22 Challis Ave Elizabeth Bay, NSW 2011
|Opening hours||Tue-Sat 4pm-midnight; Sun 1-9pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9114 7340|
Every generation has its defining dishes. Rockpool's date tart. Tetsuya's confit ocean trout. Quay's snow egg. The Lotus cheeseburger.
Wait – the what? Some Gen Y chef's homage to the Maccas of his youth; all processed cheese, beef patty, tomato ketchup, pickles, bacon and Japanese mayo in a soft potato bun? Heaven help us.
Older generations might (and will) disagree, but this is a generational shift; knowing, smirky and burger-loving.
And now, the Lotus cheeseburger is back. It has been seven years since the Merivale Group closed Lotus in Potts Point and turned it into The Fish Shop. After recently selling the building, it's having fun by inviting Lotus chef Dan Hong back for an extended pop-up season, set to run for up to a year.
Also back on board is the Lotus martini, a little sweetie of vodka, peach schnapps, apple juice and passionfruit ($19), and the mum-and-dad order of whole roast chicken to share ($58) that comes complete with creamed corn, summer greens and tarragon gravy.
It's a bit of an anachronism on the pick-and-mix menu, but then, it always was. And besides, the handsome Bannockburn bird is well-roasted, well-rested; and the corn is crunchy, fresh, sweet and juicy. I bet the locals are pushing hard for roast chook to be available to take home.
Other than that, I think I like the new stuff better. Hong is now in his 30s, not his 20s, with Ms. G's, El Loco and the mighty Mr Wong behind him. There's less of a raised finger to his cooking, and more depth and deliciousness.
Asian and non-Asian flavours combine with real purpose in a texturally intriguing mix of lightly crunchy confit calamari, blobs of morcilla blood sausage and tortilla crisps on a tart tomatillo salsa and a sauce nero of cuttlefish ink and sambal belacan ($22).
Smoked Cantabrian anchovies also cross borders, served with rounds of scallion bread – like pan-fried pizzette – and little bowls of cultured cream and preserved chillies ($24).
But top marks go to house-made noodles, tossed with XO chilli sauce, heady prawn juices and prawn oil and crowned with scarlet prawns ($39). It's an umami ride into Chinatown and back, elevated by some of Australia's most intensely flavoured, deep-water crustaceans.
The Lotus cheeseburger ($21) is fine; the gnarly-edged beef patty rewritten as a mix of cold-smoked Angus brisket, grain-fed chuck brisket and dry-aged beef fat; and the eating experience soft, squishy, and saucy.
Even more nostalgic, the Lotus hot fudge sundae ($14) is a kid's party of house-made vanilla ice-cream, fresh raspberries, peanuts and shards of nicely brittle honeycomb. Some love it with the rich, dark, chocolate sauce. I say it's better without.
Lotus is billed as Dan Hong's greatest hits, but in reality it's Merivale's greatest hits. Behind the pop-up are the same impressive dream teams on decor, cocktails, wine and service that work across the 70-venue empire.
So things aren't really as fly-by-night as they might seem, and the enjoyable, slightly raffish dining experience reflects that.
Tables on the street line the front of a room walled with bottles of wine, giant blackboards and comfortable seating, and affable manager Daz Holt generates a convivial air.
It may not be the signpost to the future it once was, but its approachability, pick-and-mix menu and solid service make us feel pretty good about being here and now instead.
Vegetarian: Not a lot – two salads and a triple-cheese toastie
Drinks: Serious cocktails include rebooted Lotus classics and a very now wine list divided into Sprightly, Deep, Curious, Pink, Dainty, Lively, Bold, and Sweet.
Go-to dish: Hand-made noodles, scarlet prawns, XO and coriander, $39
Pro tip: Begin or end the night at the same softly glowing onyx cocktail bar hidden behind screens at the back of the restaurant.