32 Bayswater Road Potts Point, NSW 2011
|Opening hours||Wed-Sat, 5pm-late; Sun, 1pm-late (the bar has a 24-hour licence).|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Phone||02 9357 3414|
What big shoes to fill. Moving into the spot recently vacated by the legendary Bayswater Brassiere was never going to be easy.
And opening on Bayswater Road in the Cross amid a rash of closures, bad press and dwindling crowds doesn't help, either.
But someone forgot to tell former make-up artist Sarah Budge and nightclub DJ David Fedele.
With the backing of some Kings Cross heavyweights, the pair have spared no expense on this late-night bar and Japanese restaurant.
In fact, it's the first thing I think to myself when I step inside the sprawling, multi-room pleasure palace: sheesh, this must have cost a bomb.
The renovation extends from the fake grass-clad balcony at the front to the black granite sushi bar in the middle to the jungle-like ''atrium'' at the back.
It's Japanese temple meets secret garden; a fusion of minimalist Asian decoration and bright florals that borders on the gaudy in parts but, hey, we're in the Cross. You've got to be in it to win it.
Earlier in the night, when it's a restaurant serving up excellent Japanese food by chef Taichi Ito, some of the bar's areas feel awkwardly empty.
When the weekend kicks in, though, it quickly becomes standing-room only. It's a Bayswater Road-type crowd of suave suits and tiny dresses but older (and cleaner) than The World Bar next door and slightly better behaved than Hugo's.
The cocktail menu sounds impressive, riffing on old classics with a subtle Japanese twist. However the execution was hit and miss. My Tagaroshi Old Fashioned (Maker's Mark bourbon, seven-spice bitters, house-made black sesame brittle, $18) was bland and had none of the spice or sesame brittle as promised. Perhaps sensing my disappointment, the maitre-d' offered to try again and turned the spice factor up by 10. The second time around it was brilliant - the sweetness hit first, then the delicious spice attacked at the back of the throat.
The Ume Margarita (ume plum, Sauza Hornitos Reposado tequila, Cointreau, Crane sour mix, green tea salt, $18) was beautifully presented and tasted even better with its whiff of plum and beautiful, intricate flavours.
Despite the complexity of the Sochu Sumo (Johnny Walker Black, Kakushigura barley shochu, lemon, shiso, mint, honey, ginger, $18) it was a disappointing melange of fruitiness. These delicate drinks depend on skilful execution and if you order during a busy spell or get a dud bartender, you may be wasting your hard-earned.
Sake is, of course, well represented, with two pages of fabulous options, each with tasting notes.
Half-a-dozen Australian wines by the glass and a handful of beers aren't nearly as exciting as the sake and Japanese whiskies. There's a mild case of bill shock at the end of the night when it appears my companion and I have not only had some fine drinks but also eaten our way through $200 worth of food. Indeed, it is lovely food but perhaps a little overpriced for a casual feed.
A plate of 10 little slices of duck - tender and resting on a bed of honey and rocket - is $36. A martini glass of melt-in-your mouth strips of beef tataki with crisp garlic is $22. They do, however, have one of the most original bar tasting plates I've come across: sea barramundi with white soy sauce, salt and pepper squid, crispy chicken karaage and vegetable Japanese croquette for $25.
The food was spot on (except for the desserts, which were a touch boring) but this is not a place for the penny counters.
YOU'LL LOVE IT IF … you want to splash out on dinner and drinks in the Cross.
YOU'LL HATE IT IF … you want a big night out on little money.
GO FOR … Ume Margarita, beef tataki, the tasting plate.