shop 7 7-27 Circular Quay W The Rocks, NSW 2000
|Opening hours||Lunch Thu-Sun from noon; dinner Wed-Sun from 5.45pm|
|Features||Views, Long lunch, Accepts bookings, Licensed|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 8231 4890|
If The Rocks were a person, it would be a sturdy little battler who just kept on going through good times and bad.
It's hit a winning streak lately, with the NSW government's ongoing $15 million regeneration of the area delivered by Place Management, adding to the $32 million spent upgrading the heritage-listed Campbell's Stores on Circular Quay.
Our little battler is starting to strut on the world stage, gold coins jangling in his waistcoat.
It feels right, then, that another indefatigable character, chef Peter Conistis, should move into the area in the spirit of reinvention. Conistis has been enmeshed in the Greek chapter of Sydney dining history since opening Cosmos in East Sydney in 1993.
From Cosmos, to Eleni's, Omega, and now Alpha in the Hellenic Club, he has drawn from all over Greece to create his own style.
He's narrowing the focus with Ploos, installed inside and outside the majestic heritage-listed sandstone buildings on the harbour's edge. A spotlight on the South Aegean, mainly Crete and Cyprus, with a little bit of Turkey, offers a new angle on modern Greek – and modern Sydney.
From the oversized wicker dining chairs on the covered dining terrace, you can see tall ships, an opera house and a bridge. Tick, ticketty, tick, tick.
There's a lot going on in the background here that the casual diner might miss. The pastry, for instance, is made in-house – even the filo – and is a persistent highlight. Little bird's nests of superfine kataifi pastry are like party canapes of crunch and cream – a squish of whipped feta, a furl of pastourmas (cured beef) and black pickled walnuts ($20). This is promising.
Crisp little shards of filo pastry lean against cornet-shaped manti dumplings ($24), stuffed with a spanakopita filling of feta, kasseri and mizithra cheeses mixed with spinach, silverbeet and caramelised leeks instead of Turkey's more traditional meat. Dressed in burnt butter with puddles of dill yoghurt, it's as delicious as Cantonese dim sum and Polish pierogi. Definitely a keeper, especially teamed with a fresh, floral 2020 Skouras Moscofilero ($18/$70) from the Peloponnese peninsula on the southern tip of the Greek mainland.
There are grilled Skull Island prawns, chicken with skordalia, and a lamb tomahawk chop, but the duck is calling ($64 to share).
Salted and steamed, then lightly smoked and fried, the pieces are piled high – Conistis has been aiming for the skies since he reimagined moussaka into a tower of scallops, eggplant and taramasalata at Cosmos – along with plump quince, an intriguing Cretan leaf called dittany and a terrific duck and quince jus.
The duck itself feels dense, a little one-dimensional, making the flat golden wild greens pie beneath, with its dandelion and chicory filling, best on field.
Desserts push all the sweet, nutty, honey-soaked buttons, from chickpea baklava topped with halva ice-cream and scattered with crumbled, cumin-flecked pasteli, to Cretan nut tart ($16), another fine pastry shell filled with a sweet, sticky mix of walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, almonds and fig. That would be elegant enough, but it sits on a puddle of lemon ouzo curd, bearing a sinister-looking scoop of dark licorice ice-cream and a jaunty cap of glazed lemon. Why do less when you can do more?
Like the neighbouring Harbourfront Seafood, Luna Lu and 6 Head, Ploos is popular with groups. Bar service is hit and miss, and you need a strong ticker to cope with the crashes as staff drop things on the unforgiving cobblestones.
But Conistis' new focus on the cuisine of the southern Aegean ends up enlarging his playbook rather than restricting it.
As a chef, he has always trodden his own path, taking a left-field approach to tradition to form his own upscale style, and it's great to see things like dittany from Crete and manti from Turkey in the mix. If Ploos means "a seagoing journey", then Sydney should be getting aboard.
Vibe What's the Opera House doing on the island of Crete?
Go-to dish Spanakopita manti, dill yoghurt, burnt butter, $24
Drinks Bespoke cocktails (Purple Aegean), ouzos, and a New/Old World wine list with a look-in from Crete and Cyprus.
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide.