Monday, March 30, 2015

Rabbit Hole Bar and Dining, Sydney

During my time in Sydney, I arranged a slew of meals, for groups of varying sizes, catering to all different styles.  We ate a lot of casual Thai food at all the Sydney classics (Home Thai', Chat Thai, or our favorite, Sailor's Thai Canteen), we went for mid-range cuisine at Lumi and Sokyo, and we visited a lot of cafes for brunch (Trio, Devon Cafe, Bill's).  But I also arranged a few far more casual outings, more focused on the drinks than the food, for larger groups.  We had fantastic bar food at Pocket Bar.  We experienced a full on tiki bar at The Cliff Dive.  And ... we also went ... down the Rabbit Hole!

Rabbit Hole Bar and Dining is located in the CBD, quite convenient for our large group staying at a slew of hotels around the city.  It is located, truly, down the hole.  You enter on street level, and immediately go downstairs.  Rabbit Hole isn't just a bar, it is ... a molecular gastronomy bar!

The space is broken up into two rooms.  The first is a large bar and lounge, which is the focus of the establishment.   The cocktails are all high quality, using tons of fresh produce, house-made syrups, spices mixes, and flavored sugars.  But they also have fun with molecular gastronomy in the bar, incorporating foams, jellies, spherification, and even using sous-vide to infuse some liquors.  The food isn't quite as molecular, but this is no normal bar food.  Yes, there are fries, but they are hand cut chips coated in truffle oil and parmesan.  The burger is made from wagyu, served on a brioche bun, topped with brie, and housemade tomato relish.  Instead of wings, you can munch on crispy pork belly bites.  I had seared scallops for my main, and someone else in our group had roasted lamb shoulder.

I think you can see why we wound up here.  It sounded like the perfect fit - fun drinks for the large group, and potentially good food for me.  And, even better, they were easily able to accommodate our large 20+ person reservation, same day!

The drinks were indeed fun, and it worked well for our group, but the food wasn't nearly as good as I was hoping.  I'd go back for drinks, but wouldn't really be excited to eat there again, even though the menu sounds so tempting!
Second Bar Area.
The other side of the space is the more formal dining area, with classic tables and chairs, and a second bar.  It wasn't that busy when we were there, so the second bar wasn't ever used.  I imagine during peak times it is used for drinks to service the dining room?

We were seated in the dining area, since we indicated that we wanted a full meal, not just snacks.  The same menu is available in both rooms.

Since we arrived on the early side, we had the entire dining room to ourselves for the first 20 minutes or so, but it quickly filled up.  Since our party was more than 20 people, they broke us into two tables, to help control the ordering.  Service was fairly good, our needs were mostly met.

Water was provided on the table in old gin bottles, a cute touch.
Interesting decor.
The decor in the dining room is ... different.  Crazy mirrors, candlesticks, and assorted other trinkets were strewn about everywhere.  We did have a mishap with one diner knocking over a candle (yes, a real candle with flame) that was perched on a ledge, spilling hot wax all over himself and his brand new shirt.  Doh.  But um, I can't really blame the restaurant for this, he DID run into the ledge.
Doug Laming’s Margarita $14, Jellied G&T $11.
We started with the most ridiculous sounding drinks, listed on the menu as "shots".

First, the uh, "margarita".  This is the "drink" that I think makes them most famous, and is certainly the most showy of all the cocktails.  Yes, that is it, little pearls, served inside a finger lime.  The full description: "We start with carefully prepared, spherified pearls of Souza Gold tequila and simple syrup matched with Cointreau Caviar. Finger limes add the sour and a small dusting of salt completes this take on the classic. "

I didn't actually try the margarita, but went straight for the jellied gin & tonic instead, because, well, it sounded way too fun.  Basically jello shots?  No better way to get the evening started ...

They describe it: "Eben Freeman of NYC created the original recipe for this. We use No.3 gin to elevate this recipe and serve it on burnt orange oils with candied citrus zest. Take a bite and let this solid alcohol fizz on your tongue like its original namesake."

It was indeed quite fun, and there was something strange about having a jello shot-esque item in a restaurant.  I thought I left these behind in my college dorm!  The flavor wasn't great though, and it was pretty watery.  I think we were all a bit disappointed by this, but were glad to have tried it.

We moved on to some of the more normal cocktails next.
You’ve Gone Nuts. $19.
"Tonka bean infused Sierra Millenario Gran Anejo tequila is shaken with Disaronno amaretto, lemon and our house made peanut and cashew syrup. This drink is finished with Fee Brother’s Walnut bitters and fine strained into a nutty cocktail glass. "

I went for the "You've Gone Nuts" because it sounded unique, but also filled with things I really like.  I've been on a tequila kick lately, not really sure why, but I really wanted a tequila based drink.  Peanut and cashew syrup sounded fascinating, as did the "nutty cocktail glass".

It arrived in a martini glass, with a piece of gold painted chocolate sitting on top, with what I think were shimmery blue coated tonka beans delicately perched inside.  Points for the artistic presentation.

Overall, the drink was fine, but a bit too sweet, and I didn't taste the tequila as strongly as I wanted.  Probably in general, you don't want to taste tequila very strongly, but given that I was craving it, I wanted to.

$19 was right in line for hand crafted cocktails in Sydney.
P B & B.
"Mt Gay XO, peanut brittle, banana, vanilla & lemon"

I also tried a few sips of one of my fellow dining companion's P B & B because it sounded totally amazing.  Peanut brittle? In a drink?  Yes!

This drink was more complex than mine.  The banana was really quite strong on the nose, but the finish was all boozy.  But, like mine, it was also a bit too sweet.  My second favorite drink of the night however.

Interesting drinks for sure, but I wasn't quite happy with them.  I imagine if we'd been at the bar, we could have expressed the desire to have them less sweet, and our asks would have been accommodated, but since we were in the other room, we had no relationship with the bartender.
Hand cut fat chips with house made tomato relish. $10.
We started with a bunch of appetizers, all designed to be shared.  The first selection? Chips.

Australians seem to eat a lot of potatoes.  My potato consumption went up drastically during my time in Sydney.  Thin fries, thick wedges, mashed potatoes, etc, it seemed like potatoes were part of nearly every meal.  Not because I picked them, but because it seemed impossible to everyone else to not order the potato product.  Maybe this was just my peers, or maybe it is an Australian thing?  Some classic meat and potatoes British influence still around?

Anyway, the chips were huge wedges, ridiculously crispy, kinda too oily for me.  The other table also got an order of the parmesan and truffle version ($12), which I greatly preferred, as they had a lot more flavor.  Both were fine, and more exciting than soggy limp regular bar fries, but I was pretty sick of potatoes, and it was my second to least favorite dish of the night.
Crispy, twice cooked pork belly bites, maple syrup & pomegranate. $19.
Next up, pork belly bites, another appetizer.

The plating was impressive, served on a slate, with the maple and pomegranate sauce in puddles, and pomegranate seeds strewn about.  But the pork was really fatty, which I know pork belly is obviously, but normally I like pork belly.  This just wasn't cooked well, so the fat wasn't rendered down at all, and it was just flabby and off-putting.

It also was a bit difficult to serve and share.  We were instructed that all the dishes were intended to be served family style, but we were not brought any serving spoons, and, how do you share something that has sauces on the plate like this?

Anyway, my least favorite dish of the night.
Seared halloumi, pomelo, caramelised lemon, tomato & basil salt. $17. 
Another appetizer: halloumi!

I adore halloumi, and really wish it were available more places in the US.  Luckily for us, we were in Australia, where it was everywhere, apparently including bar menus.

The accompaniments were a bit odd, although, I guess somewhat like a caprese salad, with halloumi in place of mozzarella?

The tomato was the weakest element.  It looked decent, but really wasn't ripe at all.  Since we were visiting in the middle of Sydney summer, this was surprising.  They should have had awesome tomato!

The pomelo was really quite tart, and quite strange to pair with tomato.  I'm not really sure what they were thinking with this, although it makes sense to have some acidity with the cheese?

And finally, the halloumi.  It was fine, but I preferred the grilled halloumi I had at brunch at Trio Cafe a few days prior {LINK}.  This halloumi didn't have quite the sear on it that I like, and it was overly salty.

Overall, just not great, and out of balance.
“Rabbit Hole” wagyu beef burger on brioche with brie cheese and house made tomato relish. $19.
Ok, moving along to main dishes.  Ojan went for the burger.  Apparently it has been ranked in the top 5 burgers in the world by ... someone, I forget who, but it was on a list somewhere.

This had all the makings of an awesome burger.  Wagyu.  Brie.  Brioche.  But ... it was cooked well done, was rather dry, and the brie was just a big clump, and didn't melt at all.  Several others also ordered the burger, and were equally not impressed.

A few people also opted for the lamb sliders instead.  They were slightly better, topped with emmenthal that did melt a little, and a flavorful beetroot and onion relish, plus creamy aioli, but, no one was thrilled with the sliders either.  Likewise, the charcuterie platter didn't draw any rave reviews, although I enjoyed the caperberries plated alongside.

Finally, one person opted for the roast lamb shoulder.  I somehow didn't get a photo, but it was a massive, massive serving.  Which the waiter warned, saying it was meant to be shared by several people, but still, one guy ordered it.  It was the last dish to arrive, long after the others, and since we had so many assorted appetizers, and everyone ended up sharing their other dishes too, everyone was pretty stuffed with this ridiculous hung of meat showed up.  The server said it was 1.2 kg on average.  I don't like lamb, so I didn't try it, but everyone seemed to like it.  What I did try was the caponata on the side, which turned out to by my favorite thing, besides the drinks, all night.  Crazy flavorful.  At $42 though, this was a bit of a pricy dish for "bar food".

Seared scallops, pancetta caramel and green apple. $24.
And finally, the dish I was most excited for: scallops!  Sure, I've never had scallops in a bar before, but this was clearly not a regular bar.

The scallops were technically an appetizer, but, given how many other dishes we were sharing, I knew I was fine just ordering the scallops as my main dish.  After fries, halloumi, pork belly, a few bites of burgers, and assorted other bits from everyone sitting around me, I was totally right.

Sadly, the scallops, like all of the food, weren't great.  Everything looked pretty good, but just wasn't.  The scallops were barely seared.  I really like a hard sear on my scallops, and these didn't really have any crust or coloration whatsoever.  Each scallop was perched atop a slice of apple, which I really didn't care for.  Mushy apple under scallop?  Why?

I did of course adore the pancetta caramel, because it was sticky, sweet, and slightly bacon-y, but overall the dish was a flop for me.  I somewhat wished I'd just eaten more of the chips instead.  $24 for 4 scallops was reasonable I guess.
Elder Mother's Elixir.
"No. 3 gin, St. Germain, coconut, malic acid & orange blossom."

For my final drink, I decided to go for a gin based drink, because, besides tequila, I've also been really into gin lately.  I blame my trip to Tokyo with a few co-workers a few months prior.

Anyway, this drink turned out to be the real winner.  My tasting notes just say "holy crap delicious!"  I could leave this review at that, but, I'll give you a bit more detail.

The most remarkable aspect was the foam, coconut flavored.  It was so light and frothy.  I adored it.  The whole drink was infused with orange blossom, which gave a depth from the slight orange flavor.  The drink was sweet, but not nearly as sweet as the others, and with the froth, the sweetness made more sense, more like a dessert drink than something I'd have with my meal.  And since the only desserts available were cheeses, I did exactly that.
See review on Urbanspoon
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