“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” So said the ever-quotable Winston Churchill lo those many decades ago, and it remains a good principle today: Don’t be afraid to piss people off on general principle. Wednesday night I had occasion to think of this as Mrs Prick, myself, and a few friends ate just down the road at Stanmore’s Sixpenny.
Now Sixpenny has quickly become one of the hottest diners in the inner-west thanks to chefs Daniel Puskas and James Parry who have collectively done time at everywhere from Sepia and Tetsuya’s to Noma and Alinea. Sixpenny took a hat from the Herald almost as soon as it opened and a strong 4 out of 5 from the Weekend Australian Magazine’s Jonathan Lethlean – who for my money is best working restaurant critic in the country. And I would attribute this in no small part to an all-degustation menu that, like Churchill’s aphorism, is not afraid to stand up for something, even if it puts a few people off-side.
By, for example, opening the batting with poached duck tongues on gem lettuce. This is not a middle-brow dish for the masses: When I rhapsodised about it to workmates the next day, half thought it sounded fantastic, half squealed, “Ewww!” And that was just the guys. In fact, it is quite surprising. Like so many other activities that sound at first blush odd or unpleasant, eating duck’s tongue is not half-bad. They have far less resistance or give than you expect, melting in the mouth, tasting like nothing so much as soft duck fat with a bit of greens as a foil. Along side the tongues are tiny little sandwiches – “knuckle sandwiches”, to be exact, made from pig knuckles on house-made bread. Yum. Again, this is not food for everybody. But it turned out it was food for us.
To be honest, I was prepared to not love Sixpenny. I have at least a mild allergy to hype, and having heard about items like the above-mentioned knuckle sandwich I worried that it all might be too cute by half. It wasn’t. The quickly-earned hat (and hey, is that Terry Durack or just a dead-wringer lurking in the opposite corner?) also raised eyebrows. But nevermind. Seating about thirty in the old Codfather restaurant, lately relocated to the lately-dejunkyfied Glebe Point Road, in what could be any minimalist inner-west dining room (save for the fantastic service bar in the middle of the room, and no, Mrs Prick said, we cannot install one at Stately Prick Manor) the place is all about The Food.
Snacks give way to plated dishes. Replacing their advertised garden beans with soft cheese comes another dish, onions served with a cheddar oil extracted by some laborious and time-consuming process now forgotten. Indeed, every dish seemed to involve some element that just took a ridiculous amount of time, and given that they’re only doing one seating four nights a week these guys must be flat out making very little money per hour. The cheddar oil stars, and all agreed we’d like to see it take a more prominent role in another dish.
Then: the mud crab, with macadamia and camomile, what is shaping up to be the joint’s signature dish. If Sixpenny’s chefs, God help us, were ever promoted on Masterchef, this is the dish that the contestants, in all their ethnically-balanced western-suburbs glory, would spend an episode flapping about attempting to re-create. Stunning in flavour, it just captured the absolute essence of the muddy. Silky, luxurious, with the odd but in fact absolutely right addition of macadamia and camomile flavours to both balance and accent the flesh. Our only qualm was the presentation – and has anyone else noticed that chefs, having spent years making sure there was plenty of white space between elements of their composed plates for so long, are now clustering and interfolding them back together again? Well, not to get all AA Gill on you, but the table agreed that this was not to the best effect. For myself, it reminded me of the night I’d had an unpleasant slip and fall some hours after letting the dog finish my bowl of fettucini alfredo.
But really, these guys have a way with seafood. One couple in our party had recently been to Quay; they said that kitchen has nothing on Sixpenny when it comes to fish. A sweet potato dish with whey and John Dory roe doesn’t quite work but is redeemed by a plate of the sweetest, tenderest snapper, with pumpkin seed cream, pumpkin sand (trust me, it works) and soft, sharp leeks. Better than the mud crab, and a joy because despite the seeming simplicity of the plate the quiet behind the scenes work to make this sort of thing happen does not leave you thinking, “Well, great, but I could probably knock this up at home just as well.” This is not haute dinner party food by any stretch of the imagination.
A little piece of Coorong hangar steak arrives with a smoked cabbage cream (yep, they smoke the cabbage out the back, making me wonder how they coped during our recent rains) and mustard greens compressed with the resultant ash shifted gears and textures, and was with a nebbiolo-primitivo blend from Grove Estate. (Did I mention the wines, almost all from NSW, were spectacular? I’d like to see the boys eventually add an a la carte option so we could try a bottle of some of the gems on their wine list.)
It was not all roses, of course, though the day-lillies were an absolute treat. There were things I didn’t like: the sour lemon was just too much for me, though everyone else nommed theirs up. And there were dishes that others didn’t like which I adored: Mrs Prick didn’t have her world set alight by the honey mead sorbet, which I thought was rich and sweet and unctuous and complex and yet very finely balanced all at the same time. The Jersey milk ice cream, however, was insane, and by the time the bill came we were drawing up papers to buy ourselves a PacoJet as a cooperative. Jars of lamingtons and other treats round out the menu; good, but perhaps a bit of a tack back towards the cuteness that kicked off the meal. By now I am perfectly full and instead sit on a slug of Armagnac. No matter. An awesome night. And to bring us back to Churchill, the next morning I was sober, but these guys keep turning out greatness.