If you love the neighbourhood feel of restaurants like the sadly departed Blancmange in Petersham, or Stanmore’s Sixpenny, there’s a fair whack of corner-store charm in Arthur, even if it is situated in cosmopolitan Surry Hills. While the Set Menu ($80/head) reads like it will be a drawn-out degustation, by presenting the dishes in pairs, owner/chef Tristan Rosier (ex-Farmhouse Kings Cross and Biota Dining) ensures it eats more like a five-course sharing meal.
Dining in this Victorian era corner building feels homely, what with the distressed walls and the round-backed wooden chairs. The two-room restaurant has about forty seats, mostly arranged around solid wooden tables. For the Sunday lunch I took part in, nearly all of them had bums on chairs, giving it quite a convivial feel. Most tables, like my own party of five, were groups of friends toasting the end of the year, keeping the high-counter bar in the front room busy dispensing communal good cheer.
The wine list is all-Australian, and the spirit list follows suit, leading to an Australian Negroni ($21) made on Aussie gin and Applewood Okar Amaro, an Adelaide Hills bitter aperitif made using riberries and native bush herbs. If you’re interested, you can try it straight as a digestive with your sweets, though I personally recommend Mac. ($14). The nutty, round macadamia liqueur is made using roasted macadamia nuts and toasted wattleseed by the folks at Brookie’s in Byron Bay. You’ll like it if you like Frangelico and lime, and it isn’t a bad addition in the Mac. Old Fashioned ($20), either.
We start our long lunch with house-made sourdough and cultured butter. While I applaud making things in-house, I often wonder about the wisdom of baking bread when dedicated bakers – like Iggy’s Bread - usually do it so much better. Arthur makes a very good case to ignore me entirely. The airy wedge of crusty bread is made even better with the addition of ruby red kangaroo tartare, enhanced by tangy bush tomatoes and a spattering of shallot.
Against the faint pineapple from the elegant, lean 2018 Adelina Eternal Return Arneis ($84/bottle) we dip into a turnip studded mound of raw Bundaberg scallops flavoured with brown butter and hazelnut oil, cut by maritime bursts of Tasmanian wild trout roe. It’s such an unusual combination it takes me two bites to work out if I like it, but I do.
It’s teamed with a glistening arrangement of green tomatoes, lardo and fennel that’s interestingly sour but lacks the punch to be more than a side. That’s not something I can say about the 2017 Brash Higgins CHN Chenin Blanc ($82) – it’s uncharacteristically big with lemonade, honey and some wood. While floor staff at Arthur proved very patient and great with recommendations overall, I would have appreciated warning that this chenin blanc was not emblematic of the usual lean, tart varietal.
The next pair of dishes, goldband snapper with super-salty chicory in the mix of greens, and beetroot and sour blood plum under a hat of rapa, worked together well.
It’s honest cooking that lets the produce do the heavy lifting, with enough weight towards vegetables to make it feel like you're eating a balanced meal.
Portioning was handled well for our table of five, with a bigger portion for three people and a smaller one for the diners eating as a pair. Against the smoky, dry, lip-schmacking pleasure of the 2018 Courabyra Pinot Meunier ($73/bottle) we eat pork loin in an earthy jus, with a baby carrot apiece.
Portion control is your key to profitability, after all.
As we wind down into a mango parfait with yoghurt and macadamia, juxtaposed with a vanilla and blueberry slice, I reckon what's missing for me is multiculturalism.
Arthur made me miss the punch of flavour that we find in most contemporary Australian cooking that throws in the best parts of our geographic neighbours. As one dining companion put it, our meal at Arthur had no crescendo, it was nice.
544 Bourke Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (0468) 911 088