level 1 49 Market St Sydney, NSW 2000
|Opening hours||Lunch Wed-Fri from noon; dinner Tue-Sat from 6pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Pre-post-theatre, Bar, Licensed, Accommodation, Business lunch, Events, Gluten-free options, Groups, Late night, Long lunch, Romance-first date, Vegetarian friendly, Views, Wheelchair access|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 8262 0064|
Enter stage left, a serving trolley in mid-century tones and timbers. It brings a little magic to the dining experience at this new incarnation of Gowings at the effervescent QT Sydney.
It also brings one kilogram of dry-aged rib-eye to be carved tableside by restaurant manager Stefano Satta for the table next to mine.
And the makings of a caesar salad, to be tossed and dressed tableside, just as it was designed to be, by restaurateur Cesare Cardini in Tijuana in 1924.
It's no coincidence that Gowings, recently reopened after a two-month closure, has ramped up the theatrics and on-stage drama. Hotel owners Event Hospitality and Entertainment also own a string of cinemas and the gloriously art deco State Theatre next door, so it's in the DNA.
Enter stage right, QT's recently appointed creative director of food and beverage, Sean Connolly, who relaunched Esther restaurant for QT Auckland in 2020.
No stranger to the art of reinvention himself, he has installed an eight-seat chef's table with close-up views of the kitchen action, extended the newly renovated bar, and hung his own collection of photographic rock star portraits on the walls.
The same let's-party strategy has colonised the playlist, which dances from Iggy Pop to Bowie to Plastic Bertrand and the Clash.
The menu is tighter than it was under the flamboyant Robert Marchetti, which is wise, but still stretches from quick post-work pasta to late-night luxe. House-made rigatoni gets a meaty ossobuco ragu ($38), although I'd call the floppy inner tubes of pasta paccheri myself.
But for an acknowledged steakhouse, seafood is the star, elevated with sea urchin, octopus and Abrolhos Island scallops. Head chef Tony Gibson, a long-time Connolly collaborator, adds polish to a dish listed as "sea urchin, bonito crudo, olive oil" ($36).
Three meticulously carved blocks of Ulladulla tuna, line-caught by Craig Lukey, bear three fat fillets of sea urchin like surfers on their boards. A touch of lemon, a snip of chives and the plate sings.
Seared Murray cod fillet with sea urchin butter ($50) has grace and presence on the plate; the confidence to just be. A disc of sweet and fatty sea urchin butter slowly melts over the crisp skin, fulfilling the oft-quoted description of sea urchin as the foie gras of the sea. (Yep, we got the in-joke. Millions wouldn't.)
Up rumbles the trolley bearing a huge copper bowl and all the makings of a caesar ($32), deftly prepared by Ernesto Faundez.
It's starting to feel like time travel – am I in New York's old-school Carbone? Is this the new San Francisco Grill? Who cares, this is fun. Egg yolk, anchovy, garlic, mustard, Worcester sauce and vinegar are whipped into a golden emulsion.
Out comes the gigantic pepper grinder, without which this spectacle is not complete. In go the crisp cos leaves, prosciutto and croutons, to be finished with a blizzard of grated parmigiano. It's a rich hit, best shared.
Few restaurants would bother listing zabaglione ($20) these days, as it requires an intense session of whisking to bring everything together in its warm, fluffy, inebriated cloud of egg yolks, sugar and marsala.
But it's worth it when the end result is poured over roasted figs, with biscotti for crunch.
Remarkably, generously, Gowings is open until late at night, with a big champagne list, 40 wines by the glass (and a lobster bomboloni doughnut on the bar menu, just saying).
Connolly is a clever operator who knows how to create the right atmosphere first, then make sure the food is good enough to go on stage.
Like the explosion of high-energy musicals in town, from Moulin Rouge to Mary Poppins, Gowings is big and brash, ready to please and get you wanting more.
Judging by the long line of people from the State Theatre waiting to come in for a late supper as I leave, there's a big audience for that. On with the show, folks.
Vibe Bright lights, big city
Go-to dish Murray cod fillet with sea urchin butter, $50
Drinks Classic New York cocktails, ryes and bourbons, and a formidable Chris Morrison/Samantha Belt cellar of Australians with Italian accents
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide.