2 Moonbie Street Summer Hill, New South Wales 213002 9797 8118
|Opening hours||DINNER Tues-Sat 5.30-late; brunch Sat and Sun from 10am; lunch Fri-Sun noon-2pm; BAR Mon-Thurs 4pm-late, Fri and Sat noon-late, Sun 2pm-10pm|
|Features||Licensed, Bar, Accepts bookings|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Chef||R J Lines|
All you out there on your Paleo, Atkins, Dukan, Scarsdale, South Beach and Perricone diets, look away now. This is your worst nightmare: a bowl of roughed-up, scraggy and craggy, scrunchy and crunchy, salty and spicy deep-fried potatoes.
They're sebagos that have been boiled, drained, bashed about a bit in the pan, crisped up in hot oil until they are the colour of the setting sun, then dusted with a peppery, fennel and cumin spiced salt. And they are truly excellent.
There are other things to talk about. I could allude to the new-generation re-settling of the inner west, and reference the fact that a 114-year-old, heritage-listed former post office has been saved and repurposed, and is filled with life and energy once again. I could tell the story behind it, of owners David Murphy and Nina Alidenes, two local food identities who made their mark at Envy, just across the road; or note that One Penny Red refers to a now-rare 19th-century British stamp. But really, this is about the spuds.
By extension, it's also about the chef who cooks the spuds. R J Lines cooked at both the popular Glebe Point Diner and its sister restaurant, Neutral Bay Bar and Dining. And yes, he does things other than potatoes. The menu in the downstairs restaurant is a happy assemblage of Mediterranean-driven share dishes, running from smashed pea crostini through a cleverly constructed kingfish and pork belly skewer, to larger plates, including Holmbrae roast chicken and a one-kilogram Coorong grass-fed T-bone. Upstairs in the bar, a casual, snacky menu serves up lamb empanadas and the signature cheeseburger, and weekend brunches are already going off.
RJ, as he is known, doesn't do fussy or fancy. Instead, he does generous, earthy comfort food, based on first-rate produce. Six fat, little salt cod fritters ($14) are crisp on the outside and creamy within, punched up with a bowl of chilli mayo. Roast king prawns ($18) are even more straightforward, the three prawns cleaved in two through their shells and hit with bisque butter and crisply fried capers.
David Murphy's wine list is full of interest, leaning heavily towards small artisan growers and naturally made wines, including an earthy, juicy, biodynamic grenache carignan from Frederick Stevenson in the Barossa Valley ($64).
A pie of wild rabbit, chestnut and boozy currants ($26) is good winter fare, although it feels a bit soft and squishy paired with a similarly soft honeyed parsnip puree. A better bet is a pressed brick of slow-cooked lamb shoulder ($28), the tender, giving meat served with pomegranate, sorrel and a lush chickpea puree. If in need of any further comfort food, proceed directly to a glass of Neapolitan trifle ($14), layered with fresh strawberry jelly and a slightly dense sponge roll with a scoop of rich, dense chocolate mousse. Outside, the handsome building still looks very much like the post office it was until 18 years ago. The first floor still features the hoist used to lift the mail up to the sorting room, while downstairs, the old counter has been replaced by a high, broad, stool-lined zinc bar.
Tables are bare, floors are wooden and walls are unadorned, apart from shelves of wine. It's a companionable, easy-going, well-run sort of place, and one that the locals are going to adore, for big nights out and small. It's good to see an old post office delivering a service to its community once again - and without being cut back to three times a week, either.
Best bit: New life for a dead post office.
Worst bit: You can't pick up your mail.
Go-to dish: Crispy, spiced salt potatoes (below), $10.
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.