For as long as the Prick can remember the old former banking chamber at 16 O’Connell Street in Sydney’s CBD was home to an outlet of the Disneyfied Bavarian Bier Café mini-chain which until recently sated local office workers’ demands for a German theme bar where Oktoberfest runs twelve months a year.
Times changed, palates became more sophisticated, and at some point everyone’s obsession with gluten-free this and “paleo” that meant the critical mass of customers whose idea of a good time was deep-fried camembert and Spaten by the litre shrank to the point where covering both the rent and the cleaning bills for the waitress’s little Hans-und-the-lusty-milkmaid dirndl outfits became uneconomic.
Enter Swine & Co, which took over the space a few months ago with a big PR and social media push and the promising brief to “celebrate” the pig.
Alas in practice, this promise seems to be more of a porky.
In the interests of full disclosure, it should be noted that the Pricks’ meal here on a recent afternoon did not start off on the best of notes. Rocking up for lunch with another couple we were told we could only sit in the ground floor bar area. No worries; four hungry diners who’d skipped breakfast in full expectation of suckling pig don’t really care where they eat so long as there’s a flat surface and perhaps some cutlery.
You see where this is going, right?
Adamantine refusal to serve downstairs dining room menu items upstairs (despite everything coming from the same damn kitchen, the waitress said she was only following orders); bruised shins from Mrs Prick’s vehement signaling that no, now is not the time to re-enact the diner scene from Five Easy Pieces; and some of the most disappointing sandwiches this side of a poorly-catered “boardroom lunch”.
Of course, we put on a brave face, keeping minds and jaws open for what we were allowed to order. The ghosts of history are hard to exorcise, and we chalk the refusal up to some obsession with rules hanging over from the old regime. Handing back the big kids’ menu we were allowed to peruse from the downstairs ratskeller (which, by the most generous count, only gives about 25 per cent of itself over to the pig, odd for a place that supposedly puts swine centre stage) we start with some nibbles.
First, fries, good, and croquettes of what is claimed to be suckling pig. Tasty and porky, light with a proper ratio of meat, though to be honest not a patch on some ham hock numbers we whipped up out of Colin Fassnidge’s really delightful new Four Kitchens cookbook in the Stately Prick Manor test kitchens last weekend. And while one presumes these are made from trimmings and off-cuts, suckling pig is really too special to just mix with potato and fry. Which means it is very special indeed.
Then, sandwiches, the most substantial thing one is allowed upstairs. Mrs Prick’s pork and veal meatballs baguette features four ping-pong balls of protein on an oversized roll; a toasted “prosciutto and provolone jaffle” does what it says on the tin but looks disconcertingly like an after-school snack. The pork belly baguette is a big winner, though cabbage straight out of the fridge makes for a jarring chaud-froid mouthfeel.
And then, the Reuben.
Short of dislocating one’s jaw like a python it is hard to know what to do when presented with a sandwich that consists of two thick (we are talking a good 1.5 centimetres here) slabs of untoasted brown bread that gets soggier by the second as it attempts to hold together a half-barrel of sauerkraut with a single thin slab of (as opposed to properly sliced and stacked) cured brisket that is supposedly the raison d’etre for the dish. While the kraut is sheathed with a half-melted slice of cheese, there is no Russian dressing, nor any of the glorious fat which makes the Reuben, done right, such a spectacular treat. It is an epic fail of a thing, sad to look at and sorrier to eat, and the proprietors of Swine & Co – as well as anyone else who wants a Reuben done right in this town – should avail themselves of Tony Gibson’s offerings at the Pyrmont farmers’ markets or head over to Momo’s on Elizabeth Street.
Add to this shambolic service – other tables’ orders kept showing up and a second round of drinks never made it to the table, but by the time the bill came no one had even the enthusiasm to check if they’d made it off the tab – and it is hard to imagine that the downstairs experience would be more satisfying. Disappointing in an area of town that is rapidly becoming a dining destination, it will be interesting to see how this little piggy fares in the market.