Level 1, Forresters, 336 Riley Street (cnr Foveaux St) Surry Hills, NSW 201002 9212 3035
|Opening hours||Tues-Sun, 6pm-late; Fri, noon-4pm.|
One foot on the steps leading up to Queenie's restaurant and we're smiling. We're venturing to the Caribbean, Sydney style, and if the beats pumping out of the staircase are any indication, it is going to be a fun night.
Queenie's opened in October on the first floor of Surry Hills pub the Forresters. It is another venture from the Drink n Dine Group, the team behind the re-invigorated food offerings at pubs such as the Abercrombie, the Carrington and the Norfolk.
Jamaican is the restaurant's main food focus, although the menu, designed by executive chef Jamie Thomas and co-owner James Wirth, spruiks ''pan-tropical specialties''. True to the theme, there's a good rum offering - 30 different types to be exact - stored behind a bar lit up like a Christmas tree with flashing lights. The friendly bar staff take on the challenge of a mocktail (perhaps not a frequent request, as they're not on the drinks list) and deliver a fruity concoction so good it gets a number of repeat orders.
It's Saturday night and the restaurant is packed. We're seated near the bar with a birds-eye view of the main dining area. The decor, from designer Michael Delany, is meant to be more voodoo diner than Jamaican. This includes a white tiger head sculpture and other kitsch touches, like painted versions of those fish-shaped plates that were big in the 1980s, and bouquets of fake flowers.
The music is lively, but not overly obtrusive. In fact, you wouldn't want it any other way in a place like this, where the bar staff work as hard as the kitchen staff, and dreams of sipping a cocktail by the sandy shores of Montego Bay grow stronger by the minute.
The service is excellent - not just attentive but also knowledgeable. Queenie's version of tacos, called ''bammies'', are made from grated cassava chips soaked in coconut milk, we are told by our waitress. She suggests the prawn, mango and ginger, and doesn't lead us astray. They are delicious and the flat, thicker-than-expected casing is not as dry as it looks, having soaked up all the moisture from the topping.
The plantain chips almost win the title of ''better than hot chips''. Deep-fried and served with chilli salt and spiced mayo, they are sweet with a hint of heat. We fight for the last one and hope they're healthier than potato chips, given the short work we make of the lot (and the fact we've ordered a side of sweet potato fries - also delicious).
The barbecue kingfish is a beautifully balanced dish, smoky and citrusy with bell peppers on top and a sauce spiked with jerk seasoning underneath. Other highlights are the steak cooked with the Worcestershire-like flavours of Pikapeppa Sauce and the barbecue jerk chicken.
Dessert takes a while to hit the table as orders from the now-full restaurant come in thick and fast. It's worth the wait. The Kingston Kreme Donuts come five to the plate, served with cream plus a chocolate and coffee sauce.
Having arrived at Queenie's with a grin, we leave with big smiles, not to mention a tingle on the tongue from the jerk flavouring in the cream that came with dessert (an unexpected twist). The food, the drinks and the service are a great combination. But most of all, it's a whole load of fun.
Pan-tropical cuisine with a Jamaican focus.
Bammies, fried plantain, barbecue kingfish, Kingston Kreme Donuts.
4 stars (out of five)