The Alibi in Darlinghurst, Sydney. Photo: Fiona Morris
The Alibi would not be out of place as the title of a John Grisham novel, but this Darlinghurst establishment is less legal thriller and more 1920s-inspired restaurant and bar.
In the Morgans Hotel building on Victoria Street, it has been designed with a nod to art deco Parisian chic.
This manifests itself in the sleek, dark-wood panelling, black leather seats, dim lighting and art deco print curtains.
Seared scallop and ocean trout tartare at The Alibi. Photo: Fiona Morris
The layout is terraced, separating groups of patrons from one another. There's a larger group on the ground floor, a bar and more tables on the top level, and smaller groups in the middle. The noise of the Friday night crowd reaches a crescendo as the evening goes on, but the cleverly designed interior maintains a sense of privacy while spreading a weekend-is-nigh atmosphere throughout.
As a table of four, our arrival is staggered and a little stressful, due to taxi dramas and traffic. Drinks are the first port of call. The Alibi's Japanese influence comes through in the drinks list - both the sakes and cocktails. The Cherry Blossom is made with plum wine and the Mr Hito mojito with miso, although this is hard to taste over the spirits.
The menu by chef Adam Lane, who has worked at Tetsuya's and Sake in Sydney, is designed to share. We start with the spicy edamame, served warm and tossed with a spice mix and sea salt.
Oysters come with a little bowl of wakame seaweed and ginger dressing on the side, but this is very sweet, so we opt for the wedge of lemon instead.
The scampi spring roll is wrapped in a light pastry and served with a tomato vinaigrette, but the hit of the entrees is the kingfish sashimi. Slices of fish are lined up along a long plate and topped with rounds of jalapeno chilli filled with crushed pine nuts and a pink pomegranate seed. A yuzu soy dressing adds a sweet, citrusy kick.
For the mains, the tempura prawns come sliced in small pieces to aid sharing. It is a good pub-grub dish, for those nights when the drinks list is getting a workout. But it is the duck and pork dishes that really step things up.
The pork belly has been cooked for 13 hours, the waiter tells us. Sliced into three, it sits upon a sweet, velvety carrot puree, with a side of lightly pickled cabbage. In the duck dish, slices of breast are placed atop a white bean puree, with braised witlof on the side. A vegetarian main of crispy tofu with mushrooms, iceberg lettuce and a sweet miso sauce is fresh and tasty, but compared with the two previous dishes, it feels a bit like a takeaway. The fried enoki mushrooms on top are a nice textural touch.
We continue the share-plate approach into dessert. The banana harumaki or spring roll is a real hit. The batter is light and crispy and there's an extra hit of sweetness from the red bean paste. Not so popular is the peanut butter parfait. It is too salty for us.
The service is excellent - attentive but never intrusive. The staff clearly takes great pride in both the food and drink offerings, serving each one with a detailed explanation and answering all questions from the table. No request is too much trouble - from diluting a super-strong cocktail to facilitating a staged approach to ordering as different parties arrive.
The drinks and food are strong enough to stand alone, and the layout caters to both crowds. It may not be as clandestine a venue as the name implies, but it certainly is a whole load of fun.
Japanese-inspired share plates plus cocktails and sake.
Fair. Starters, $6-$18; mains, $19-$33; sides, $5-$11; desserts, $4-$12.
Scampi spring roll, kingfish sashimi, braised pork belly, confit duck breast, banana harumaki.
- 02 9331 7897
- Prices - Starters, $6-$18; mains, $19-$33; sides, $5-$11; desserts, $4-$12.
- Features - Bar, Accepts bookings, Licensed
- Chef(s) - Adam Lane
- Owners - Alex Bouris, Dane Bouris
- Opening Hours - Tuesday to Saturday, 5pm-late. Lunch, Friday, 11.30am-2.30pm.
- Author - Sarah McInerney