Monday, November 17, 2014

Ajó: A slice of Sardinia at the Welcome Hotel

Posted by Kath

Head down any one of Balmain's winding backstreets and you're sure to stumble across one of the many local pubs that the area is famous for.

One of these historic pubs is the Welcome Hotel which was founded in 1878 and still retains a local charm, with the benefits of a recent make-over and the brilliant introduction of head chef Daniel Mulligan (previously head chef at Pilu at Freshwater).

Entrance to the Welcome Hotel, Evans Street, Balmain
The pub recently welcomed Ajó restaurant into a cosy and sophisticated dining space, with sheltered outdoor seating to be enjoyed in the upcoming summer months.

Chef Mulligan brings a Sardinian inspired menu to the backstreets of Balmain. At a glance the new menu of regional Italian fare looked to be an exciting journey into one of my favourite cuisines. Accompanying the new menu is an impressive list of Italian and NSW wines with an equally impressive array of local craft beers for the beer lovers.

Freshly shucked Pambula oysters with shallot jelly
Being a newly converted oyster lover, after years of being put off by some lacklustre offerings, the freshly shucked Pambula Lake rock oysters were a fantastic indicator of what was in store for the night.

Adorned with delicate cubes of slightly zingy white balsamic vinegar and shallot jelly, they were fresh and creamy, making them a delight to eat with or without the jelly.

Marinated W.A sardines with charred foccacia
The majority of the dishes served up from the Ajó menu this night were largely seafood based, which I definitely had no complaints about.

To keep on theme our next dish was a row of thinly sliced and marinated sardines hiding under an eye catching bed of refreshing herbs and flowers. The oily goodness of the sardines and the refreshing salad of fennel, parsley, capers and flora were accompanied by some charred focaccia slices which provided the perfect vessel for consumption.

Queensland spanner crab, fregola, almond and marjoram
Highlighting the Sardinian influence on the menu was a moreish dish of fregola - a type of Sardinian pasta like large couscous grains.

This dish basically had the whole table silently enjoying the slightly chewy consistency of the pasta which was infused with the creamy flavour of sweet spanner crab and marjoram, with an added nuttiness from a smattering of almond flakes. I could have had two of these if only it wouldn't have called for a double dose of antihistamine.

Huon salmon, slow cooked peppers and vongole
Next up was a perfectly cooked piece of salmon on a bed of deliciously sweet peppers and onions, speckled with a few little clams. The skin on the salmon had a lovely crispness to it while the flesh flaked away and melted in the mouth.

The salmon combined with the sweet peppers made this one of my favourite dishes of the night, with the clams being a potentially unnecessary addition to the already wonderful flavours.

Mutton, baby artichokes, broad bean and olive caramel
The last main of the night was a surprising dish of mutton. I found the salty and sweet flavour of the olive caramel to be a welcome combination to the juicy pieces of medium rare mutton, pureed broad bean and slight tang of the artichokes.

Eton mess, strawberries and pistachio
To cap off the night we were presented with a not-so-Italian but spectacular rendition of an Eton mess. It was a cloud of delicious whipped cream studded with tiny pops of sugary meringue which had just the right amount of crunch and chew. Sliced strawberries added a refreshing tartness to cut through the delicious mouthfuls of sugar and cream, while the pistachios added another level of crunch and flavour that went beautifully when all combined.

Throughout the night we were plied with many a fine wine from various regions of NSW and Italy that were matched exceptionally well to each course by passionate owner Liam O'Keefe. This passion obviously extends across the whole offering at the Welcome Hotel, particularly within the casual elegance of the Ajó dining room - making it an enviable place to call your local.

Food, Booze & Shoes dined at Ajó as a guest, with thanks to The Cru Media.

Ajo on Urbanspoon


  1. Love the look of the Eton Mess, those little meringues are so cute!

  2. Amanda - they were as delcious as they were cute!

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