Ruse Bar and Brasserie review

Chef Jay Lao works the charcoal grill in Ruse's very open kitchen.
Chef Jay Lao works the charcoal grill in Ruse's very open kitchen. Photo: Steven Siewert

12 Darcy St Parramatta, NSW 2150

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Opening hours Lunch Tue-Sun from 11.45am; dinner Tue-Sat from 5.30pm
Features Licensed
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Phone 02 9169 0835

Parramatta. Gee, it'll be nice when it's finished. There are still more people in high-viz on Macquarie and Darcy streets than there are people in suits.

The $3.2 billion Parramatta Square is a before-and-after in itself, with one half landscaped and lined with restaurants, and the other half a construction site.

But life goes on. Offices are opening up, restaurants are back in business, and one day the soaring Aspire tower right next to Ruse Bar and Brasserie will break the flight path ceiling with its 90th floor.

Meaty and intense: King prawns with saffron aioli.
Meaty and intense: King prawns with saffron aioli. Photo: Steven Siewert

In the meantime, Ruse is open to all-comers, physically and emotionally. The restaurant's design embraces the outdoors, with automatic blinds, fans and greenery ready to deploy as needed.

Two dining rooms – the brasserie and the bar – are generously spaced around an open kitchen and Paul Kelly Design has kept things attractively but corporately laid-back, inspired by the colours of Australian fauna, and hung with some rather charming statement wicker pendant lamps.

Named after James Ruse, former convict, farmer, unstoppable entrepreneur and the first person in NSW to be given a land grant by the Governor, it's the latest opening from John Vissaritis and the team behind the CEO-stuffed District Dining in Chifley Square.

Mud crab on toast.
Mud crab on toast. Photo: Steven Siewert

Like its CBD cousin, Ruse has the C-Suite firmly in its sights. No surprise, then, that chef Jay Rao was headhunted for his ability, honed at Bert's and Momofuku Seiobo, to char, grill, sear and smoke.

The menu lists five different steaks on the menu destined for the Basque wood-fired grill, starring a 2GR full blood wagyu tomahawk steak with a marble score of 9+ for $230 per kilogram.

There's seafood, of course, with the first thing you see on entering being a handsome display of whole John dory, oysters and crabs on ice from Northside Seafood Suppliers.

Scotch fillet with spinach and warrigal greens.
Scotch fillet with spinach and warrigal greens. Photo: Steven Siewert

That sighting automatically leads to ordering the must-do appetiser of mud crab on toast ($9 each). It's an immediate statement of freshness and care, the finger of toasted, house-baked focaccia topped with a heady crab custard, freshly picked meat and a single sunflower petal.

There's a thing that happens when somebody knows how to use a grill – not to make a fashionable statement but to enhance what is there, with just the right amount of temperature, timing, turning and trusting.

Rao roasts his prawns in the Josper wood-fired oven/grill until tinged with char, then serves with a dust of espelette pepper and a puddle of saffron aioli for swiping. They taste like prawns used to taste; which is to say meaty and intense.

Soaked coconut cake with caramelised milk custard and coconut gelato.
Soaked coconut cake with caramelised milk custard and coconut gelato. Photo: Steven Siewert

Likewise, the 250-gram Southern Ranges grass-fed scotch fillet ($48) comes crusty and smoky. It's restaurant steak rather than steakhouse steak, sliced and sauced with a beefy jus then topped with a mossy mix of English spinach and warrigal greens, but the fat-pocketed juicy meat wins through.

On the side is a pile of wood-fired shishito peppers tossed in sherry vinegar under a shower of hazelnuts ($12), which would go with just about anything, including that good-looking John dory with roasted Jerusalem artichoke ($45) I must come back for.

The list of wines is strong on pinot noir and shiraz, with a nicely spicy plummy 2019 Cooper Burns GSM from the Barossa by the glass for ($16/$75) ending up somewhere in the middle.

For dessert, Rao rustles up an Indian/Fijian cake from his childhood, creating a velvety semolina cushion crusted in dark, toasty coconut ($18) with a snowy white scoop of coconut gelato. Just gorgeous. It ends up feeling light rather than heavy, but that might come under the heading of self-delusion rather than fact.

The music is somewhat at odds – as if you are in an elevator heading to a poolside disco in Ibiza – but the customer-first service is cheery, and Rao marries intuition and skill to elevate some very good produce.

It all conspires to make Ruse a good place to do business while the neighbours finish their renos.

The low-down

Ruse Bar and Brasserie

Address: Parramatta Square, 12 Darcy Street, Parramatta, 02 9169 0835,

Vegetarian: Dedicated vegan and vegetarian menus available on request.

Drinks: Classic cocktails and mocktails; a handful of beers, 16-strong gin list and a Australian/Italian/global wine list with 19 by the glass.

Pro tip: Parking is problematic but Parramatta rail station is right next door.

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.