14.5/20

Parlour Wine Bar

Kendall Lane, Canberra, ACT

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Black magic ... Eden calamari, squid ink, black garlic romesco, wood sorrel.
Black magic ... Eden calamari, squid ink, black garlic romesco, wood sorrel. Photo: Jay Cronan

Kirsten Lawson

If you were a devotee of the old Parlour Wine Room, you might be as surprised as us at the slick, airy and light wine bar-eatery that has emerged in its place, finally open two years after the fire. The old Parlour had a sense of the luxurious and louche, with a feel of heavy drapery (that might or might not have been there, hard to recall), plush burgundy couches (ditto) and those ottoman stools.

The new Parlour is snappy and modern, a square bar taking up the centre of the room, packed with tables, a couple of nooks for couches, and big windows and doors on to a deck and daylight. So it has lost a bit of intimacy, but none of the sense that stuff happens here. Just a fortnight or thereabouts into opening, it's packed and buzzy.

The food list is smart, arranged in lists of tapas, seafood, meat and "el jardin", which is not too hard to translate. The ambition is Spanish tapas and shared plates, so dishes arrive one at a time. The plates are gorgeous, in elegant peacock blue, which is owner Bria Sydney's personal thing (thus the name of her other restaurant, the Elk and Pea in Lonsdale Street).

Free-range quail eggs, hay ash, piment d?espellete, truffle cream.
Free-range quail eggs, hay ash, piment d'espellete, truffle cream. Photo: Jay Cronan

We're seated at a little table, with a tealight candle, and activity all around that you have to talk fairly loudly over.

To start, cider-battered anchovies (sidra rebozado anchoas, if you want it in Spanish, $6) - about six little, puffed anchovies, firmly battered, with a nice fishy bite inside.

The mention of razor clams has us remembering so many tapas bars in Barcelona, Figueres and Girona, where we ate these with such fixation. They came on their shell, fresh, with plenty of muscle texture, just thrown on the grill. But they're not so easy to find fresh in this part of the world, so the ones offered at Parlour are pickled - preserved razor clams, salt and vinegar ($7), and more soft and vinegary than fresh and bitey. Pale by comparison, but fine as snacks on their own terms.

The new Parlour Wine Room is snappy and modern.
The new Parlour Wine Room is snappy and modern. Photo: Jay Cronan

Eden calamari, squid ink, black garlic romesco, wood sorrel ($17) has some black magic. It's a plate of loose-shaped, black-wrapped calamari strips that look almost like tiny croissants. You can pick them up with your fingers, the batter is light and black as ink, leaving black on fingers and lips. There are lots of these little packages and the sauce with each is likewise dark, sweet and sour with capsicum and presumably the black garlic, and vegemitey. It has some panache, this dish.

Pork belly, PX sherry, fried onion, hazelnut ($17) is suggested as something we should order. The squares of pork belly are well cooked, not over-caramelised, but left soft and tender and are nice little piles of fatty meat. The sauce that covers them, though, is too sweet, very like caramel, which is overkill on pork belly.

We like the sound of tortilla de cabra - ''house-aged goat'' with red onion conserve, roast garlic, meredith goat yoghurt ($19). It comes as little rounds of shredded goat meat wrapped in tortilla. The wrapping is soft and tasteless, and detracts from the goat meat, which is lightly spiced at the sweet end of the spectrum. This is OK, although the condiments don't add much.

Cosy ... Parlour Wine Room at  Newacton Pavilion, 16 Kendall Lane.
Cosy ... Parlour Wine Room at Newacton Pavilion, 16 Kendall Lane. Photo: Jay Cronan

Chorizo, cider, shallot, parsley ($16) is a dish we don't like, the chorizo feeling only chewy.

Free-range quail eggs, hay ash, piment d'espellete, truffle cream ($14), though, has more potential and like the squid-ink calamari has a core of a good idea. There are perhaps half a dozen little quail eggs on the plate, cooked nicely and on the edge of runny in the middle. They're sprinkled liberally with a crunchy, very salty topping, with loads of welcome heat from paprika, I guess, and flakes of something that make you think of cereal.

The dish that shows Parlour at its best is braised lamb shoulder with amaranth and dried mint ($49). It's a massive hunk of meat covered with mint and amaranth, the former rather too overpowering and sharp, the latter not adding more than the modernity of its inclusion. The 14-hour meat, though, is gorgeous. It sinks apart as you touch it and is beautifully cooked - fatty, tender and excellent.

We have this on our second visit, when the food is uniformly likeable. School prawns are great, fried fresh and crisp, served just with a mayo, and seem the kind of simple, highly appealing snacky food Parlour should be focused on.

Marinated quail ($19) with morcilla and ''mojo de cilantro'', a kind of coriander pesto, comes as four little legs of quail nicely barbecued, spiced with what I'm assuming is smoked paprika, and served on squares of blood sausage. The morcilla is firm and fine and the quail legs are good, but the crunchy puffed rice and ''radish dust'' are not needed and show little more than a desire to keep up with trends.

The wine list is centred on Spanish varieties and if you want a magical mystery tour, it will also keep you entertained with oddities. Sommelier Peter Bell appears to be something of an aficionado of weird, unusual and lesser-known wines from around the world and will go out of his way, if you ask, to introduce you to them. We drink some wines that border on crazy on our first visit; on our second we settle more comfortably into the Spanish varieties.

Baked custard, puff, burnt orange, lavender praline ($16) is a rich dessert, a loose pile of thick custard on the plate with more crunchy flakes on top amid other bits. It's not greatly to our taste.

Churros ($11) is one of those compulsory Spanish desserts, which in Australia as in Spain speak of nothing more than trash eating. Doughnuts dipped in chocolate, ripe for exploitation, destined for worldwide popularity. They are what they are.

So our first visit early in Parlour's new life was disappointing, but the second much more promising. We're left feeling that the complexity of some plates is out of whack with the fun bar setting, but those bright spots - the melty lamb, the thrilling squid-ink calamari and the little barbecued quail legs (is there a fire and phoenix theme in all this ash and charcoal?) - will have us back and happy for it.

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Kendall Lane, Canberra, ACT

  • Cuisine - Spanish
  • Features - Licensed, Wheelchair access, Vegetarian friendly
  • Chef(s) - Brad Warton
  • Owners - Bria and Ross Sydney
  • Cards accepted - AMEX, Visa, Mastercard, EFTPOS
  • Opening Hours - Dinner Tuesday to Sunday, lunch Thursday to Sunday
  • Seats - 110 inside, 60-80 outside
  • Author - Kirsten Lawson
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Turning the tables ... the Parlour Wine Bar at Newacton Pavilion, 16 Kendall Lane, Canberra. Click for more photos

Parlour Wine Bar

Turning the tables ... the Parlour Wine Bar at Newacton Pavilion, 16 Kendall Lane, Canberra. Photo: Jay Cronan

  • Turning the tables ... the Parlour Wine Bar at Newacton Pavilion, 16 Kendall Lane, Canberra.
  • Free-range quail eggs, hay ash, piment d'espellete, truffle cream.
  • Black magic ... Eden calamari, squid ink, black garlic romesco, wood sorrel.
  • The wine selection is centred on Spanish varieties.
  • Out of the fire ... Parlour Wine Bar.
  • New light ... Interior of the Parlour Wine Bar.

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A smart wine bar with a Spanish theme that is a lovely place to be.

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