Hotel restaurants have a tough brief. The best ones have menus that provide a sense of place, without making guests too homesick with an avalanche of foreign techniques and flavours.
To my eye, Executive Chef David Vandenabeele, gets this balancing act right at Solander Dining & Bar. Located inside the funky West Hotel Sydney, Solander is an attractive space that offers up a range of settings for your meal.
Make your selection from well-proportioned bucket chairs set around well-spaced tables, a comfy cushioned banquette lined with tiny round bar tables, or take in the night air in the leafy, green internal atrium.
We pull up in an intimate window nook, each on our own individual, plush blue couch. A little table lamp casts a defined circle of warm, golden light.
Along with wall dividers, it helps us feel like we’ve got the restaurant to ourselves, so we’re soon a glass deep into a bottle of the 2016 Tarrawarra Estate Chardonnay ($64).
With a long and creamy palate, balanced by elegant oak, it’s good, whether you choose to drink it with or without the complimentary bread rolls.
Illustrated with plants, Solander’s one-year-on menu continues to play to Australia’s native flora and fauna. Double Boiled Wallaby Broth ($18) takes Vandenabeele’s ‘Chicken Tea’ from his time at The Langham in New York, and gives it an Aussie twist with lovely lean wallaby meat, a quail egg, enoki mushrooms and goji berries.
Presented in a transparent tea pot, it’s a comforting and pretty, tea-like broth with gentle spicing that suits the cooling mid-season weather.
Charred Bugs ($24) summon the Aussie barbeque, presenting one of my favourite crustaceans in chilli butter. Two well-cooked bugs are presented split down the centre, adorned with a tangle of greens, freshly diced tomato and chilli threads. They pull out of their shells easily, with the portion feeling generous for an entrée – easily enough to share.
I’m surprised to see our mains arrive in lidded white crockery pots. It’s not what I expect from a hotel restaurant living in the Instagram age, which actually makes it all the more charming. Young Henry Braised Pork Cheeks ($40) are tender and tasty against shiitake mushrooms, shallots and Kakadu plums.
They edge out the Slow Cooked Wallaby Shanks ($32) because the flavour profile of this dish, with quandong berries and macadamia crumble cream, feels slightly off-kilter to me. My critique comes only because I’ve eaten some amazing wallaby already this year; though to be fair, I suspect Hobart’s chefs are more familiar with this sweet and gentle game meat.
Despite each pot of protein feeling quite generously proportioned, sides are necessary if you want something other than meat on your plate. Warrigal Greens ($9) with black garlic are sure to excite anyone bored with spinach, with their balanced grassy and bitter notes.
Juicy red piquillo peppers and pomegranate arils give Wok Fried Sprouting Broccoli ($10) with toasted almond slivers a unique twist.
When taken together with sides, mains here do feel pricy, however if I was dining as part of a bigger group, I suspect you wouldn't need to order a protein and side apiece. What I do like is the meal feels, homey, Australian and healthy to eat.
Presented as a pretty wreath arranged around a ball of strawberry sorbet, the Strawberry Plate ($17) plays with texture using puffed barley, chickpea meringue, strawberry sponge, and earl grey tea jelly.
I’m more taken with the Asian-inspired Watermelon Raindrop Cake ($20). Suiting the crockery beautifully, Vandenabeele has created a pond life scene with a quivering salty watermelon jelly dome sitting under a lacy, charcoal pepper tuile surrounded by glistening sloe gin pearls and micro basil leaves. Juicy, wet and refreshing, it’s adult in flavour rather than over-sweet.
NOTE: See a previous review of this venue back HERE.
Solander Dining & Bar
West Hotel Sydney, 65 Sussex Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 8297 6500