Terry Durack
Hot packet: Annata combines small-bar buzz with big-time restaurant cooking.
Hot packet: Annata combines small-bar buzz with big-time restaurant cooking. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

69 Willoughby Rd Crows Nest, NSW 2065

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Opening hours Thu-Sat from noon, Sun from 11.30am; Tue-Sat from 6pm
Features Accepts bookings, Bar, Gluten-free options, Late night, Licensed
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Jimmy Richardson
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 9437 3700

You know when the bloke behind the bar pours your wine into a large jigger before pouring it into a glass, that you're in more of a bar than a restaurant. And you know when the lightly seared scallops come topped with soft furls of melting guanciale​ (cured pig's jowl) and taste like warm sashimi, that you're in more of a restaurant than a bar.

OK, Annata, you have my attention. This merging of boundaries between small-bar buzz and big-time restaurant cooking is the dream of first-time owner Christian Blair, who formerly managed Eau de Vie and was behind the bar at Rockpool Bar & Grill. Delivering the food side of things is head chef Jimmy Richardson, who has cooked with Ross Lusted​ at the Bridge Room and Pasi Petanen​ at Cafe Paci.

The long, narrow, split-level space starts with outdoor tables on the street, then steps in to a stool-lined bar walled with gleaming bottles and glassware, and up to a bare-brick and dark-wood dining room that mixes high/low seating. 

Flathead in kataifi pastry, with nori  seaweed, peas, and grapefruit and oyster mayonnaise.
Flathead in kataifi pastry, with nori seaweed, peas, and grapefruit and oyster mayonnaise. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Floor staff are keen, charming, and ready to roll with either a cherry cobbler ($17) or a complex, spicy, 2014 Vinteloper​ pinot noir from the Adelaide Hills ($14/$75) from the 100-strong wine list, a tickle-your-fancy blend of the strange and familiar.

The menu is more cryptic than a David Astle crossword; the listing of ingredients giving little away. An entree of prawns ($16) is a dramatic compilation of two lightly cooked king prawns, marinated in a fragrant curry oil and cooked sous-vide for three minutes until the proteins just set. Charry grilled corn and miso corn butter add sweet umami, and a tan crumble of popped corn and prawn head, dehydrated and blitzed, adds crunch. The textures really pop, and so do the flavours; terrific stuff.

Early menu dishes are small, so you'll need one of the three mains-sized dishes on offer. Rangers Valley sirloin ($32) is trimmed, grilled and served with a dollop of smooth onion soubise, a dusting of porcini powder and a finger of dense rye bread compressed with the beef juices and topped with pistachios and pickled Spanish onion.

Flavours pop: Prawns, char-grilled corn, miso corn butter and curry oil.
Flavours pop: Prawns, char-grilled corn, miso corn butter and curry oil. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

It's fine, but the chef has such a good touch with seafood you'd be mad not to go for the flathead ($26). The fillet is rolled in nori seaweed and kataifi​ pastry like a slender spring roll, deep-fried until crisp and teamed with fresh peas, baby fennel and a rich, smooth grapefruit and oyster mayonnaise. Ironically, after all that work, it's the same simple pleasure you get from eating great fish and chips.

Desserts are just as structured, including a pleasant puddle of macerated cherries in Pedro Ximenez ($14) with bitter chocolate sorbet and almond butter under a pavilion roof of chocolate crisp.

Intrigued? You should be. But with a caveat. The "designed to be shared" dishes come out one after the other, possibly in an attempt to not overstretch the kitchen. Such a regime means an entreée and a main each here for two people is more like a shared four-course degustation that takes twice the time. 

For sharing: Scallops, hazelnuts, button mushrooms, chamomile.
For sharing: Scallops, hazelnuts, button mushrooms, chamomile. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

It's great to see such a hot packet of next-gen talent in a place like Crows Nest instead of Surry Hills or Chippendale. The fact is that Crowy is changing, attracting a younger crowd who like its big-city feel, public transport and buzzy cafe life. Hopefully, Annata is landing at the right moment with its inner-urban sensibility and high-detail, share-plate dining. Time, and Crows Nest, will tell.

Best bit: Finessed food in a fun setting
Worst bit: One dish at a time
Go-to dish: Flathead, kataifi, seaweed, peas, pomelo, oyster mayonnaise, $26

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