45 Macquarie St Parramatta, NSW 2150
|Opening hours||Mon-Thu 12–3pm, 5:30–10:30pm ; Fri-Sat 12–3pm, 5:30–11pm ; Sun Closed|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Vegetarian friendly, Gluten-free options, Bar, Licensed, Private dining, Romance-first date|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
Jamie is already here; Neil is coming, and so is George. Even chefs with second names have Parramatta in their sights as it shapes up as Sydney's next satellite dining destination.
So I figure I should check out the action at the latest offering, Husk & Vine, an impressive restaurant in one of those new office/hotel/residential towers that are reshaping the skyline to the west.
But first, it's worth pausing outside to see the archaeological diggings of the convict hut and old pub discovered during construction. Sydney designer Nic Graham, working with hospitality consultancy SITE, has run with that idea for the dramatic interior, in which tall scaffolding (my words – they call it a mirrored infinity grid around a double-height void) frames sandstone rocks and relics.
It's not all done for show, however. The broad open kitchen that runs along the rear wall is fuelled by a solid, gas-fired Beech oven, and run by exec chef Stephen Seckold (Flying Fish, Salaryman) and head chef Ashley Brennan (Sugaroom).
Seckold – sadly missed from the now-gone Salaryman in Surry Hills – is clever enough to make the oven the star of the show, and Husk & Vine's taboon ($15) is a must, the puffy football of Palestinian flatbread teamed with a pot of nutty, tahini-rich hummus.
Otherwise, it's a happy mix of comfort food with a spiced-up Middle Eastern accent; clearly inspired by both the area's multicultural demographics and its suspicion of anything too fancy.
Lunch is a breezy list of burgers, salads, fish and chips with sumac aioli and all-day breakfasts, with dinner showcasing slow-cooked meats such as whole lamb shoulder with harissa, okra and chickpeas.
Freshly shucked oysters are always the best edible aperitif, and Sydney rocks from Pambula ($4.50 each) come with a decent vinaigrette, although I can't discern the promised finger lime.
At lunch, burgers get a Greek makeover ($18) with good – if firmly cooked – lamb, grilled haloumi and pickled red onion in a brioche bun with good fries.
I can hear some very precise timings being called on the pass – so why would a large, crumbed Bannockburn chicken cotoletta ($27) be so overcooked? With its crisp golden crust, charred broccoli, peas and parmesan cream, it looks a treat – but if you're going to do breast meat, you need a gentler hand.
The grills sound more successful, if the six blokes with angus flatiron steaks and fries at the next table are any indication.
Manager Sophie Shea is a bright, engaging presence on the floor, and Jack Harris curates a democratically wide-ranging, contemporary wine list that runs to a gently pink, go-with-anything 2015 Saint Andre de Figuiere rosé ($11.50/$56) from Provence.
After the comfort-food main players, a bombe alaska ($16) is a cheeky little scene-stealer of a dessert. An igloo of lusciousness, the immaculately constructed dome of burnished meringue reveals layers of pistachio ice-cream, raspberry sorbet and a sponge cake base that's just as rewarding a dig as the architectural site outside.
Parra has long been the home of good Middle Eastern, Italian and Lebanese food – but only at home, behind closed doors, or in backyards.
Now, at this smart, likeable newcomer, it's been upgraded, and outed, for all to share.
Best bit: The big city buzz
Worst bit: You need a key to go the off-site loos
Go-to dish: Rosemary and sesame flatbread with warm hummus, $15
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.