2 Oxford St Woollahra, NSW 2025
|Features||Licensed, Groups, Pub dining|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9357 0815|
In the few weeks since Brigade Dining opened upstairs at the Light Brigade pub on Oxford Street, mistaken identity has become a bit of an issue. "We've had quite a few people coming in thinking it's still La Scala," a young waiter confesses one recent Saturday night. (Celebrity chef Massimo Mele's restaurant in this spot closed last August.) "Then they look at the menu and say, 'This isn't the La Scala menu!'" He mimes an outraged Woollahra matron, then pulls an apologetic face. "And we're like, 'Sorry, no. It's not.'"
But different, at least in this case, doesn't spell disaster. For starters, the space looks gorgeous: since the Bayfield family (ex Newport Arms) bought this beautiful eastern suburbs institution a year ago, they have added a rooftop space (complete with succulents and yellow striped umbrellas), and a wonderfully grown-up, deco-inspired upstairs bar that you immediately want to claim as your personal secret cocktail haunt – except that it's clearly about to become so heavingly popular it will be secret to no one.
With all this going on upstairs, it's hard to concentrate on the restaurant on the second level, but this space too benefits from being located in such a classic building: high ceilings, wooden floors, beautiful windows. Design team SJB have sensibly kept the walls white and the tables plain; for a little added glamour, book a table in the bay window room, which sweeps round Oxford street on three sides - as if you're sitting on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise circa 1920.
Foodwise, there's still a slight early-days wonkiness to the menu, in price and taste terms: an appetiser of two little squid-ink crackers with forgettable, far-too-cold, Queensland spanner crab is disappointing and overpriced ($15); but a creamy whipped roe (think luxe taramasalata) with wonderful wonky radishes from Johnstone's Kitchen Gardens is completely delicious and could have fed a cast of thousands.
Main courses are similarly generous: a very plump, dense fillet of monkfish is wrapped in pancetta and sliced on the diagonal, making sharing easy: it's moist, with that lovely squeaky fresh fish texture, holding its own happily against its bindings of salty pork. Ranger's Valley bavette (flank steak) is treated as carefully as eye fillet, making the most of the flavour of this underrated cut, without letting it get tough.
Both dishes are served with a dazzling array of exotica: savoy cabbage and parsnip sliced into crispy paper-thin strips (the fish); piquant mole, twirly romanesco and pickled mushrooms (the steak). These accompaniments aren't strictly necessary, but they do add aesthetic appeal, clearly bring creative joy to chef Marco Adler, and remind punters this is a great deal better than standard pub grub.
This more-is-more philosophy applies across the entire menu, even the sides. Charred broccoli rabe comes slathered with whipped fetta and sprinkled with dukkah; potato dauphinois is dark with onion jam and smoked manchego. It all leaves you with the slightly confused feeling of falling through a wormhole in your regular neighbourhood drinking spot, and finding yourself wandering in an unexpectedly fine dining dreamscape. But this, on balance, is a good thing. Brigade Dining may be in the pub, but it is, very definitely, not of the pub. Or of La Scala either.
Whipped roe; Ranger's Valley bavette
Art deco meets Aussie pub
A little pricey. Bavette $36; broccoli rabe $12
Olsen Irwin Gallery, 63 Jersey Road, Woollahra; Centennial Park, end of Ocean Street, Woollahra.