19 Clovelly Rd Randwick, NSW 2031
|Features||Accepts bookings, Breakfast-brunch, Bar, Licensed, Wheelchair access, Gluten-free options|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9326 3573|
The down-and-out syndrome. It's what happens when bright young chefs working at the highest level decide to branch out on their own. They can't pay city rents, so they go down the fine-dining scale, and out a few suburbs.
They think small rather than big, keep the focus tight and the overheads low – and it's the best news a city can get.
Emile Avramides from Melbourne's Cutler & Co and Maze is the latest to go down-and-out, opening Clove Lane, a rollicking neighbourhood corner restaurant along with co-chef Michael Tran from London's Hibiscus and The Bellevue. Former Vue de Monde head chef and mate Cory Campbell was also on hand in the early days helping pull the menu into shape.
At night, the corner restaurant shines like a beacon on Clovelly Road. Walking in, I feel immediately restored by the warm hubbub, the French-accented waitstaff and the controlled madness of a Saturday night service, with diners tucked into all available spaces from the front to back and around the central bar. Even when things go wrong – and they do – it's a good place to be.
The menu is a tricky guessing-game list of dishes that appear to go from snacks to sides to mains, with price being the only clue.
So two fat, grilled sardines with escabeche-y onions on thin crisp sourdough is a snack ($7) ... and a small but rich dinner-party dish of wine-braised beef cheek with velvety cauliflower puree ($18) is a starter? Go figure. Both are great, but it's Tattslotto night – you never quite know what's going to drop next.
In a better, truer world, Jerusalem artichokes would be more highly prized than truffles, celebrated at festivals and sold by the gram. Build your order around these rough, nubbly tubers ($14), roasted whole in butter and sent out with a tangy quince puree under a crisp flourish of earthy, chestnut and Jerusalem artichoke chips. It's a keeper.
A side (or a main course?) of royal blue potatoes finished over charcoal ($12) are topped with a lovely cloud of mustard foam.
Spatchcock ($38) is roasted on the bone then jointed and grilled, basted with cumin and yellow gum honey. Reassembled like transformer chicken into an art installation, it's sent out with fine ribbons of savoy cabbage that taste of butter and chicken stock but in fact are finished with duck fat.
Dessert is a confident composition of chocolate mousse, dulce de leche and caramelised macadamias ($14), but there's also what looks like a trad sticky date pudding.
There's a lively list of value-for-money new and old-world wines, but not much wine knowledge among the equally lively, scattery floor staff.
A supple, spicy, cherry red 2015 Fowles Strathbogie Stone Dwellers shiraz ($16/40/$65) wasn't at all what I ordered, but given that it was the third attempt to bring the right wine, I took it.
And take care if you sit at the bar, you could be mercilessly bumped by staff, and quite possibly sprayed with sparkling mineral water.
But brush all that aside and relax, in spite of the chaos, because the food is worth it. And because it's down and out, not up and in.
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.