Two Stews and a Cockatoo is a name that conjures up images of old-school Australiana on a plate, complete with a bird on a perch at the entrance squawking a random assortment of words at passers-by.
But this wine bar is more about share plates than hearty braises, although there is a nod to nostalgia on the menu. Yes, there is a cockatoo, and he is on a perch of sorts, but having long since met his maker (he was found via a taxidermist in Melbourne), there's no chance of him catching diners unawares.
The ''Two Stews'' in the name are actually the owners, husband-and-wife team Tony and Nada Stewart, who opened the venue in late April. It's their first restaurant, but Nada is no stranger to the industry. She ran a cooking school and catering business for many years. Heading up the kitchen is chef Haydeon Young, who previously owned La Goulue in Crows Nest.
With limited local wine bar options, diners on the upper north shore have flocked (pardon the pun) to the venue. My suggestion: book ahead. Having failed to secure a weekend reservation, we visit on a Wednesday night and it is packed.
Tucked away in the shopping arcade-like lower level of the old Gordon GPO, the sleek fit-out is both homey and whimsical. It's the kind of venue you can rock up to in jeans or a frock and feel entirely comfortable. The bird motif flows through the site, from the staff aprons to the menu. Black-and-white family photos with the cockatoo Photoshopped in adorn one of the walls, and decorative metal bird cages hang from the ceiling.
The menu and seating facilitate different styles of dining - essentially wine bar or restaurant. There are stools at the bar, ideal for a quick glass of vino and a cheeseboard. Surrounding it are tables inside and out, with heaters keeping diners in the arcade section warm.
Welcomed by our hosts Tony and Nada, we settle in to peruse the wine list. It spans the globe, with a good number of Australian drops as well. There's a wine flight option for those keen to check out a few different wines of the same varietal.
Highlights from the food menu include that perennial crowd-pleaser, spring rolls, and winter comforter, slow-cooked beef.
The spring rolls are of the lamb variety. The thick wrappers are crispy outside with a soft pastry layer underneath. The rich minced lamb is flavoured with Middle Eastern spices and served with a bowl of mild minted yoghurt.
The slow-cooked beef is reminiscent of pulled pork, flaked into a generous pile on the plate. It is topped with pomegranate seeds that add a pop of sweetness, and diced cucumber pieces. The meat is melt-in-the-mouth good, but the dish is let down a little by the dry onion pancake served with it.
Less successful but still enjoyable are the tempura prawns. The meaty crustaceans are coated with a too-heavy batter. The same goes for the tuna sashimi. The overly sweet dressing overwhelms the fish, but the fried shallots are a nice touch.
We're on the fence with the Swedish prawn hotpot. It's nostalgia in a bowl; very retro, with a pinky-red hue, and an aroma and flavour reminiscent of Keen's curry powder (Nada says it is a mild curry but not Keen's). It is a walk down Australia's culinary memory lane.
Another nod to nostalgia is the banana fritter, with a very on-trend leap via a lovely peanut butter ice-cream.
The food at Two Stews is a little hit-and-miss, but is clearly a welcome addition to north shore dining. It is a fun place to spend a few hours, with different food and wine options to explore, and warm, friendly service.
Share plates with Asian and Mediterranean influences.
Good. Snacks $6-$8, starters $7-$18, main share plates $14-$24, dessert $14-$16.
Manchego cheese and crackers, lamb spring rolls, slow-cooked beef.
TWO STEWS AND A COCKATOO
Gordon GPO Building,
741 Pacific Highway,
Gordon, 9499 8698
Wed to Fri, noon to midnight;
Saturday, 4pm to midnight;
Sunday, noon to 10pm.