Bar Topa review

Bar Topa: "There's much in the way of dark timber, hanging jamon and paintings of Spanish men with beautiful moustaches."
Bar Topa: "There's much in the way of dark timber, hanging jamon and paintings of Spanish men with beautiful moustaches." Photo: James Brickwood

4 Palings Lane Sydney, NSW 2000

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Opening hours Mon-Fri noon-late; Sat 5pm-late
Features Bar, Late night, Vegetarian friendly, Licensed
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 9114 7368

It's been a long time since we've had new tapas to be excited about in Sydney. Certainly not since Frank Camorra swung into Surry Hills with MoVida in 2012, smoking tomato sorbet and quince cigars. Bodega still grills octopus on Commonwealth Street and Tapavino boquerones with the best of them near Circular Quay, but most tapas eateries are a ghoulish Groupon affair with battery-acid sangria and slimy anchovies. Places that have as much in common with the "one bite, two sips, move on" tapas bars of Spain as an Outback Steakhouse does with a Lightning Ridge pub.

¡Hola!, then, to Bar Topa, Merivale's San Sebastian-inspired bolthole for pintxos and pedro ximenez. It shouldn't be confused with Darlinghurst's Bar Tapa, which opened in April and serves calamari bocadillos on wooden boards. You want your Uber headed towards Palings Lane in the Ivy complex instead.

Chefs Jordan Toft (Bert's, Coogee Pavilion) and Lauren Murdoch (ex-Felix) lead a kitchen slinging no-fuss pan-Spanish tapas. A very good hand-held steak sandwich comes in at $14 and becomes a nifty lunch with patatas bravas ($7) – golden-edged potato cubes draped in a pimento-spiked tomato sauce. All the better with a $5 pony of Moretti or Furphy. (There's no Spanish beer yet but I'm told it's coming – Estrella seems essential.)

Sea-salty Western Australian sardines ($9).
Sea-salty Western Australian sardines ($9). Photo: James Brickwood

Corporates are going to love the in-and-out tenor provided they're happy to stand: Bar Topa only fits 40 squished people or 20 comfortable ones. The narrow, high-ceilinged room is a collaboration between Merivale's Justin and Bettina Hemmes, stylist Amanda Talbot and interior designer George Livissianis. There's much in the way of dark timber, hanging jamon and paintings of Spanish men with beautiful moustaches. There are no tables, but there are stools and a bar, which is all you need to get through a rotating menu of 25 small plates anyway.

Sea-salty Western Australian sardines ($9) are brilliant in a fruity olive oil with slices of soft white baguette to wipe the plate clean. Bread is served with any dish where it makes sense, such as pipis cooked a la plancha in garlic and cider ($12) and pickled sweet peppers ($7) from a counter display. Morcilla ($9) is mellow and accessible to any blood sausage fence-sitters thanks to a generous whack of allspice and higher meat percentage than tradition dictates, and pan-fried butifarra pork snag ($10) is fatty and full-flavoured, served Catalan-style with white beans and parsley.

A compact wine list features 12 Spanish bottles and 10 sherries, including a palo cortado from the house of Sanchez Romate in Jerez ($13 for 60ml) with hazelnut notes and a mild acidity that should get along great guns with most dishes.

Chef Jordan Toft at the Bar Topa counter.
Chef Jordan Toft at the Bar Topa counter. Photo: Supplied

Cocktails are served as half-pours so you can try a couple without getting trousered before dinner. At least, that's the idea. Ordering "just one more" is easy when you're only committing to half a drink and before you know it you're in the Ivy pool wrestling inflatable swans. 

The La Perla ($8) is an elegant classic of poire williams and reposado tequila tied together with manzanilla, while the Marques ($8) is simply a negroni with the gin swapped for palo cortado sherry. It's delicious and I really can't emphasise enough just how easy these miniature cocktails are to throw down.

I'd wager a pineapple – at least – that Bar Topa is Merivale's way of testing the tapas waters before opening a larger Spanish concept elsewhere. Lauren Murdoch hasn't returned to the hospitality group just to grill sausages and slice fancy ham. God knows when that conquistador will launch its attack, but I hope its humble cousin sticks around. Topa is a refreshing aperitif and there should be more Sydney tapas joints like it.

Bar Topa's peppers ($7).
Bar Topa's peppers ($7). Photo: James Brickwood

If you only eat one thing Western Australian sardines ($9).

If you only drink one thing Marques ($8) and La Perla ($8). They're half-pours so technically this is still only one drink, right?