Ante review

Sake specialist Ante blurs the line between bar and restaurant.
Sake specialist Ante blurs the line between bar and restaurant. Photo: Brook Mitchell

146 King St Newtown, NSW 2042

View map

Opening hours Open lunch Sat-Sun; dinner Thu-Sun. No bookings
Features Bar, Licensed
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard

Steak and shiraz is all well and good, but have you tried sake with slow-cooked beef? Specifically, grass-fed brisket that yields to a chopstick, and chilled sake with notes of honey? I did at Ante, and it was the most enjoyable food and drink match since the time I discovered you could pair cheese crackers with champagne.

Chef Jemma Whiteman, one of Sydney's more engaging restaurant talents of the past decade, slow-braises the brisket in a master stock of soy, mirin and ginger before a quick grill over charcoal. Aged sake, brewed by Akishika Shuzo in Osaka, is served on the side, and its spicy complexity enhances the beef's umami.

Ante opened opposite Newtown's Marlborough Hotel in December and it's a good example of the new style of bar-cum-restaurant taking over Sydney: places where booze and food are considered with equal respect and become greater than the sum of their parts. They're also venues engineered for anything from one beer to a date night of seven courses, cooked by promising young chefs.

Go-to dish: Bonito crudo with burnt honey and rhubarb-boshi.
Go-to dish: Bonito crudo with burnt honey and rhubarb-boshi. Photo: Brook Mitchell

Similarly to its contemporaries, such as Darlinghurst wine bar Paski Vineria Popolare, Ante is run by people who enjoy introducing guests to new drinks and ingredients sans the snobbery sometimes found at fine diners.

Ante owner Matt Young is a big believer in the importance of music to create a mood. "Sake and sounds" is the pitch on the door, and visitors can expect to be treated to head-nodding jazz from artists including Ahmad Jamal, Reggie Andrews and funk trombonist Fred Wesley. Think vibe with a capital V.

Young also happens to be the co-founder of Black Market Sake, an artisan drinks business founded in 2010 to bring more Japanese junmai into the country.

Kare pan (Japanese curry bread).
Kare pan (Japanese curry bread). Photo: Brook Mitchell

Junmai (meaning "pure rice") is legally prohibited from containing extra alcohol or additives and accounts for about 10 per cent of sake production. It's significantly more complex than the commercial "rice wine" sold at franchise sushi joints and goes great guns with most foods, especially with Whiteman's.

Ante's compact menu is seasoned with Japanese influence – a bit of aged mirin here, some furikake there – but the pitch is more modern Sydney wine bar than Tokyo izakaya. My brisket ($36) is the most substantial dish, plated with hunks of cucumber for crisp refreshment.

I found it fun to fashion a full dinner from the small plates, such as one-bite slices of shiso-flecked bonito crudo, fragrant with burnt honey and rhubarb ($23), and perfectly oily sprats fried in clementine butter and scattered with curry leaves ($18).

Crispy rice with red pepper butter and katsuobushi.
Crispy rice with red pepper butter and katsuobushi. Photo: Brook Mitchell

The cricket ball-sized kare pan ($12) is inspired by a panko-crumbed snack found in every Japanese convenience store. Minced beef (or carrot, there's a vego version) is treated to a Sri Lankan spice mix buzzing with cumin, white pepper, coriander seeds and cinnamon, and deep-fried in a doughnut-like batter. A Chiko roll with tertiary qualifications.

A quick session at Ante might involve one kare pan and a glass of Chochin Shuzo's Shinbunshi 65 sake ($15) that's layered and grippy with a smack of sherbert.

Further carb-loading can be indulged through tagliatelle glistening in a fermented shiitake sauce ($25), and crispy rice enhanced with the deep flavour of Turkish red pepper and a flaky plume of dried, shaved bonito ($26).

Chocolate cake with red rice, cherries and cream.
Chocolate cake with red rice, cherries and cream. Photo: Brook Mitchell

Meanwhile, if you've ever wanted to finish dinner with a flight of Haitian rum and Japanese absinthe, this is the place. There's a lot more to the drinks cabinet than sake, and Young spent most of lockdown honing house cocktails that twist classics with quietly thrilling results. The Umevardier ($22) combines Campari and rye whisky with wood-aged umeshu (a type of Japanese plum liqueur) and it's like Christmas pudding on ice.

With junmai's ability to lift food in exciting new ways, plus a new record spinning every 45 minutes, I could spend hours at Ante's blond timber bar: the focal point of a sleek, grey-on-charcoal room that might retail as Tokyo couture in another universe. (Mercifully, the stools are contoured for a long innings.)

Plush chair fans, fear not: fine-dining in Sydney is far from dead, in spite of COVID-19 trying to whack a few nails in its coffin. But growing customer demand for any-occasion venues means we can only expect more openings like this, blurring the line between bar and restaurant.

If they're all as fun as Ante, bring it on.

Vibe: A mood-lit bolthole for new adventures in food, booze and jazz.

Go-to dish: Bonito crudo with burnt honey and rhubarb-boshi ($23).

Drinks: More than 60 sakes available by the glass or carafe, plus a great selection of cocktails and rare spirits from outside Japan.

Cost: About $150 for two, excluding drinks.

This review was originally published in Good Weekend magazine

https://www.ante.bar/