Southern style: The revamped Bourbon reflects its New Orleans inspiration. Photo: Danielle Smith
In its heyday in the 1960s and '70s the Bourbon and Beefsteak pulled a raggle-taggle crowd of American sailors on R&R, local cops, trade unionists, CIA agents, nightclub dancers, drag queens, drug dealers and ladies of the night. Born again nearly 50 years later, it's filled with fresh-faced girls with flowers in their hair celebrating twenty-something birthdays, young urban professionals, property developers, politicians, lawyers, software developers and food critics. I'm sorry, but they're lowering the tone. Somebody should complain.
It won't be me, however, because it's bloody brilliant to have the Bourbon back. It was sad to watch it gradually taken over by cheap hen's nights and cricketers behaving badly, before dying a slow death of mortification and, finally, closing after it was damaged in a storm in 2010.
The venue's new owner, Chris Cheung of the Coogee Bay Hotel, has poured a pile of money into it, split off the ever-depressing pokies' room and turned the space into a multitasking drinking and dining venue that cleverly evokes the original's southern roots. That means plenty of bourbon-based cocktails in the bar, a menu full of reworked New Orleans classics in the restaurant and some mellow jazz and New Orleans funk on the small stage every night from 9pm.
Go-to dish: Deep-fried oysters d'jour with Rockefeller mayo. Photo: Danielle Smith
The split-level space starts with a glossy, white-tile, street-front bar area, steps up to a noisy timber-lined middle dining area, and finishes with a small but stylish dining room tucked away to the back that's all dark carpet, brick mille feuille columns, tan leather banquettes and blue velvet dining chairs. A deliciously triangular corner table is a dress-circle spot in which to settle, with views of a bustling kitchen with yet another top chef who trained up in finer diners than this.
James Metcalfe used to be head chef at the high-flying Becasse, and has managed to reassemble much of his old kitchen team at the Bourbon. He has installed a distinct contemporary Creole accent with such dishes as gumbo (spicy duck and smoked sausage broth), succotash, blackened tuna and a Cajun pumpkin and okra lasagne.
The egalitarian brasserie attitude means you can order high or low, big or small, without having to worry too much about fitting in. A grilled half lobster bathed in Montpelier butter and served with a bowl of parmesan-drizzled fries ($39) sits just as happily against a cheapskate order of crumbed and fried green tomatoes ($8) touched with a light and tangy buttermilk dressing. Oysters are a big order here, either with Bloody Mary granita ($4 each), or crumbed and deep-fried with a green Rockefeller mayo ($25 for six). Crisp outside, juicy inside, they're a great snack to share with a drink.
A ''classic cobb'' salad of boiled egg, chicken wings, avocado, bacon, tomato and blue cheese ($17) isn't classically presented in consecutive rows of ingredients, instead artfully composed and perfectly balanced. Clam and corn chowder ($22) is light and lovely, with just enough bacon to make things interesting. This is the sort of food that could feel cheap and heavy in the hands of a casual cook, but that's far from the case here; this kitchen is jumping. Even the Creole-style jambalaya ($25) is a lively, risotto-like mix of rice, shrimp, chilli, lime, bacon and smoked sausage, treading a comfortable line between soupy and substantial. Some dishes don't feel like natural fits in the mix; finely sliced, rather polite porchetta from the rotisserie ($26) for one, and big, heavy-duty estofada stew of Blackmore braised shin ($24) for another.
In the meantime, there are American beers and colourful cocktails, and fries and bucketloads of mayo, and a whole pile of sweet things from pumpkin pie to lime cheesecake and jelly. The kitchen applies the same carefully orchestrated approach to a pecan tart ($12), a meltingly soft yet chewy baton of brown caramelly, nut-studded sweetness with damn good pastry and a streak of bourbon syrup.
Wine wise, there are decent bottles either side of the $50 mark, including a fresh, peachy 2011 Wild Coast Margaret River Chardonnay for $42. Another Becasse refugee, David Jouy, runs the floor with a low-key Gallic charm that sits well with the French quarter feel of the place.
It's fun, it's different and it's right for its time as a generation of drinkers grows and matures into a generation of diners. Yet another sign that Kings Cross is thinking more of its stomach than its underbelly.
Best bit The Bourbon is back.
Worst bit I miss the low life.
Go-to dish Deep-fried oysters d'jour with Rockefeller mayo, $25 for six.
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.
- 02 9035 8888
- Cuisine - Contemporary, Seafood, American (US), South American
- Prices - About $95 for two, plus drinks
- Features - Bar, Licensed
- Chef(s) - James Metcalfe
- Owners - Chris Cheung
- Opening Hours - Daily, 10am-late (until 4am Fri and Sat)
- Author - Terry Durack