Steel Bar & Grill is a slick looking restaurant that’s intriguing to dine in as a result of the clever Michael McCann fit-out. He's also been responsible for the fit-outs of restaurants like Flying Fish and Mu Shu.
Steel cages, through which lighting is diffused, subdivide the space creating niches. Inside these it is pleasantly not too loud, even with all the shiny surfaces. A sprayed concrete ceiling provides an organic element to balance it all out, and probably works in favour of noise dampening too.
There's also a large table in an outside area, which (as our waiter admitted) does have a tendency to get a bit loud... but one might suffer this for the chance to dine al fresco on one of these beautiful balmy spring nights. From the outside, it's really a restaurant that draws you in - you are curious and you want to walk in.
I couldn't resist a bit of bathroom photography. I swear toilets this sexy are wasted on restaurants. They belong in nightclubs where we can all enjoy them to full effect!
There are even television screens to enjoy as you wash your hands in the funky silver-tiled bathroom. In fact, if you do come here, go for a wander around, it's worth it to check out the transparent lift, and the walls on the way to the toilets. I even liked seeing the open plan kitchen, but if they're going to show off their produce to the diners, they really need to watch for mouldy oranges!
We started with Duck and Apple Spring Rolls ($12.50/3 rolls) which were sadly a bit of a disappointment. I barely could taste either the duck or the apple, as there were curried inside. My dining companion said "bad function food" and I am somewhat inclined to agree. After all the opening nights, canapes have become a food group that we're very familiar with.
The cuisine of Executive Chef Damien Heads is produce driven. I enjoyed the oysters shucked to order, particularly the Sydney Rocks ($39/dozen) from Camden Haven (near Port Macquarie). While I am mentioning oysters, I might also say that while service was not uniform, waiter/teacher Michael Pickering impressed with his oyster knowledge and well-versed charm. He was even able to tell me the supplier of the Moonlight Flat Angasi I had enjoyed so much at another restaurant recently. This conversation arose when he came to ask how we had enjoyed the oysters off his own bat, several courses later.
The menu is balanced between live tank seafood and the paddock, with a focus on wood-fire iron bark grilling. Try the Chorizo ($8.90) to enjoy this particularly Australian smoke flavour.
The smoky flavour is also on the grilled bread supplied with the sharing Charcuterie Platter ($28) with lovely duck rillettes seasoned with ginger and nutmeg (four-spice). The chicken liver was also lovely, and the terrine was nice but did not stand out in terms of flavour when compared to other terrines I have had.
Linguini with Tasmanian Vongole ($23/$30) saw well-cooked, flavoursome clams perched on underwhelming pasta. The clams really were fresh, the pasta was bland, and flavourless; plus a small serve really was quite small.
This was my least favourite dish - Seared Scallops, Green Paw Paw, Chilli, Lime and Cashews ($24/$32). This is a type of salad that usually uses prawns, and I think there's a reason. The flavours of the salad were too big for the delicate flavour of the scallops. The scallops were not very nicely seared (hence them being hidden within). This is the small serve, and whilst I did not like the dish (and was on some levels I was grateful it wasn't big), it also wasn't the best value dish I have ever had. It seemed a waste of nice produce (the scallops).
Clientele leans towards suits, but you could comfortably bring anyone here, especially those whose palates are challenged by big flavours or chilli – it’s all very approachable. Our first waitress reassured us that 'chilli jam' was sweet rather than hot. Even on the dessert menu, there was a tendency towards familiar. The dish above is a Pavlova with Double Cream and Berry Compote ($14) and it was okay. I thought the shell-to centre-ratio was a bit on the thick side. I had it with a lovely glass of 2008 Lake Breeze Moscato from Langhorn Creek, South Australia ($12/glass) and it went with it very well.
This one is the most exotic desserts on the list of eight choices, a Tian of Coconut Mousse, Pineapple Sorbet and Lime Syrup ($15) which was better than the pavlova. My dining companion enjoyed it with a glass of the 2005 Grand Mansion Monbazillac ($13/glass) which was a late harvest style wine that was a little too raisin-y for my taste, though he enjoyed it.
Speaking of wine, the wine list is impressive with reasonable mark-ups and an eye for unusual, like a superb Austrian 2007 Nigl Gruner Veltliner ($62) - my new favourite varietal! I recently had it again at Essen Restaurant for a much cheaper price ($35), and it drank just as well in a different set and setting.
Would I return to Steel Bar & Grill? Not for dinner per say, but for freshly shucked oysters and their extensive wine list as an after work venue, perhaps!
Steel Bar & Grill
60 Carrington Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9299 9997