Barrel Bar and Dining

Terry Durack
North shore newbie: Barrel Bar and Dining.
North shore newbie: Barrel Bar and Dining. Photo: Christopher Pearce

3/362 Military Road Cremorne, New South Wales 2090

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Opening hours Mon-Fri 5:00 – 11:00 PM, Sat 12:00 – 11:00 PM, Sun 12:00 – 10:00 PM
Features Bar, Licensed, Accepts bookings, Gluten-free options, Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access, Degustation, Romance-first date
Prices Expensive (mains over $40)
Chef Zac Stanning?, Luke Davenport
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone (02) 9904 5687

If too many cooks spoil the broth, what would three sommeliers do? The unfunny answer is open a wine bar on the lower north shore, with a list of boutique wines from smaller producers, and a couple of chefs with some good food miles on the CVs. I can hear all of Cremorne cheering and clapping from here.

With experience at London's Savoy Grill, Balmoral's Public Dining Room, and Momofuku Seiobo​ respectively, Tony Binning, Stephen Thompson and Alex Searle are not only hands-on but feet-on, delivering plates and clearing tables in between opening bottles and pouring flutes of champagne.

The "bar and dining" descriptor rings true, with a dark and moody wine bar lying streetside, complete with counter stools, and high round tables. A less casual dining room with dark timber, moulded chairs and unclothed tables lies behind the open kitchen, a cleverly faux ceiling of "grapevines" disguising the adjacent stairway to the local Plus Fitness 24/7 gym.

Twelve-hour cured Queensland king prawns.
Twelve-hour cured Queensland king prawns. Photo: Christopher Pearce

Chefs Zac Stanning​ (Public Dining Room) and Luke Davenport (Cottage Point Inn and Mr. Wong) divide the long, skinny menu into Snacks, Smaller Plates and Larger Plates. Wine-friendly snacks include warm olives, crunchy pork scratchings, and pumpkin "nachos" ($6) – deep-fried gnoccho fritto-style dough shapes served with a sweet pumpkin puree and crumbly house made ricotta.

The dish already emerging as a signature is of Queensland prawns cured for 12 hours in salt, sugar, coffee and lime, served with jewelled blobs of vanilla and coffee jelly, and finished with tiny purple snap dragons ($17). Super-pretty, it's easy to eat, if still a little salty. The "Barrel boys" suggest an Austrian gruner veltliner with it, but it goes swimmingly with a fresh, lightly citrussy 2014 View Road "Picked By My Wife" Arneis​ from the Adelaide Hills ($11/$46).

A "smaller plate" of fritto misto ($13) is an almost delicate, but still satisfying, lineup of lightly coated calamari, prawn, barramundi and salmon with wasabi crisps and citrus mayo.

Slow-cooked carrot, smoked carrot puree and pickled carrot.
Slow-cooked carrot, smoked carrot puree and pickled carrot. Photo: Christopher Pearce

Next is a dramatic, fluorescent composition of 24-hour slow-cooked, smoked and pickled carrots ($14) that's top value for the effort, art and fun involved. Every forkful plays a different tune on sweet, savoury, smoke, crisp, soft, earthy and acidic, with only the scattering of salted honeycomb rocks (huh?) feeling gratuitous. Carrots, as Bugs Bunny will tell you, are exciting enough in themselves.

The Barrel boys don't force wine matches down your throat, in fact it's sometimes hard to chase them down for a recommendation. But their red wine sales team must be happy with slow-cooked beef cheeks ($26) being on the menu. The dark, shreddy lobes of meat are soft to the fork, gussied up with parsnip crisps, sweet logs of confit leek, parsnip puree, and a dark, sticky jus. A robust, spicy, GSM-ish 2010 Domaine Grande Bellane Valreas Cotes du Rhone Villages ($52) gallops to the rescue.

Desserts are seasonal variations on the crisp/gelato/crumble/powder/gel/ shards stylebook. A baked (but still quite firm) Batlow apple with peach anglaise ($12) reaches for the sky, topped precariously with a candied apple crisp, and coffee and walnut gelato.

Fritto misto of squid, prawn, barramundi and salmon.
Fritto misto of squid, prawn, barramundi and salmon. Photo: Christopher Pearce

It suggests the kitchen might be aiming too high (sometimes it's better to be Jamie than Heston). But full marks for the ideas, the buzzy atmosphere, for the fair prices, the offer of BYO wine Sunday to Thursday, and for actively engaged owners who look as if they get a real kick out of running their own business. It's a safe bet that if they're enjoying themselves, we will, too.

THE LOW-DOWN
Best bit
It's a wine bar – that's always the best bit.
Worst bit Guilt-inducing proximity to gym.
Go-to dish 24-hour, slow-cooked carrot, smoked carrot puree, pickled heirloom carrot, salted honeycomb, crisp carrot tops. $14

Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.