Unit 463 6 Cowper Wharf Rd Woolloomooloo, NSW 2011
|Opening hours||Tue-Fri 6pm-midnight; Sat-Sun noon-midnight|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9331 9000|
The smoked hummus served with crisp-fried chickpeas, harissa, preserved lemon tahini and two crisp planks of lavash ($14) at Alibi is absolutely delicious.
The udon noodle dish ($23), not so much. It's a creamy, brown, mud pool of rich, mouth-filling, cashew/hoisin sauce flavoured with tamari, sesame, chilli and black garlic, along with socca-like fermented chickpea tempeh, shiitake mushrooms, frills of red elk and sesame oil. All good things, just too many and too much, leaving it heavy and gluggy.
Alibi is an unusual but timely choice for Ovolo Wolloomooloo, planted firmly in the magnificent interior of the landmark building on the longest timber-piled pier in the world.
The main dining space, which doubles as the hotel breakfast room, is a playful, urban-backyard mix of sofa seating, communal table, luminous trees that are more like art installations, and a structure that references an outback shed.
California-based consultant chef Matthew Kenney has a colourful past, with several restaurants and collaborations left in his wake – something yet to appear in a press release or local media. He reckons he's "crafting the future of food" with his plant-based recipes, which are designed to convert rather than preach.
The Kenney way is executed here by Danish-born executive chef Kasper Christensen, who has the skills and aesthetics to turn out bright, fun plates of food built on smoking, dehydration and fermentation. And nuts. Lots and lots of nuts.
Chomping your way through a meal here can feel an awful lot like you're on a peanut butter diet.
There's a fun take on spaghetti cacio e pepe with imported American kelp noodles ($21) served with slivered sugar snap peas, pea sprouts, green olive puree, and cured olives, with a relatively light black pepper cashew cream.
Kimchi dumplings ($18) look the business. Their fluorescent green skins have been fashioned from compressed and dehydrated young coconut flesh and coriander and filled with a mix of pureed kimchi, cashew, tamari and raw tahini.
Topped with ginger foam and placed on a blood-red drizzle of fermented red cabbage, they taste … clever. They also remind me of nut pâté, the stuff of a thousand nightmares created in that Early Vegan era known as the 1970s.
Cocktails are interactive (as are the bright young staff), which means one called #hashtag of pisco, yuzu and mandarin coloured with activated charcoal ($23) is served with two edible lipsticks made of fruit gel. A nonsense, but the cocktail is #balanced.
Dessert highlights the tightrope walked by those treading the new plant-based garden path. A banana split ($14) of three scoops of nut-based, agave-sweetened "ice-cream" – chocolate maca root powder, avocado and coconut oil; strawberry and goji berry; and vanilla, hemp seed and coconut – interspersed with sticky wafers made from dehydrated, compressed green banana and maple syrup, leaves an impression of oiliness. Everything in it tastes like a substitute for something else.
Like the hummus, the plant bowl ($24) hasn't been overwhelmed by the now-wearying nut and coconut oil bases; its quinoa, black lentils, cubed butternut pumpkin, marinated kale, avocado and preserved lemon tahini thoughtfully composed.
Which tells me that the most successful dishes in plant-based gastronomy are probably those that already exist – grains, greens and traditional fermented foods – rather than those invented for the current cultish craze.
Vegetarian 100 per cent, across breads, cheeses, snacks, salads, tacos, pasta and noodles. There's even a (mushroom) burger with beetroot ketchup.
Drinks Wild (plant-based) cocktails, plus savvy, on-trend wine list.
Go-to dish Smoked hummus, fried chickpeas, harissa and zaatar lavash, $14
Pro tip Try for a small table – the communal table is actually too big to be communal.
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.