69 Willoughby Rd Crows Nest, NSW 2065
|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)|
|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.
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.
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.
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.