Revolving restaurants, friends. What does the phrase mean to you?
The horror show slop served to foreign tourists and hopeless suitors atop that Sydney Tower space needle building downtown?
The running gag about Hank’s Look-Around café in The Larry Sanders Show?
Or do you think about food that, if you’re lucky, exists one step in quality above the served at an American ex-urban steam table dinner theatre? You know, the sort of place where diners gum at their flaccid cauliflower and “mixed vegetables” while the Hartford Community Players hack out Death of a Salesman and the local paper’s food columnist quietly mutters “Eureka!” as he reaches for his pad to note his upcoming review’s opening zinger, “This chicken Kiev is liked, but it is not well-liked”?
It has been a while since we’ve met in this space: The Prick has been away a bit, seen a few things, refocused a few priorities, and of course is as open-minded as always, if not more so. And thus while it is still the firm belief of this house that anything west of the Summer Hill Wine Shop is pretty much all just sea monsters on a map, the Prick can also report that contrary to previous opinion – wait for it – revolving restaurants can also be good, damned good.
Or at least one can be. Take O Bar & Dining, atop the Australia Square building in what the Sydney Morning Herald robotically calls “the top end of town”. The structure was built in 1967, which is all you need to know about why they decided to crown it with fine diner on bearings. And while it has had its ups and downs for the past several years the space has been the domain of English chef Michael Moore. Moore still owns it, but he recently made the move of installing fellow Englishman Darren Templeman to run the kitchen as executive chef.
Templeman is one of Sydney’s great yet until now unfairly under-recognised talents. Those in the know will have visited his Atelier Restaurant when it still stood in Glebe or attended one of his private dinners over the past year where he would do things like follow a dirtily sexy, off-to-confession sea urchin chawanmushi with a proper canard a la presse, done according to the ancient rite, and just leave everyone’s heads and taste buds spinning for days. His is a great “High Anglican” cooking of the sort you find in Michelin restaurants in London and around the world, French-influenced but not dominated, and somehow it’s all changed planes in Kyoto on the way to Oz.
Now Templeman is running a much bigger show as the Executive Chef at O Bar and Dining. He’s making a damn fine fist of it too, if the buzz that hits diners even before they step off the lift is any judge. On a school night just before Christmas, the joint was positively jumping, with private parties galore and a bar scene of good looking youngsters that would have made Justin Hemmes scratching his head in wonderment: You mean not every establishment in Sydney needs a ‘roided-up Tongan at the door to show people who’s boss?
But this is still a serious dining restaurant with table cloths (remember those?) and its panorama – it takes about 90 minutes to get around; no, you can’t speed it up or slow it down or otherwise work the controls, we already asked – means that this will still be something of an “occasion” place for a lot of diners.
Happily, the food lives up to the ever-changing view, in turns bright, punchy, and surprising in an oh-I-never-noticed-that-was-there-before sort of way. A veneer of virtuousness also sits above the whole thing. Moore has a “healthy eating philosophy” which informs but does not annoy the menu and even throws up a few twists that make one think that if adopted elsewhere in one’s life, the coroner might not need to write “Cause of Death: Bearnaise” on the final paperwork.
Thus a little jar of potted shrimp with pickles opens the batting nicely; washed down with Hendricks and cucumber it is both a stimulant for the palate and a cleanser of the day just past. A couple of different raw fish platters are next, each with different dressings but a cobia with finger limes, coriander, truss tomatoes and avocado oil wins the day, rolling the palate through a variety of sweet, sharp and savoury sensations all in one go.
Hemingway could have gotten twenty pages out of the psychic arm wrestle we had with the menu over mains (incidentally the steaks are some of the nicest meat at some of the relatively most reasonable prices you’ll find in town at this sort of place). Just as one of us decided we wanted fish the other would want meat and, well, we weren’t having two different bottles of wine and going to work the next day, and so it went, but finally amity was restored with the decision to go not different, but same-same.
We were glad we did, both of us ordering the duck three ways (pink breast, confit leg, and a glorious peppery little duck sausage made out the back filled with more spare parts than a botched IKEA assembly job). It took us back to the old days at Atelier. Figs that had just been kissed by the plancha brought a hint of smoke to the dish and an “almond tahina” (there’s that sensible eating thing again) was as creamy as any classical puree and despite the description did not taste as if it should have been served in the rectory after the 10am interfaith guitar mass.
There was no doubt we would finish on the soufflé, and it did not disappoint – even if we did have to dive to another tables to get spoons to eat the things with – washed down with a special “sour” from the bar. O Bar and Dining, like its view, is changing, slowly but perceptibly, and my God it is hard to avoid a “great heights” metaphor here. Suffice it so say that the Prick would never endorse going to a “view” restaurant in any other town, but here in Sydney, we’re special, right?
Oh, and apparently they’re rebooting the bar menu as well, so one can call in for drinks and nibbles as well as sitting down for the whole box-and-dice. Either way have fun, and tell ‘em the Prick sent ya.