Riley St. Garage is housed in a 1934 art deco parking station and garage that was designed for Drive Yourself Lessey’s Limited by the architectural partnership Wilshire & Hodge. With two ground levels, Lessey's Garage, as it was colloquially known, once incorporated a garage, machine shop, car wash and service station – basically your one-stop shop for all things automotive.
As the days of full-service parking garages moved behind us, Frank Lowy used the space as a personal parking area for his Westfield executives. In 2013, the heritage listed building with its beautiful stepped brick façade, was morphed into the form you see it now.
Architect Richard Alexander from RAD Studios cleverly maintained as much of the original industrial warehouse elements as possible, including the ornate steel beams lit with fairy lights that catch your eye as you enter the expansive room.
The room’s centrepiece is a large 30-seat bar with curved edges that fit with the period. While you can sit there, or on a long brown leather banquette running most of the length of the space, it’s hard to beat the sheer comfort of the plump leather window seats.
Sinking into this kind of seat calls for a whiskey, and the Service Manual answers this call with a Smoked Old Fashioned ($20). It arrives in a mirrored box and unfurls its smoky curls upon opening. Makers Mark, Ratu Spiced Rum, maple syrup and bitters give the cocktail a butterscotch edge that makes it smooth and compelling. Smoke’s also a feature in the sharper Pinarita ($19) though to a much smaller extent with maple smoke mingling with El Jimado Blanco Tequila, Pierre Ferrand Curacao, lime and spiced pineapple cordial in this margarita update.
Sipping cocktails gives us a moment to take in the details of the space - the art deco fonts on the menu, thematic black overalls on the staff, and the whole walk to the lower ground washrooms complete with rusted car doors, hubcaps and retro brown leather and wood chairs.
Even the washroom interiors keep to the theme.
You'll find with blue-green tiles, bevelled edged mirrors, brass taps over stark concrete basins, and repurposed medicine cabinets full of toilet paper in the cubicles.
Drawing upon an international resume taking in London, Hong Kong and Dubai, Executive Chef Regan Porteous has designed a succinct menu focused upon shareable plates.
The raw bar is prominently featured, as is their oyster service, though with it being spawning time I just dabbled in a few of the signature Smokey Soy Truffle Oysters ($4/each) utilising small, slightly creamy Pacific oysters. To prevent myself from just ordering all the raw dishes as is my want, I opted for seeing ten of Riley St. Garage's greatest hits in the $100 Banquet ($100/head). Starting with the aforementioned oysters, this menu keeps pace with modern time-poor dining proclivities by serving the dishes in five distinct waves rather than a long, drawn-out dish-by-dish process.
The second wave is raw dishes, starting with Smoked Kingfish Sashimi ($18). Served with pickled daikon and dabs of pistachio puree, smoking makes this a textually interesting, almost smallgoods like update of Sydney’s ubiquitous raw kingfish dish.
Torched Steak Tartare ($18) is big on umami, with barley miso and nori crackers adding up to something that’s as salty as mermaid tears. That’s not to say it isn’t compelling as a piece of punch-you-in-the-face drinking food, particularly against the 2015 The Story Marsanne Roussanne Viognier ($87/bottle) . The intensity of the dish brings up the rich white wine's gentler Viognier side.
Hot entrees start with better than average Soft Shell Crab Bao ($12/each) with crisp battered crab, tart wet pickles and spicy mayo. encased in a thinner than usual steamed bun. It eats well, without dripping down your arm, but stays firmly in the realm of salty drinking food.
Crystal Bay Prawn Tortellini ($24) get their salt fix from bursting sea plants and a sauce that speaks of butter, shiro miso and shellfish. While the pasta itself is slightly thick, this dish still feels technical and precise.
We end this wave of dishes with some fairground charm - Chorizo Corn Dogs ($6/each) that you bite from a stick and twirl through tangy Dijon mayonnaise. It feels nicely lowbrow in such a fancy looking place, and that's part of the charm of Riley St. Garage - it's as much a bar as it is a restaurant.
When the main course lands, you realise that this isn’t going to be a degustation where you’ll want to stop for Maccas on the way home. The 800gm Dry Aged Riverine Rib-eye ($76) stompers you into submission against creamy béarnaise, jus and a helpful serve of mustard our sympathetic waitress rustles up.
The well-rested sliced beef is accompanied by a vat of silky Truffled Mash ($9) and Charred Cos ($9). The lettuce sits in the liminal zone between cooked and raw, with a garlic emulsion and a snowy cap of Pecorino cheese.
By the time we finish this hot beef injection, I feel like a cigarette and I don’t even smoke. I suffice with Express Yo’ Self ($19) an espresso martini updated with bourbon, Irish whiskey, rum liqueur and coffee liqueur. The post-coital cocktail drinks frightfully smoothly despite all the additional booze – and is garnished with a very credible honeycomb.
No need to get possessive about the crunchy golden rock either, you’ll find plenty on your icy Dessert Platter ($20/$50/$80) once you get over marveling at the blue flames and ball of coconut sorbet perched on chiseled ice. Final warning: the creme brûlée will fuck you up. Nothing exceeds like excess, and this little pot full of buttery, rich custard is going to finish you completely.
Riley St. Garage
55 Riley Street, Woolloomooloo
Ph: (02) 9326 9055