Urban renewal has given Sydney some eating and drinking establishments in unlikely places. Think public toilets, electricity substations and, in the case of the recently opened Riley St Garage, a car-hire depot.
This rather grand Art Deco-style building was built in 1934, housing a garage, service station and car wash for the Drive Yourself Lessey's Ltd company. It now has a very different purpose.
Gone are the spare parts and work tables, not to mention the vehicles it contained in a more recent incarnation as businessman Frank Lowy's garage. In its place is a 200-seat restaurant from the team behind Bondi's Stuffed Beaver. They've created a dark and sexy space, with a jazz soundtrack, exposed concrete walls and an expansive bar where customers can eat as well as drink. It's a dominant feature of the industrial space and in many ways the heart of this venue. Behind it, oysters are shucked to order and cocktails are poured. There are plenty of tables, too. During our visit the crowd is largely made up of groups, large and small - 'tis the season, after all. But it would be a great place to take a date, or go for a date night. The decibels build as the night goes on, so go early if you want to chat easily.
The drinks list is comprehensive, with wines that traverse the globe, and an emphasis on tequila, rum and whisky. The darkly coloured Brazilevardier cocktail smells like Christmas in a glass. Made with aperol, cachaca, vermouth and negroni, it packs a punch and has the price tag to match ($20). The tequila-based 212 cocktail ($18), on the other hand, is a more sprightly drink that lives up to its description of "tall, tart and tangy".
The food has a melting pot of influences from Asian to American, sashimi to corn dogs. Split into sections - small plates, share plates, mains - the menu offers flexibility depending on the kind of night you're after. Whatever that is, try the Morton Bay bug tempura. Two pieces are fried in a light, crisp beer batter and beautifully presented atop the tail shell. A subtle heat spike and citrus undertones come from the zesty Japanese-style mayonnaise, flavoured with yuzu citrus peel, chilli paste, garlic, chives and ponzu.
Less successful is the ''raw bar'' take on fish'n'chips: potato chips act as vessels to scoop up diced pieces of sashimi, but the fish's subtle flavours are drowned by an overly generous serve of sweet, creamy sauce.
Dessert presents another standout, the liquid lemon cheesecake, a well-executed deconstruction of the traditional version. Yellow and white splodges of cream and cream cheese are piped onto a biscuit soil, all topped with a refreshing lemon ice. Scoop them all into one mouthful and voila, lemon cheesecake.
Service here is excellent: knowledgeable, attentive and friendly. Nods to the building's origins, as well as its design heritage, are on show but are not overdone, from the staff uniforms (braces and tool belt-style notepad holders) to the utilitarian metal taps over concrete tubs in the loos, and the Art Deco motifs on the crockery.
This reconstructed garage is loads of fun, with options to suit diverse dining journeys.
RILEY ST GARAGE
55 Riley Street,
Woolloomooloo, 9326 9055
Tue-Wed 5pm to midnight; Thu-Sat noon to midnight.
Menu Dishes big and small designed to share, or go your own way.
Value Can be pricey, depending on your order. Oysters $4 each, small share plates $12-$17, mains $20-$34, large share plates $36-$68, dessert $4-$17.
Recommended dishes Oysters, beer tempura Morton Bay bug, liquid lemon cheesecake