra that she didn't suggest we order (it was the lamb, and ended up being my favourite tapas dish).
Vegetarians (and carnivores) will enjoy the superb Pimientos Rellenos ($17/$24) stuffed with goats cheese and pine nuts. They were great, one of the better dishes we ate, and also recommended by the Maitre d'.
So was this dish, the Paprika Salt and Pepper Squid with Saffron Mayonnaise ($13/$18). She prefaced this with saying as a reviewer I probably was sick of salt squid, but that this was a particularly good version. I thought it was okay, nothing special - I actually ate a better version the next evening at Ravesi's.
More substantial offerings on the menu include a better-than-most Paella ($33) brimming with chicken, chorizo and seafood. The prawns and scallops were impressively moist, and the cast iron pan had the prized crust. My only criticism was that the flavour of the seafood (clearly added very late in the process due to the moisture in it) was not deeply integrated into the rice part of the dish.
By the way, they also do a Vegetarian Paella with Wild Mushrooms ($29). There were some vegetarian options in the tapas - not perhaps as many as usual - but they will cater to vegetarians with more options created from seasonal, fresh ingredients on the evening you dine.
There is also a menu of charcoal spit-roasted Portuguese Espetadas including King Prawns wrapped in Spanish Jamon ($34). It looked impressive, the jamon wrapped prawns were of great quality, and it came with three bowls of sides.
The Ensalada side was good - I liked the chickpeas.
The Batatas Bravas were an absolute hit! They were the best example of this dish I have ever tried, and totally more-ish! I didn't like the tomato topping, my dining companion did - call it a draw.
The final side was a plate of Beans, which were good.
This restaurant could be expensive, if you order (between two) the Maitre d's suggested 4-5 tapas, a paella and an espetada. Frankly, I thought that was too much food. We really struggled with the espetada which arrived last, and declined desserts.
Speaking with the Maitre d' about desserts made them seem like they were not really the focus of this restaurant anyway. She told us for example that the Crema Catalana ($14) was just a creme brulee. We ended the meal instead with a small glass of Pedro Ximinez each.
There was lots to like about Subsolo, and I am hard pressed to remember a better paella in my recent history. While it wasn't the best I have tried, it was the best for quite a while.
Basement, 161 King Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9223 7000