Iris Black, sibling to SaltVine on Crown Street, feels a little older and a little more sophisticated.
New signage and some dark geometric wallpaper are the only signs that anything much has changed from the venue’s Black Penny days.
By keeping the grungy neighbourhood bar aesthetic, and not wasting money on a big refit, it seems to have slid rather seamlessly into the repertoire of Surry Hills’ post-work drinkers.
It doesn’t hurt that the wide windows onto both Cleveland Street and Bourke Street let in a lovely golden afternoon glow; adding warmth to the darkly lit space.
You can tell a lot about a place by their Charcuterie Plate ($24). Iris Black’s caters for the health-conscious with meagre bread, tart pickles and good quality olives accompanying three, high quality meats. There’s jamon Serrano, chorizo Pamplona, and my personal favourite, Cabecera de Cerdo. The latter is a Spanish thinly sliced air-dried pork neck that melts on the tongue like a Communion wafer, with a clean, slightly salty finish.
Good bitterness in the Family Tree ($18) (sounds like my own) makes this Italian-inspired gin cocktail a good match to fatty meats. It’s made on Four Pillars Gin, with Italian small-batch bitters and blood orange syrup balanced by lemon. Your hot-day go-to is the Water Buoy ($18) that takes the old vodka-cranberry combo. and makes it seem wetter with watermelon liqueur.
Beef Short Ribs ($20) might not come on the bones you were expecting, but the rib meat hunks are so achingly tender, they fall into long strands when nudged with a knife. They’re teamed with beetroot two-ways, asparagus spears and a quenelle of horseradish cream. There’s nothing I don’t like about this plate.
Beef calls for wine, and the jammy dark raspberry notes of The Other Wine Co. Grenache ($60/bottle, $13/glass) answer. Also from South Australia's McLaren Vale, the Mollydooker ‘The Violinist’ Verdelho ($45/bottle, $10/glass) is another surprise from the short list. While it wasn’t my first choice (it's tough having unavailable wines when your list is only eighteen bottles strong) it impressed with good oak and butter, drinking like a very worked wine.
The white is your better bet for Scallops ($19), which were cooked correctly, but lacked that toothsome fresh bite I want to see with seafood. The dish is not cutting any new ground, sent out on a corn puree with an over-thick Parmesan sail. “At least there’s not three. It makes me really angry,” my dining companion adds, referring to the predominance of trios on tapas plates.
To my palate, this kitchen seems to perform best when they’re cutting their own path. King Trumpet Mushrooms ($18) are tender, cross-hatched mushrooms you drag through a clever matcha green tea sauce, a crunchy egg yolk crumb and a mound of pickled enoki, which help to cut against the intensity. More than 1800 reviews in, I've not eaten this dish before.
While staff are warm and friendly, they would do well to remember that hygiene doesn’t stop at the kitchen; diners need to wash their hands as well. This is hard to achieve when you find the men’s bathroom completely devoid of all paper products.
Iris Black has the makings of a good locals bar.
435 Cleveland Street, Redfern
Ph: (02) 9319 5061