While the Rocky Mountains cabin decor might have you thinking you’ve fallen into a parallel Twin Peaks universe, the food here is anything but gimmicky.
Sadly you won’t be eating cherry pie, but you will find a good selection of well-handled fishes in a smart-casual space pitched somewhere between the humble fish’n’chippy, and fancy places where eating fish will set you back forty bucks (or more).
Chock-a-block with happy homeowners enjoying the recent break in interest rates, Newtown is a clever second location for this burgeoning business venture, led by Red Lantern’s Mark Jensen. Along with business partners Joel Kapz and Joe Ward, Jensen opened the first Salmon & Bear in Zetland a year ago. It’s been highly successful, though with most of its 76 seats outdoors, it is subject to the vagrancies of Sydney weather. Newtown will have no such dilemma, with indoor seating for 95, and a super-fast kitchen that saw most of the tables turn over while I was dining.
Your go-to dish is the Grizzly Plate ($28) combining your favourite of five types of fish – barramundi, tuna, salmon, blue eye cod or the catch of the day – with two choices of sides or salads, and a sauce. Alternatively, you can choose your own adventure by ordering each item separately. To achieve the thematic campfire fish flavour appropriate to dining in the great outdoors, your fish is carefully grilled over charcoal in an imported Spanish Mibrasa oven.
For my Tuna ($18) steak, this meant perfectly crosshatched grill marks and (my requested) pleasantly pink insides, while for my dining companion’s Blue Eye Cod ($18) it meant crisp skin and moist, flaky, white flesh.
Not big on chips, we opted for a compelling bowl of Chive Mash ($5) and the All Beans ($8) salad with one Grizzly Plate.
Teaming broad beans, green beans and peas with lima beans and kidney beans, this salad showcases just how crisp and tasty bean salad can actually be (nearly obliterating my awful memories of canned Edgell Four Bean Mix at family barbecues). With our second Grizzly Plate, Slaw ($8) perhaps wanted for a more liberal dollop of Sriracha in the mayo. and the miso-buttered Corn Cob ($8) ate relatively plain. The rich, round Peri Peri ($2) sauce however was quite the revelation, so we slathered it onto pretty much everything.
Salmon & Bear are also putting out two very on-trend poke (Hawaiian raw fish salad) selections. I’d rate Chef Mark Jensen’s clever kimchi, chilli and lemongrass dressed Tuna Poke ($24) as better than the soy-heavy original. The lighter dressing keeps the flavour of the glistening pink hunks of tuna as the dish's centrepiece, while the kimchi adds a funky, fermented mid-palate that keeps your fork coming back for more.
While your poke arrives elegantly presented, it eats best well combined. If you’re ordering poke as an entrée, this dish is big enough for two people to share, alternatively it would make the perfect summery solo lunch.
And being in Newtown, it'd be wrong to wash your meal down with anything other than the on-tap Young Henrys Newtowner ($9) beer.
Salmon & Bear
226 King Street, Newtown
Ph: (02) 9517 3200