When the hoardings went up and the press releases went out announcing that Jones the Grocer was coming to Pitt Street, there were minor hosannas sung in Stately Prick Manor. The Pricks both work within a 9-iron of the big CBD Westfield, and as such our local shopping options for the evening meal are pretty limited: the David Jones Food Hall on one end of the spectrum, the stygian Woolies under Town Hall at the other. Finally, some competition, and a place to get a decent lasagne to heat up for dinner after the long-promised Thomas Dux failed to materialise.
Alas, not so much. What emerged from months of delayed construction was not so much a gourmet grocery (though a bit of cheese and olive oil is on sale for when one gets an insatiable mid-afternoon morbier craving) as an actual restaurant, complete with open kitchen, combi ovens, deep fryers, and more burners than Apollo 12. Well, OK, we figured. People and business move on and what’s in a name anyway? Stuck back working late at our respective salt mines one recent evening the Pricks gave it a go.
On the Wednesday night we visited the place was about half-full, doing one seating. Service was well-intentioned but hard to come by; the kitchen should put more carrots in the staff meals as the front of house crew was suffering an epidemic of selective blindness and reduced peripheral vision.
And the food? Lovely, fine, nothing innovative but good nonetheless. Ten or eleven hours gabbling into a phone fighting battles of one sort or another doesn’t exactly build an appetite for a plate of fussy foams or spheres anyway. A mushroom pasta was hearty and well-balanced, and the kitchen nailed a pile of thrice-fried chips with an addictively umami homemade-style ketchup.
A beef-two-ways affair was misconceived, however, and more poorly balanced than a towel-filled washing machine on spin cycle: A giant short rib right out of the Flintstones lorded it over a little afterthought of a medallion of filet which, uncharacteristically for the cut, came back a winner in the flavour (ahem) stakes. The rib itself wasn’t quite sure where it was going. Not a melting, fall-apart, slow-braised short rib one gets at, say, Barrafina, nor a steak-y low-and-slow sous-vide number of the sort found at (to take one recent experience) Momofuku, it was the Bob Cunis of cuts: neither one thing nor the other.
Despite all this, the Pricks will probably go back as it works as a sort of high-end cafeteria for a bite and a break on late-night work nights. They serve a number of good wines by the glass, including a Prick favourite, Shelmerdine. There’s also a reasonably sophisticated kids’ menu coming at in at a very reasonable $15 a plate, and on occasions we have to swing back through the CBD with the Little Pricks this will be a very live option for dinner.
Really, though, the food is not the place’s problem. The biggest issue with Jones the Not-So-Grocer is its location, opening as it does off of the fifth floor food court of the Pitt Street Westfield. This is not a recipe for success: Sydney is not Singapore or Doha, where the Joneses have also lately set up shop. This local Jones is also operating out of the same real estate that saw off Justin North’s Quarter Twenty-One (and its wonderful, much-missed little food shop) as well as his fine diner, the relocated Becasse. Despite the best efforts of the property developers’ mafia, Sydneysiders – to their great credit – have in the main refused to embrace higher-end shopping mall dining. Urban Australians are not suburban Americans and won’t go gently into that good night of strolling arm-in-arm with one’s date past a shuttered Nordstrom’s to have big night out at the local P.F. Chang’s.
While no one wants to see a restaurateur get into trouble, it would not be surprising to eventually see the hoarding back up and the concept re-tooled. There are literally thousands of high-disposable-income office workers even just a lift-ride away who’d be far more likely to pick up some nice produce or pre-prepared gourmet food than sit down for a $36 plate of short rib. If the Joneses need any further hints as to what a new iteration of this outlet should look like, they should look no further than their name.