La Grillade

118 Alexander Street (cnr Albany Street) Crows Nest, NSW

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Opening hours Lunch Mon-Fri noon-3pm,Dinner Mon-Sat 6-10.30pm
Features Licensed, Bar, Outdoor seating, Accepts bookings, Vegetarian friendly, Gluten-free options, Family friendly, Private dining, Romance-first date
Chef Nathan Jackson
Seats 140
Payments Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 9439 3707

During decades of operation, La Grillade served succulent steaks and a dizzying array of quality wines. But that is not how it earned its status as a Sydney institution - or at least, not only.

Traditionally, the Crows Nest restaurant was known as much for its heavy-hitting clientele as its food and plonk. In its heyday, it was the kind of place where expensive bottles lubricated expensive deals; where the powerful and the famous came to negotiate and celebrate. When newsreader Mike Munro left Channel Nine, for instance, this is where he had his send-off lunch. On the same day, at another table, former prime minister John Howard was having a bite.

There are no such movers and shakers in evidence tonight; just a collection of older couples and friendly groups enjoying a Friday night out.

Times have changed for La Grillade. Not long ago, it was struggling under new ownership. More recently, Rob Rubis of Manta Restaurant in Woolloomooloo stepped in, determined to restore it ''to its former glory''. He recruited Nathan Jackson (formerly of 3 Weeds) as head chef.

The revamped restaurant still looks like a hot spot for power lunches. The graceful historic terrace, with its cream-coloured shutter windows and heavy oak door, whispers of old money and confidence. Inside, there are exposed wooden beams, terracotta flooring and white tablecloths, with gilded mirrors and stags' heads for decoration.

Imposing, yes, but the friendly service means my friend and I - here for a girlie catch-up, not high-end negotiations - can relax quickly into our meal. The staff, who seem to come from all over the world, give us the space we need to natter but are there to help as soon as we are ready to order.

We start with a share plate, which arrives, rather showily, on a three-pronged silver stand. There is a tasty morsel in each corner of the square plate. The king salmon tartare is fresh and zesty, with plenty of lemon and garlic, while the duck liver parfait is smooth and rich - begging to be smeared thickly on the accompanying stack of golden toast. The beef short rib is slow-cooked and falling apart, delicious with its brioche crumble, but perhaps too substantial for a starter. The only disappointment is the cod croquettes. They're called ''croquette de brandade'' on the menu. Sounds fancy, but they look and taste quite a lot like very salty fish fingers.

It would be wrong to visit La Grillade without sampling something from the grill. When I order the Black Angus flat iron medium rare, the waitress advises me to have it medium, as it is cooked sous-vide before it touches the grill. It's just as pink as I like it and cut into tender slices with a vibrant yellow daubing of cafe de Paris butter and a pile of excellent chips. A side of heirloom tomatoes is full of flavour but could do with a more generous smear of goat's curd.

The rich food and large helpings leave us feeling sated and heavy, but this is the kind of place to linger. After a long break, we are game for dessert, a pretty arrangement of clover honey and goat's curd parfait with candied walnuts and splodges of whipped butterscotch.

The old house is still divided into rooms, which makes the space feel intimate - and smaller than it really is. It's a sprawling terrace with a large, shaded outdoor courtyard, decked with fragrant, flowering pot plants. As I stand and admire it after the meal, a passing waiter tells me there are vague plans to host live music and dancing here. Now that would breathe life into an old institution.

Menu

French-influenced dishes and grill.

Value

Entrees, $18.50-$19.50; mains, $32-$36.50; grill, $32-$42.50; desserts, $15-$17.

Recommended dishes

King salmon tartare, Black Angus flat iron; clover honey and goats curd parfait.

LA GRILLADE

118 Alexander Street, Crows Nest, 9439 3707

Lunch, Mon-Fri, noon-3pm;

Dinner, Mon-Sat, 6pm-late

Licensed