31A Mallett St Camperdown, NSW 2050
|Features||Family friendly, Events, Accepts bookings, Green-eco focus|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||0413 786 137|
This whole farm-to-table thing is great in theory, although it does seem the table benefits far more than the farm. Are edible flower garnishes enough to really make that fundamental connection back to the land? And why do inner urban restaurants called Farmhouse, Paddock and Acre thrive, just as farmers find it harder to make a living?
But it's still a pleasure to kick back with a glass of wine in the winter sun and watch a bunch of skinny young millennials in grandpa hats hoe and till what was the bowling green at Camperdown Commons.
Acre is a very now collaboration between owners Luke Heard and John Tully (who also conceived The Greens in North Sydney), and Pocket City Farms, whose aim is to turn vacant inner-city land into food-producing paradise. It's early days for the farm side of things – there's naught but little seedlings shooting up in serried ranks – but already there's inside/outside dining across the eatery, bar, and al fresco terrace for up to 350 people, take-away Blind Roaster coffee from a shipping container, and "please-do-not-pick" signs on raised beds of herbs.
So, yes, if that reminds you of The Grounds of Alexandria, Three Blue Ducks at The Farm, and the UK's A-listed Soho Farmhouse in downtown Oxfordshire to you, you'd have a point. In fact, it's all very on-message, from the attractive ranch-house dining room and bare, pale wooden tables, to the lovely speckled dinnerware from Robert Gordon.
Long-time Jamie's Italian regional executive chef Gareth Howard has made a timely tree-change to land in this bright, bustling kitchen, installing an equally on-message menu that runs from smoked salmon with herby potato cakes and labna to roast Holmbrae chicken with artichoke puree, brussels sprouts and chicken gravy.
Starters are simple, from a creamy macadamia and cannellini "hummus" ($11) on a wooden board with shards of house-made lavash-style caraway crispbreads. A warm salad of salt-baked red and golden beetroot with sheep's yoghurt, tahini and shaved almonds ($11) is a thin offering, but main courses have more impact. A lamb shank and farro pie ($28) is all rich, shreddy meat under its burnished lid of puff pastry; a little herb salad to the side.
When the slow-roasted porchetta finally arrives ($54 to share), I have to physically restrain the people from the next table from coming over and helping to eat it. Mind you, there's enough for four, and it's as gorgeous as anything master-stylist Jamie O himself could have put together. Done in rustic farmhouse style, four thick slices of rolled, herbed and crisp-cracklinged pork belly are piled on a metal tray with roasted root vegetables, baked apples and sweet quince jam.
A not-too-sweet rhubarb frangipane ($12) is modishly deconstructed into an "oops-I-dropped-the-dessert" crash scene, but tastes legit. Cocktails and local beers enlarge a good-enough wine list that offers a complex-fruit-driven Helen's Hill Chardonnay ($13/$53).
Service and food delivery at Acre Eatery are still in slo-mo, so don't come if you're in a hurry.
But there is good cooking and real charm here – with more to come, when the farm grows to be as important as the table.
Best Bit: Lunch here is like a day in the country
Worst bit: Service systems aren't quite up to speed
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.
Go-to Dish: Slow-roasted porchetta, vegetables, spiced half apple, quince sauce, $54 to share.