247 Victoria St Darlinghurst, NSW 2010
|Opening hours||Wed-Thu 6pm-late; Fri-Sat noon-late; Sun 9am-4pm|
|Features||Licensed, Accepts bookings|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9194 5002|
One of the great mysteries of life is how chefs get their food so perfectly round. You go out for dinner and the arancini, meatballs and polpette are perfectly smooth, precise orbs.
Then you go home and cook the same things and they're wonky, craggy and/or triangular. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but they're not perfect, dammit.
So I'm hugely impressed, and just a little depressed, by the immaculately spherical brandade beignets ($6 for five) served with a fluffy taramasalata at Eliza Food & Wine.
Not to mention the long, slender prawn "spring rolls" ($4 each) of exemplary uniformity and precision; the crisp, open-ended brik pastry cylinders stuffed with lightly cooked, diced prawn, served with an aerated saffron mayo. Someone back there has a ruler, a light hand, and quite possibly, just a little OCD, in a good way.
That someone is owner-chef Jeremy Bentley, who, with co-owner Simon Rabbitt of Rugby Australia, has brought much-needed life to a corner in Darlinghurst that seems to have been empty more than it has been occupied.
Bentley has form, having cooked at The Square in London and Matthew Kemp's Balzac in Randwick, before running The Devonshire in Surry Hills for seven years until the light rail works closed its doors. With him is head chef Shaz Akbar, while Rory Fitzpatrick runs front-of-house with effortless efficiency and an Irish accent.
The fitout is smart-casual, with its terrazzo floor, dusky pink walls and a long marble-topped counter lined with stools and backed by teal-green tiles.
Equally smart-casual is the menu. A good dollop of hummus is sent out with a pool of vibrantly green parsley oil and a round of naan-like flatbread with a bit of heft to it ($6).
As ever, snacks are more interesting than the entrees. Here, the ubiquitous cured fish listing is four tongues of ocean trout ($21), topped with furls of daikon, fresh shiso leaves, a little black garlic and a few pearls of trout roe ($21); pleasant enough without any great character.
Bentley appears to have kept the good bits of his classical British/French training (precision, technique, timing) while losing the need to overwork or contrive.
So main courses are more relaxed, with 12-hour lamb shoulder ($32) coming as a soft, homely mass above eggplant puree and chunks of sweet-and-sour eggplant; thoroughly likeable, and good to share.
Only the seared mulloway ($34) is unattractive, paired with pale, fermented cabbage, cucumber, yoghurt, sorrel and stray fried cuttlefish – things that just don't seem to go together.
There's a distinct lack of sides, with a dish of slow-roasted, almost caramelised, carrot ($18) designed more as a main, with creamy carrot puree under a shower of peas and sourdough crumbs.
Cheeses ($18 for two) are brought to the table on a board and appear to be in very good nick, which makes me skip the Devonshire-ish tea brulee and salted caramel parfait for a fresh and creamy Shadows of Blue and the always-enjoyable Holy Goat chevre.
Eliza's is that sort of place, where you can go high or go low, share a few snacks and a cocktail at the bar, or stay all night, right through to the cheese; something reflected in the diner dynamic, from young couples to older locals.
For the new kid on the block, she seems quite at home in the neighbourhood already.
Vegetarian: Limited to one snack and two small plates.
Drinks: Two beers on tap, basic cocktails, 36-strong wine list, leaning towards boutique producers and natural wines.
Go-to dish: 12-hour lamb shoulder, sweet and sour eggplant, rosemary, $32.
Pro tip: Cheeses are well-chosen and in good condition.