The best table in a restaurant, I say, is one that gives you a view of all the action in the kitchen. At new Potts Point hot spot Concrete Blonde -- barely open for eight weeks -- this means everyone. It's hard not to keep staring at the whole Tinder Creek ducks, slowly rotating over coals as the five-spiced skin develops a crispy tan. The long and expansive fully-exposed kitchen offers diners a bird's eye view of everything: a ballet of chefs performing at the wood-fuelled rotisserie, open grill and plating at the pass.
You wouldn't guess that Concrete Blonde is housed on the site of a former gym, undergoing a $2 million-plus makeover by award-winning designer, Michael McCann, to create a slick dining establishment that combines rustic with industrial chic. The impressive decor even scored a feature on the culture and design site, Cool Hunter.
Fire and water on the terrace
The terrace area has been designed for drinks and nibbles, with the overhead covering likely to be retracted as soon as the weather gets warmer. A flaming water feature makes an impressive spectacle.
Classic Mule $18 and The 18th Amendment $18
We kick off our evening with a couple of cocktails. The classic mule comes in a custom-made copper mug, a refreshing mix of Belvedere vodka, fresh lime and homemade ginger beer.
Suze orders the 18th Amendment for sheer novelty value, but is crestfallen when the brown bottle comes without the promised brown paper bag. It's a highly aromatic cocktail, combining spiced dark rum with fresh pineapple, lime, vanilla and spiced bitters, reminding me of Christmas fruit cake.
The izakaya menu has been designed to accompany drinks on the terrace, with four cold and three hot choices. We're both instantly drawn to the KFQ!? because any menu item that warrants two punctuation marks demands greater scrutiny.
The KFQ!? stands for Kentucky fried quail, miniature Marylands coated in a spiced ancho chilli batter. Cubes of watermelon relish add a splash of yellow, but while the flesh is tender, the delicate flavour of the quail seems a little lost beneath all the spice and deep-fried batter.
Crystal Bay "ebi" prawns $19
A garland of Crystal Bay prawn ceviche is intricately intertwined, crowned with fresh popcorn kernels to add texture -- a common practice in Peru, we're told. There's a fair kick to this dish, with jalapeno, red chilli and a dressing of banana guacamole.
4 lolli "pork" $13
The lolli "pork" is as sweet and sticky as you'd expect, a cube of confit pork coated in a lustrous glaze of Zhenjiang black vinegar toffee. This is so sweet it almost borders on dessert, but Suze can't get enough of the stuff.
Hiramasa kingfish $22
The contemporary style of head chef Patrick Dang is much more evident by the time we move onto starters. Dang -- whose portfolio includes the two Michelin-starred Amber restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong -- is committed to using seasonal produce, and is unabashed about drawing on international influences and modern techniques to showcase each ingredient. Dang's solid kitchen brigade includes sous chefs Leander Grstein (ex-Trofana Royal in Ischgl, Austria which earned one Michelin star) and Dominque Hertz (ex-Terminus Restaurant in Valais, Switzerland which earned two Michelin stars).
Shavings of coffee-cured hiramasa kingfish are velvety smooth on the tongue and noticeably caffeinated, although we find this flavour is lost when we dip the fish into the puddle of burnt scallion vinaigrette in the middle of the plate. It's an elegant dish with contrasting textures of crisp radish discs and shards of cranberry toffee splayed in-between.
Globe artichoke by Grimma's Farm $19
It's the promise of the onsen egg that prompts us to order the globe artichoke served with manchego cheese foam. We burst through the egg white to release a rich ooze of runny yolk, easily mopped up by the roasted artichoke and slivers of Iberian ham.
Iki jime ocean trout $18
The iki jime ocean trout is exquisite to look at, the wheels of rolled ocean trout reminding me of bales of hay. We're also fascinated by the quail yolks, perfect orbs of yellow that we poke with our fingers until we realise sous chef Leander Grstein is watching us with bemusement.
This dish promises elements of "egg benedict" and I'm swooning at the first mouthful. It's a textural delight with the soft buttery ocean trout contrasting against the irresistible crunch of smoked butter crumbs.
The woodfire grill
Cooking broccolini on the woodfire grill
O'Connor pasture fed dry aged beef 1kg t-bone $95 for two
Plating the T-bone
Blowtorching the hotel de paris butter
Ranger Valley 7+ wagyu beef $40
I'd been sorely tempted by the 1kg t-bone steak but in the interests of stomach capacity we'd forgone this dish to make room for others. We order the Ranger Valley 7+ wagyu beef hangar steak instead, markedly gamey in flavour and distinctly rubbed with Aztec spices. A bed of corn posole includes oversized chewy kernels of starchy corn, but it's the ox tail tamale that provides the highlight of this dish, especially with the dab of sweet papaya mojo on top.
The Hawkesbury River pencil squid is my favourite dish of the night though, wisps of squid grilled until caramelised but still meltingly tender in the mouth. The salty squid works brilliantly against the puree of white bean, whole legumes and grilled radicchio leaves that are both bitter and sweet. Tiny cubes of golden roasted potato are like hidden treasure.
2008 Mas Amiel AOC Maury Vintage Red /Languedoc $18
2008 Noble One Botrytis Semillon /Riverina, NSW $14
We hadn't quite known what to expect when we ordered the seared pineapple, which eventually arrives as a brick wall construction of a moist pineapple cake that reminds us both of Malaysian kuih lapis, and blocks of caramelised fresh pineapple. A generous inclusion of Sarawak pepper adds a tingle to the tongue, and although we enjoy the white chocolate ice cream and white chocolate powder, the thimble of clear buttermilk consomme has bewildering echoes of goats cheese that we find rather distracting.
Packham pear warm tart tartin $15
Packham pear warm tart tartin is much more of a hit, especially the trails of salted caramel across the plate. I tend to prefer my pastry a little crisper, but the intricate fan of pears on top is exquisitely done.
Brown butter ice cream
Cooking steak on the grill
Plating the prawn ceviche
There are plenty of dishes to explore and no shortage of cooking visuals. And there's something about a gym being converted to a restaurant that I find rather triumphant too!
Grab Your Fork dined as a guest of Concrete Blonde.
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Potts Point - Doma Bohemian Beer Cafe (Czech)
Potts Point - Hugos Bar Pizza (Italian)
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Potts Point - Prague Czech Beer Restaurant (Czech)
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8/12/2011 12:33:00 am