110 Crown St Woolloomooloo, NSW 2011
|Opening hours||Lunch Wed-Fri noon-2pm; Dinner Tue-Sat 6pm-11pm|
|Phone||02 9361 5938|
It is a lucky thing that Jonathan Bayad, the owner of this cute little Filipino joint, works the floor himself, lunch and dinner. Not too many floorstaff could handle hours on end of These Boots Are Made for Walking, Strangers in the Night, I've Got You Babe, We're Caught in a Trap, and Pretty Woman.
It's OK for you young things, who never heard them first time round. Me, I've heard them a million, billion times. And here they are again at Rey's Place, which is as itsy-bitsy and teeny-weeny as a yellow polka-dot bikini. (Yup, that too.)
Named for Bayad senior, it's in a cosy little terrace house just up Crown Street from Bar Reggio. A dark wooden staircase links a small, bottle-lined ground-floor dining room with an equally small basement dining room, with a nostalgic colonial tone set by mantelpiece clocks, marble-topped tables and milk-glass lights.
Filipino food has rarely risen above happy, messy street food level in this country, but with a young, food-mad Asian-Australian generation now dining out, its time may have come.
Bayad and Filipino head chef Shaun Oligo take the kind of food they grew up with, and dress it up for dinner with mates. So sisig, a rich, porky mix traditionally made with pig's cheeks, ears and livers, comes squished into steamed bao sliders ($14 for two) that give it a slightly claggy mouthfeel.
Anyone lusting after their mum's chicken adobo (an addictive dish of chicken braised in the classic Filipino flavour hits of soy, coconut vinegar and bay leaves) will have to settle for adobong pritong manok ($13) instead; fried chicken wings stuffed with a chicken adobo mousse. It's quite satisfying in its own right, but guys, we want chicken adobo as well.
Bayad bounces from table to table, happily hospitable, translating and recommending dishes. His own favourite is the kare kare ($27) of braised oxtail coated in a peanutty, fluorescently coral sauce, served with bok choy cabbage. Each to his own – it's more about comfort than character for me.
Then I hit the glazed eggplant on the side of the dish, topped with bagoong alamang, that smelly, fermented shrimp paste that presses all my belachan and kapi buttons, and feel right at home.
Rey's is all about the lechon, or roast suckling pig ($22), for which a juicy 2016 La Maldicion tempranillo from Spain ($68) is a surprisingly good fit. Crisp shards of skin form a soaring ceiling over shreddy clumps of soft meat, served on aunty's china, with a whoosh of brown chicken-liver-enriched sauce and a citrusy soy for dipping.
It's so good I take the leftovers home to whup into a dirty Asian omelette for breakfast the next day.
Other dishes don't have the same focus. Scored and grilled baby squid (inihaw na pusit, $22) is filled with coarsely spiced chorizo paella and topped with mango salsa, not a favourite combination, and whitebait fritters ($8) taste more of fritter than whitebait.
More deep-frying is employed for dessert, with turon ($11), mildly pleasant spring rolls filled with plantain and jackfruit and served with a scoop of ube (purple yam) parfait.
The cooking at Rey's seems limited by skill levels, and there are more hits on the playlist than on the menu, but it's good to see Filipino food rebooted, and in such a sweet package.
Vegetarian A couple of snacks and two sides, otherwise all protein.
Drinks Cool cocktails built around Don Papa rum from the Philippines; San Miguel Pale Pilsen from Manila, and organic and largely natural wines.
Go-to dish Lechon slow roast suckling pig $22.00
Pro tip When avo prices come back down to earth, you can order an avocado shake spiked with spiced rum, woo hoo.
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.