Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Gantry Bar and Lounge, Sydney

Last week, you read about how I visited the recently opened Gantry Restaurant in Sydney.  We had a great meal featuring fresh seafood and interesting cocktails.  I added Gantry to my list of places that I'd gladly return to, expecting that to mean on a next visit to Sydney, since I still had many other places I wanted to visit on this trip.

But, a few nights later, we had a VERY large group (at least 15, I think 20?) that wanted food, and, more importantly, drinks.  I racked my brain.  Where on earth could we seat 20 people, with no reservation, that would have decent food and drinks?

Then I remembered the lounge and bar area leading to The Gantry Restaurant.  I knew it used the same kitchen as the restaurant, but served more casual bar food.  And we found the cocktail menu really intriguing when we went for dinner, so I knew the drinkers would be happy.  And, it didn't seem that crowded when we were there before, so I hoped that possibly we'd be able to walk in with our swarm of people and be accommodated.
The Bar ... before we showed up!
We sent Emil ahead of the large group to scope it out and prepare the staff for our arrival, which he happily did.  When we arrived, it was just as we hoped: the entire bar was open, as were many of the adjacent casual seating areas.  Emil had a drink in hand, and vouched for its deliciousness.  Things looked good.

However, the staff were clearly not pleased with our huge group.  They were really were not happy that we wanted food in addition to drinks.  I wouldn't say that they were impolite exactly, but, they certainly didn't make us feel welcome.

The quality from the bartenders varied widely.  One bartender put a lot of care and attention into his drinks, such precision, and came out with great creations.  The other seemed to care less that we were there, and was quite sloppy.

After everyone ordered their drinks at the bar, we moved off into the casual seating space so as not to take over the entire bar.

Casual Seating.
The other seating areas were in pods of a few chairs around little cocktail tables, with assorted types of seating.  We broke up into several groups and were intending to order food for each set of people, based on what those individuals wanted.  However, they required that we do a single food order, so I just ordered for the group.

The service wasn't very good, probably due to our group size.

As the food came out of the kitchen, it got randomly distributed amongst our groups.  Even if we had 3 orders of the same dish, they just brought them all to one table ,and then brought nothing to the next table.  We had to distribute the dishes ourselves.

They also only brought out perhaps 3 sets of cutlery for our group of 17.  We asked for more cutlery, and they eventually brought a couple more, but not enough for everyone.  We were provided no share plates.   When we asked for share plates, again, just a few were brought.

Again, they did accommodate us, but, were clearly annoyed.  Our large group of jeans and t-shirt clad engineers was not the right demographic for their swanky hotel bar, and I don't really recommend you follow my lead here.  A small group of well dressed folks would fit in much better.

The food was fine, but not nearly as good as the meal we had in the full restaurant.  It was better than standard bar food, but it was also quite pricey compared to regular bar food.  I wouldn't return to teh bar and lounge for food, but perhaps if I just wanted a drink I'd swing by, as the cocktails were all interesting and tasty.

Drinks

The drinks were certainly the highlight of the evening.  All were unique and decently made (if you got the right bartender).
El Gantry. $19.
"Altos Blanco tequila swizzled with blueberry and native herbs."

I started with El Gantry.  Like the cocktail I had in the restaurant, it had a ton of crushed ice, but unlike the one at the restaurant, it was nicely balanced from the start.  I didn't really pick up much blueberry nor tequila though, and wanted to taste at least one of those elements more, hence the reason I picked the drink.

The garnish of some sort of fresh native herb was interesting, and added a strong whiff of herbs with every sip, not what I'm accustomed to while consuming a cocktail.

Overall, I enjoyed it, but was ready to move on.

So I moved on to a drink that Emil ordered, and quickly discarded.  Why?  It was sweet, and if you recall, Emil simply doesn't do sweet.  I'm amused that he even ordered it.  I don't understand.  It was The Grape Escape, described as "Hennessy VS and fresh grape juice shaken with orgeat and rhubarb bitters."  I guess he thought the Hennessy and bitters would counteract the grape juice?

I thought it was pretty good, although obviously quite sweet. The best part was the whole grapes submerged inside that soaked up all the booze, and were quite fun to eat at the end.  It was a drink that just kept on giving!

Throughout the night, everyone ordered a slew of cocktails, all interesting sounding and looking, and they all seemed to enjoy them.  On the cocktail front, we achieved success.
Port. ??
To end the night, I needed dessert, obviously.  The Gantry does serve desserts from the restaurant in the lounge, but that seemed too complicated with our group, so I opted for "liquid" dessert instead.

I opted for the port.  It was fine, but, just port.

Bar Snacks

As I mentioned, the bar and lounge menu is entirely different from the restaurant menu, which makes sense, given the space.  You can't eat beautifully composed plated seafood entrees while sitting in a low chair with only a side cocktail table, so the menu is adapted to the space.

The bar menu is broken up into two sections, dubbed "bar snacks" and "substantials", but all are designed to be share plates enjoyed at the bar or in the lounge.

To start, we ordered several of each and every bar snack.
 Beetroot Homefries / Dill Aioli. $9.
We started with the beetroot homefries that we had a the restaurant a few days earlier.  I skipped them this time around since I didn't really care for them at the restaurant, but everyone else gobbled them up, again a crowd pleaser.

We also got the chicken wings with tamarind glaze ($16), which, given my dislike of chicken, I obviously skipped (and missed a photo of entirely, amidst all the drama of food randomly showing up at tables, whoops!).  These went unfinished, which I'll use as an indication that they weren't great.

We also had the parmesan fries with Gantry's signature seasoning ($9), served in a huge pot.  I really thought I got a photo of this dish, but, alas, I didn't.  As I said, it was chaos, and it was quite hard to capture even the shots I did.

The fries were super thin, really crispy, nicely seasoned.  They weren't served with any dipping sauce, but since basically every other dish we ordered came with a pot of aioli, I was easily able to find some to dip them in.  They were good, but not particularly notable.
Szechuan Salt & Pepper Squid / Tartare Sauce.  $16.
Next was a serving of the s&p squid, always a fun bar classic, and the one I was most looking forward to.  The squid was decently crispy on the outside, not chewy nor rubbery, not too oily.  I appreciated the lemon wedge on the side, but with a huge group, we weren't really able to share the lemon.  Did I want other people's dirty hands on the lemon that was touching my food?  And were we supposed to pass it around?

Of course I liked the tartare sauce, but it seemed identical to the dill aioli with the beetroot homefries.

My favorite of the bar snacks.
Cumberland Sausage Rolls / Housemade Smoked Ketchup. $16.
The final "bar snack" were mini sausage rolls.  The pastry on the outside had a lovely gloss to it, but, wasn't really interesting, not very flaky or buttery.  Inside was very moist sausage, decent enough.

The housemade smoked ketchup was my favorite element, super flavorful and tasty.  I used it with the fries as well, it even trumped the aioli, which, as someone who loves aioli, you realize is quite the testament.

Prices were high though, $16 for three mini sausage rolls?

Substantials

Next we moved on to the "substantials" portion of the menu, larger dishes, but not really entree style.
Australian Cheeses / Muscatels / Quince / Local Honeycomb / Crackers. $28.
First up was a cheese platter.  It had a few pieces of fruit, including not very ripe strawberries and figs that one diner dubbed the only thing she didn't like that night.  I tried one and agreed, it was strangely bitter.  Dried apricots and a smear of some kind of jam were the final accompaniments.

But where was the cheese?  Most of the cheeses were hidden under the crackers, a strange plating.  All of the cheeses were pretty unremarkable.  Not a single cheese stood out, but that was common in Sydney.  No wonder they all just eat "Tasty Cheese" in Australia.  I don't think cheese culture has really caught on.  The crackers were just thin crispy crackers.

We also got the meat platter: "Selection of Cured Meats / Housemade Pickles / Warm Housemade Foccacia", also $28.  Again, no standouts, although the meats were all thinly sliced and tasty enough.
Tiger Flathead / Murray's Brewing Beer Batter / Chips / Tartare. $26.
Since Gantry excels in seafood, for the more main-dish like items we skipped the meats, and moved right on to seafood.

First up was the fish and chips, a dish I eyed in the restaurant all night long, as it passed by to other diners on that visit..

Like the s&p squid, it was served with a lemon wedge and the same tartare sauce on the side.

The fish was fine, moist inside.  The batter was thick and tasty.  The pieces were a bit too oily however.

The chips were not the same as the thin parmesan fries we had earlier, instead, they were thick cut wedges, I think they may have also been lightly battered in the same way as the beetroot homefries.

The final dish we got was also the most pricy, at $39: "Bucket of King Prawns / Marie Rose Sauce / Housemade Focaccia".

The bread was grilled, and basically just all butter.  I liked the strong smoky level of the grill, but wow, this was literally just butter.

I didn't have the prawns after several people said they weren't good, and, indeed, the expensive bucket of prawns went unfinished.  People chose to order additional food instead of finishing them, they were that bad.  I believe they were just cooked and then served chilled on ice, nothing special.

But, the sauce that came with them ... now THAT was special.  Marie Rose sauce is basically cocktail sauce mixed with mayo.  Yup, more mayo based sauce.  This was the winner of the sauces, creamy and spicy and flavorful.  Once I discovered this sauce, I dunked absolutely everything else into it.  Including leftover crackers.  Just so I could eat more sauce.  But, overall, since no one liked the prawns, obviously not a winning dish.

So yeah, basically, my night was spent dunking fried potatoes and seafood of various types into pots of aioli.  I can't say this was was a healthy evening, but, it was bar food after all, and, when in Rome, right?
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