Grasshopper may be completely hidden to the average passerby, but that seems to be half the appeal for the Sydney suits and hipster crowd that spill out the front of this laneway bar each weeknight. There are no signs on the street to indicate its existence, but those in-the-know head down the narrow alley off George Street, unmarked but for the remarkably appropriate street sign "Temperance Lane". You'll find it to the left of the RM Williams store on the same block as the Apple shop.
Candles, wine glasses and jam jar water glasses at Grasshopper
The four of us manage to score one of the last available tables on a Friday night, although it does require a disconcerting series of verbal negotiations and compliance with the gate-keeping waitress before we're allowed through (You're here to have dinner aren't you, not just snacks? Because some people just take a table and order snacks and no food. We'll need the table back at 7.45pm. And you're eating dinner, right? And you'll be having at least two courses? -- Yes, yes, we understand and we will, we reassure her with a smile).
Downstairs the bar area is heaving with people but the first floor dining room is much more sedate, a collection of dark timber tables and bentwood chairs, illuminated romantically by candles. The quirky decor is a mix of lampshades, garden gnomes and jam jars for water glasses. Although there are two huge striking images of an Asian man running on the wall, we're more distracted by the full view into the open kitchen, a small and compact space run with impressive efficiency.
Crisp chicken, roast garlic and tarragon $15
We share a couple of entrees to start, our eyes widening with delight at the sight of the crisp chicken, strips of juicy chicken coated in a crisp layer of puffed grains that adhere exceedingly well to the accompanying tarragon aioli.
Smoked salmon and green peppercorn pate $14
Smoked salmon and green peppercorn pate is chunky in appearance, but impressively buttery and smooth on the palate. We dismantle the quenelle with furtive urgency, spreading it generously on brittle shards of thin toasted olive bread.
Steak tartare $15
The steak tartare is my favourite entree, the compact patty of freshly minced raw beef crowned with a quail egg yolk served in the shell. It's a glorious indulgence of silky beef and rich egg yolk tempered by the piquancy of finely diced capers and cornichons.
Steak au poivre $34
with 2008 Domaine Pommier Pinot Noir (Bourgogne, France) $13 by the glass
Mains include a globe artichoke and Manchego tortellini, smoked ham hock, market fish and lamb rump but we all end up ordering the daily special, the steak au poivre, when we hear the words "bone marow" in the description.
It's a plate of brown that arrives at the table, but the smell of the brandy butter sauce is intoxicating as it wafts over us. The steak au poivre, or pepper steak, is cooked to medium-rare perfection, the meat juicy and meltingly tender beneath a dense crust of crushed peppercorns. The steak tastes even better with a glass of the 2008 Domaine Pommier pinot noir, a drop so smooth that I order a second glass.
The bone marrow is a clever rendition, with the quivering mass of unctuous bliss served not in the original bone but a column of grated potato and parsley that tricks us all.
It's hard to say which element was my favourite: the steak, the marrow or the brandy butter sauce. They're equally swoon-worthy and we lick our plates clean.
Salt caramel fondant with mint chocolate chip ice cream $18
We plough on with dessert, ordering a couple of salt caramel fondants with mint chocolate chip ice cream to share.
Salt caramel fondant money shot
Our view of the kitchen means we can watch our fondants slowly baking in the oven, whetting our appetites with the aroma of caramelising sugar. We cut open the fondant to reveal a sexy river of oozing batter, although the cake tastes more of chocolate than salted caramel. Mint chocolate chip ice cream is excessively minty to the point of reminding me of toothpaste, but others revel in its breath-freshening qualities.
Cool, cosy and eclectic, I'd come back to Grasshopper just for the steak tartare and the steak au poivre. Sounds like an ace idea to me.
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(off George Street, between Market and King Streets, Apple store-side)
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8/01/2011 02:15:00 a.m.