With atmospheric smoke haze making the looming, oversized IMAX building look a bit like an unfinished Death Star, I ventured into Hunter & Barrel to find out what they’ll be cooking this summer.
This attractive, Cockle Bay Wharf venue, that specialises in age-old techniques like meats roasted over an open coal grill, has turned to the elements for their new menu inspiration.
From the element water, we get Pacific Oysters ($20/6) topped with a lurid green lime and gin granita served on a bed of water in its solid state. Alongside them, a Western Australian 2011 Plantagenet Riesling ($12/glass) summons lime and sherbet, with minerality and a faint honeysuckle-like complexity that emerges after you slurp your bivalve.
The cocktail list has also had a makeover, while still staying true to their barrel-aged focus. The Jalapeño Margarita ($16) is made on barrel-aged blanco tequila and muddled smoked jalapeños, though it was so intensely sour, I found it hard to get any smokiness from either ingredient.
Poured at the table from a super-cute glass sharing barrel, I was more enamoured with Where’s All The Rum Gone ($48/4 people), so named because a blend of barrel-aged rums (dark, spiced and Malibu) go into creating it. It's freshened up with orange, lime and pineapple juice, and garnished with a fresh pineapple wedge.
From the earth, a foraged feast of vegetables awaits, which you can either have as a course onto themselves or use as sides with your flamed meats. The Coal Roasted Pumpkin ($10) actually deserves your undivided attention: it’s a grand, blackened wedge of perfectly cooked pumpkin, its natural sweetness enhanced with burnt honey and balanced with almond cream and herb salad.
While it sure isn’t designed to be pretty, the Roasted Eggplant and Sumac Yoghurt ($10) eats very well against hazelnuts tossed with fermented chilli, and mint.
Harissa yoghurt creates an orange lake for the Roasted Cauliflower ($10) to rest in, with salsa verde, almonds and a herb salad dotted with pomegranate arils freshening things up. All the herbs - dill, mint, parsley - taste freshly picked.
The aroma of fire-roasted meat permeates the stately dining room, as we ready ourselves with the 2016 Rockbare RB1 Shiraz ($86/bottle) for the main event. The wine is full of big, juicy, dark fruit, and drinks pretty typically for a Barossa Valley Shiraz. A procession of waiters wrangle our coal-roasted skewers onto the table, dangling from shiny metal stands over bowls of fresh salad or fat-cut chips. The idea is the closest diner takes up the tongs, and slides your Portuguese Chicken Thigh ($32) down into the waiting salad, passing the bowl around for everyone to share. Working my way through Honey Glazed Pork Belly ($35) sweetened up with a burnt honey and coriander glaze, and Rump Cap ($34) rubbed in wild spices, lemon and rosemary, I’m quick to declare the chook my favourite. Being at a group table, I missed out on the Salmon and Albacore Tuna Loin ($36), which is perhaps my only warning: many of these skewers only offer up four pieces of fish or meat, so would work best when served one between four diners.
Dining as a big group, we get slightly special treatment with our Brown Sugar Pavlova ($11) served in a bigger sharing portion, rather than as individually sized desserts.
This lets us crack into its airy dome rather grandly to get at the fresh berry bounty hidden within this chewy brown sugar crust. The element of air is also represented in our closing cocktail, The Dark Ages ($16), where a frothy white whirl of cream sits over the moody blend of espresso, barrel-aged Hennessy VS Cognac and Tia Maria, sweetened up just enough with salted caramel syrup.
Hunter & Barrel have certainly created plenty of reasons to look them up over summer if you happen to be visiting Cockle Bay.
NOTE: See an earlier review for this venue back HERE.
Hunter & Barrel
Tenancy 303, Cockle Bay Wharf, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9264 9888