ACME

Food focused: ACME may look like a bar, but the food is front and centre.
Food focused: ACME may look like a bar, but the food is front and centre. Photo: Wolter Peeters

60 Bayswater Road Rushcutters Bay, New South Wales 2011

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Opening hours Tues-Sat 5pm-late
Features Accepts bookings, Bar, Licensed, Wheelchair access
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Mitch Orr
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 8068 0932

Despite  the recent 1.30am lockouts, there are still scenes of massive overindulgence and aggressive consumption on the streets of Kings Cross. A recent festival brought an estimated 25,000 people to the area in an orgy of … eating. New local restaurants have seen a surge in heirloom carrots, fried chicken, house-cured meats and panna cotta. We've replaced a culture of drinking with a culture of eating. And now that ACME has opened in Bayswater Road, things can only get worse. 

It looks and sounds like a bar but everyone is oohing over their food, not their cocktails, as they perch on stools at high-tops, on chairs at tables, and line up monastery-style in the cellar. The ACE of ACME – Andy Emerson, Cam Fairbairn and Ed Loveday – hail from nearby Darlinghurst bar The Passage, while the M is Mitch Orr, who has cooked his way from Sepia to Duke Bistro, Buzo and 121 BC.

His thing is pasta but not as we know it. Like his mentor, Italian superchef Massimo Bottura, Orr questions tradition. Why should pasta be Italian? Must it have a sauce? Why can't we cover the table with small bowls of pasta the way we would noodles in Chinatown?

Macaroni with pig's head and egg yolk.
Macaroni with pig's head and egg yolk. Photo: Brianne Makin

So there's no creamy spag carb among the seven pasta dishes, just dainty, freshly extruded elbow macaroni sauced with braised pig's head ($18) cooked, apparently, in the style of a Filipino sisig. Like sisig, it's served with a raw egg yolk, which, when mixed through, gives the shreddy meat a lovely rich character. Everything about this umami-dense, multi-layered dish works.

A dark, intensely flavoured linguine with confit black garlic and burnt chilli ($12) topped with toasted breadcrumbs possibly referencing spaghetti aglio e olio con peperoncino, again tastes intriguingly Asian, like wok-toasty mee goreng. Only the loose-leaf lasagne with a mix of Japanese mushrooms and clods of sheep's curd ($20) loses me, the two thick sheets of pasta so, so al dente, my brain sends danger signals to my digestive system. An on-trend, vegetable-driven "Purple Drank" of beetroot, gin, vermouth and Campari ($18) also loses me, tasting more of alcohol than sweet, earthy beet.

Ever-interesting design team Lucchetti Krelle has worked around an internal disabled-loo requirement with ease, distressing concrete walls, opening up the kitchen, and going for grunge-lighting with industrial tubing. It's all super-casual but under control, with young staff stopping to chat about food and wine when they can. Gavin Wright (late of Chow Bar and Eating House and Wine Library) talks me through the engaging, if pricey , wine list to land on an intense, lively biodynamic 2012 La Paonniere gamay ($12/$84).

The baloney sandwich.
The baloney sandwich. Photo: Brianne Makin

There are other things to try, including a "baloney" (as in Bologna) sandwich of soft potato bread and warm mortadella ($8), and a stunningly simple dish of asparagus ($12) to dip into a peanut-buttery blob of thick, burnt butter puree, crunchy with puffed quinoa. Little bricks of compressed watermelon coated in prosciutto crumb ($8) are also on the money; and a Jerusalem artichoke ice-cream topped with crisp furls of more of the same and a hazelnut praline is a classy blurring of the lines between sweet and savoury.

It's another small but significant evolution in our dining scene; a mash-up of Italian craft (note the La Monferrina pasta laboratorio downstairs) with ramen joint attitude in a neighbourhood bar. Get there before the council comes up with some new by-law that limits the number of people who can gather over food and how many dishes they can order.

THE LOW-DOWN
Best bit:
 The pasta is delicious.
Worst bit: Things can get loud.
Go-to dish: Macaroni, pig's head, egg yolk $18.

Wholemeal bucatini.
Wholemeal bucatini. Photo: Wolter Peeters

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.

http://www.weareacme.com.au