Years ago (but not that many, thank you very much), when Mrs Prick was just a junior burger of a solicitor getting ready to start her scramble up the greasy pole, she lived in a number of places around Balmain and Rozelle in the company of a little dog named Sooty. Now Sooty was a fox terrier and as anyone familiar with the breed knows, they are escape artists extraordinaire: a three-metre Colorbond fence is nothing to these creatures.
What made Sooty special, though, were his adventures once he got over the wall. In those days Mrs Prick would regularly have to explain to senior partners that she had to leave work to collect her dog who had (to take one example) been caught trying to board a bus to Leichhardt without a ticket.
One particularly cherished memory involves a mid-afternoon call from the Three Weeds Hotel in Rozelle. Sooty had rocked up to the bar and would she like to come and retrieve him, thank you very much? When she arrived she found the dog seated on a stool, happy as Larry, with three old-timers and their middies who laughed and cackled, “He can’t go yet! It’s his shout!”
Sooty was, in Mrs Prick’s estimation, a “loveable shit of a dog.”
It was with that story in mind that I turned to Mrs Prick in the taxi heading home from a recent dinner at the Three Weeds – much revamped since Sooty’s day – and asked, “So can I call that a loveable shit of a restaurant?”
“No, no, no!”, she said. “That’s far too mean. And it’s certainly loveable. But, well…”
Well … we went for a meal at the Three Weeds’ revamped restaurant where Lauren Murdoch has lately been turning out some much-heralded casual fancy-pants cuisine. And without giving away too much too soon, it was not all for which we had hoped.
Which is a shame because the Pricks had enjoyed Murdoch’s cooking when she was on the pans at the Paris-by-way-of-New York bistro Felix down in the Merivale theme park on George: Her skate with brown butter was the best in town. After the Three Weeds picked her up, Mrs Prick had a girls’ night at Felix and came home to report the kitchen had lost its way in her absence.
Thus when a couple of local law-talking mates with an infant had a sudden attack of the babysitters and called looking for a double date Saturday night, Three Weeds was top of the list of places to try to snaffle a table.
We liked the looks of the menu and the general vibe of the place – cozy and informally elegant, it’s a clubby little Chairman’s Lounge of a room tucked off to the side of the pub’s more raucous halls – but a delicate and well-composed tortellini of peas starters with guanciale, lemon, and chili was artful on the plate yet didn’t go the distance on the palate. There was no heat to be found; slim shavings of pork weren’t present enough to add richness or saltiness and did nothing to lift the dish. A great idea, the tortellini were gossamer thin and delicately constructed, the peas snappy, but somehow it just never came together.
Mrs Prick had a similar experience with her cauliflower soup, which was likewise under-seasoned and even shavings of scallops couldn’t elevate the dish (why not really sear and caramelise some lovely fat numbers and serve them on top whole? Or some chorizo? Or something?). It would have been nice with a sandwich or a roll for a simple lunch on a cold day but was not the sort of thing that should be coming out of a kitchen flirting with hat-dom. Our mates had better luck with their kingfish carpaccio and special tuna crudo.
A main course pork belly and chorizo “crepinette” was frankly confusing.
Yes, it’s a sort of meat-in-caul fat affair, but when sliced, it burst forth a bounty of little cubes of filling, but these flavours which should have again been big and bold were muted even as the accompanying radicchio salad stood over everything else on the plate, almost to the point of being overwhelming.
It’s a funny trick of the brain that I sometimes “hear” flavours as sound, and will sometimes think of a dish having a rumbling basso profundo or a tripping pizzicato. Perhaps the hotel’s neighbours experience a similar synaesthesia leading them to complain about the noise; on our visit all the flavours were turned right down.
Mrs Prick’s confit Maryland of chicken (and why Maryland? Why not a Delaware or a Virginia of chicken?) was lovely, though judging from the size of the leg this bird never reached voting age. Meanwhile our companions’ medium-rare steaks crept toward the medium. And, in an odd hiccup for a night where the service did much to redeem the experience, no steak knives were offered.
I say odd because service was otherwise friendly and knowledgeable, professional and almost European, yet without any hint of aloofness. A brief but solid wine list, not unreasonably priced and clearly put together by a sommelier who knows what he’s doing was a big help as well. Our foursome had a great time on some Austrian grüner veltliner and a luscious but silky Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Some Paul Girard cognac, after some very redeeming desserts (honeycomb ice cream, that is all one needs to say) and a decent little cheese plate, eased the anxiety over the approaching bill which all in all was pretty reasonable, coming in well below ICAC’s threshold for “lavish”.
None of this is to say we had a bad time. We laughed, we talked, we drank, we ate, and we still generally love the idea of a slick pub restaurant like they have in Paddington just down the road. If we lived within walking distance we would be there once a week. Perhaps in six months we’ll give Murdoch’s kitchen another burl as previous experiences at Felix suggest that ours may have been an off-night, or that the menu either needs to settle down or undergo some tweaking.