380 Oxford Street Paddington, New South Wales 202102 9240 3000
|Opening hours||Sun-Thu noon-midnight; Fri-Sat noon-3am|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Licensed, Family friendly|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
Why did the chicken cross the road? To get away from Ben Greeno. The former head chef of Momofuku Seiobo and work buddy of Denmark's Rene Redzepi and Nottingham's Sat Bains, is spit-roasting 100 Bannockburn chooks a day on three magnificent custom-made French Rotisol rotisseries.
Greeno is himself on display in the very open kitchen of the Merivale Group's relaunch of the old Paddington Arms. (Here's how clever Merivale boss Justin Hemmes is: The Paddington and its 3am weekend licence sit just outside the lockout zone.)
Forget what you know of the old pub; this is a whole new world. The sparkling upstairs-downstairs interiors – glazed white tiles, painted timber and exposed brick walls mix it with high and low bench and table seating – is the work of Akin Creative, stylist Amanda Talbot, and Justin and Bettina Hemmes.
Rammed since day one, it is thank-god-it's-Friday loud at all times, lunch or dinner. To move through from the cafe-like front bar to the rear kitchen, then upstairs to the cocktail bar and clubbier dining is like YouTubing through a house party.
But back to those roast chickens and the relative calm of the kitchen. The free-range, chemical-free birds are brined and roasted, expertly jointed, reassembled, and sent out with a jug of meaty gravy, a plate of long, golden fries and a simple cos lettuce salad with chive vinaigrette.
At $28 for half a bird, and $38 a whole, it's a done deal; the chicken tender, buttery, well-seasoned, and so juicy it renders the gravy a lifestyle choice rather than a necessity. Add in all the menu listings for vegetarians and kids, and I doubt Paddington will ever cook at home again.
Other bits of chook are thriftily utilised in delicate crumbed chicken croquettes (three for $13) and simple, pleasing skewers of chicken hearts, livers, giblets and other mystery bits served with Lebanese flatbread and a velvety eggplant puree ($18).
The rotisserie gets a workout beyond chicken, most notably with big, intensely sweet carrots served as a side ($10), and a gently melting Goulburn River king trout, the fluorescent lobes served with asparagus and wilted spinach ($37). That's very Greeno; clean and simple, yet luxuriously rich. The spit-roast effect is less noticeable with pinkly rare lamb rump, compatibly served with sliced squash, sumac and red pepper puree ($39).
Portion-wise, the menu is a lottery, with $23 for a sweet pile of crab on toast, and $22 for roast cabbage (one of the leitmotifs of 2015 dining) in a lovely tangle with raw marinated prawns that make you wonder why we ever serve them cooked. Desserts are simple and seasonal, another lifestyle choice, perhaps.
The naturally inclined wine list from Merivale's Franck Moreau and Adrian Filiuta runs to an impressive reserve list, but there's good, low-hanging fruit, like a 2015 SC Pannell pinot grigio from the Adelaide Hills ($12/$60), and cocktail action from Palmer & Co's Sam Egerton and Toby Marshall. (With more than 60 venues, the group is now so big, it can do its own collaborations.)
You may wonder why one of our most gifted young chefs is dishing out rotisserie chicken, but this is win-win. Greeno gets new skills and flexes his logistical talent with 17 chefs and 45 front-of-house to play with; and Merivale can fill and turn over 220 seats without compromising the eating. Definitely worth crossing the road for, unless you're a chicken.
Best bit: Anything from the rotisserie.
Worst bit: Noise levels.
Go-to dish: Roast chicken with fries and green salad, half $28, whole $38.
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.