Sometimes getting the girls together is a monumental feat. Holidays, work schedules, hangovers, boys and associated troubles - sometimes it just feels all too hard. So it was a pleasant surprise when afternoon drinks at The Winery in Surry Hills eventuated with the ease of tapping out a couple of emails.
I have a feeling their uber cool website might have something to do with it. Otherwise, the pulling power of the whimsical and undeniably girly venue, and the lure of jugs of sweetly alcoholic beverages.
The bar in the main room runs the length of the room with a worn-in wooden feel, dotted with vases of fake flowers and bottle upon bottle of liquor. The clear skies and warm afternoon call for something light, refreshing and jolly to start - and if it comes in a jug, then all the better for liberal self-service.
The white wine sangria starts off a nice base of tinned lychees, whole mint leaves and lemon quarters, and then we veer into the naughty side with Cointreau, sweet white vermouth and what I'm sure was a scientific beaker of white wine. A bit of swishing and mixing with a delectable long-handled spoon and its was cheers to first drinks of the pre-Chrissy-week day.
I think it's something about the abundance of fruit that makes the drink festive, and for an elongated afternoon of socialising and drinking, the icy jugs are not too potent nor sweet.
In addition to battling the heat and what some may label an addiction at this time of the year, the jugs also make for a handy companion when waiting for the whole group to turn up. The rose wine version of the sangria was equally as light and fun as its white counterpart, but a little sweeter with the addition of strawberry liquer to strawberries, lime, white vermouth and lemonade.
Waiting also gave us time to admire at the interior of high tables and bar chairs, bird figurines stuck upside-down on the ceiling, and the frantically busy open kitchen. We also marvelled at the high-tech wine service device - a rather vending machine-like, wine-on-tap contraption and completely removing the art of pouring a glass of wine. Will definitely study this and the wine list further next time.
Finally, the final member of our group arrives, jug of Pimms in hand. All is forgiven as the simply scrumptious mix of Pimms, gin, vermouth, lemonade, ginger ale, strawberries, lemon and cucumber is delightfully taken. We have a winner, in my books, with the cucumber a genuinely refreshing addition. It would probably be rude to request yet another jug without giving the menu a glance - and with that, appetites are racing.
It is a bit of a wait for the food, although perhaps understandably as the tightly packed tables and couches of two-level venue are constantly filled. The vibe is relaxed as the girly lunch crowd revels in the sunshine-y day; dresses simply everywhere among the quirks and surprises of The Winery.
We start with a few shared plates to wean ourselves off the drinks. The use of edamame beans almost as a garnish with the kingfish is clever and pretty to boot - the vibrantly green pops of colour in addition to an array of microherbs. The dish hits visually first and hardest, with a more subdued flavour to follow. The dressing is lovely and awakens the palate for the slightly unexcited kingfish.
The crab salad is also a good looker, with strands of crab flesh lightly resting on a round of tangy and creamy mashed avocado. The promised herbs were a bit more like small salad leaves, including rocket - so I'm not complaining. The strips of curly fried crisps are similar to deep-fried wonton wrappers, perhaps a bit thicker, and make for a nice utensil for scooping avocado and crab.
On mains selection, I think one of us was simply sold on the queer notion of grapes in a pie. Stranger yet, they seemed to be absent from the pie upon exploration beyond the pastry lid. The chicken was there; the champagne was expected to be subtle - but, no sultanas, muscatels, fresh or dry, in sight. It was, nonetheless, a decent chicken pie but a little less exotic than the name would imply.
The size of the pasta shells is confronting to begin with, aside from the surprise of not having a noodle (linguine, tagliatelle) pasta. The simple sauce tastes healthy yet wholesome, but the shells are definitley not al dente, which makes it difficult for the dish to really impress.
I think I would really enjoy the task of being the hollandaise sauce server in the kitchen - the circular squirts beneath steamed beans and brocolini. The salmon fillet was nicely baked although I didn't get a taste of the herb crust. This was definitely one of the top picks of the table, and a few other tables from observation.
Certainly one of the larger dishes, my grilled sirloin steak was a plate of decadence and victim of some dish envy, I think. The crisp, but not quite hot, fries were ridiculously abundant but handy for mopping up the herbed jus accompanying the steak. Requested medium-rare, the sirloin was quite well done in one area, but mostly tender inside its charred outer with the cafe de Paris butter a lovely condiment in place of my usual preference for hot English mustard.
Thus, food conquered, the rest of our afternoon was accompanied by a few more jugs before the dolled-up evening crowd started to penetrate the boozily relaxed among us. The Winery really is a beautiful location, particularly for the feminine-inclined, inside and out with views of the city skyline. The convenient Surry Hills location gives nearby drinking holes some serious competition, especially with the girlies - and it seems I'm only a few emails away from returning.