Friday, October 28, 2011

Goodbye charcuterie, hello Asian flavours at Bar H

The first time I had dinner at Bar H, I pretty much fell in love with the place. I thought it was perfect. It may well have been a combination of the food, booze and company but I remember being completely and utterly content with the world - which is all too rare a state.

So I was a little surprised when I learnt of Bar H's change in tack earlier this year; that despite the awesome reviews, they were turning to the Asian flavours chef and owner Hamish Ingham cultivated at Billy Kwong. Goodbye, gorgeous charcuterie.

Crispy pork wontons with sweet chilli sauce at Bar H, Campbell Street, Surry Hills
The drowned my temporary distress in happy hour cocktails at Bar H as I dug out a voucher for a shared banquet with a glass of wine each on a drizzly night. Given Ingham's calibre, I had no worries about the quality of the food to come, but just had to stop myself from making comparisons to 'last time'.

Seats looking out to Campbell Street helped change the scenery, as did the crispy wontons, folded classically like tortellini and served with a house sweet chilli dipping sauce. Somewhat chunky fillings differentiated these from the average wonton, and I can definitely imagine a bowl of these going down nicely with beers as bar food.

Cucumber and black fungi salad
The pickled cucumber salad starter seemed  fairly classic Chinese, with the addition of black fungi and a restrained addition of chilli. I've always been a fan of pickles and it's great to see them on more and more restaurant menus.

Calamari salad with radish, herbs, black fungi and mushrooms
There was a choice of two entrees as part of the voucher deal but our waiter claims the calamari dish as his absolute favourite, and I can totally understand why after just one bite of the squid.

It's ridiculously tender in an exquisite just-cooked fashion, and is dressed in a well rounded, tart dressing that's also complementary to the mushrooms (enoki and another I forget) and more black fungi. With mint and thin slices of radish tossed through, this stunning dish showed how Ingham has an amazing handle on salads that allows each individual ingredient to shine.

Braised beef short rib with black bean and chilli
With a choice of two mains, the continuing rain made it all too easy to choose the braised beef short rib. When the generous sized dish arrived, I was a little worried that I was only armed with chopsticks to attack the big chunks of beef.

But served without the bone, I needn't have worried. I probably could have eaten the big chunks with a teaspoon, they were so fall-apart tender. The flavours of sweet dark soy and salt-rich black beans played equally strong parts, accompanied with lots of steamed rice.

The lettuce beneath soaked up a lot of the saucy flavour, while coriander was just the thing to lift the thick richness of the braise.

Roasted kumera with pickled leaves
As a side, the roasted whole sweet potato in its skin was topped with more pickles and from memory, a lot of white pepper, with the sweet, mushy orange flesh perfectly comforting.

Kumquat sorbet
Dessert wasn't part of the voucher deal, but we found space for the Asian-inspired sweets. A choice of house made sorbets each had an Asian feature ingredient.

It was the first I'd ever heard of a kumquat sorbet, so it had to be that. And it was kumquat in a true form; sweetened but with that definitive bitterness of the little citrus fruits. The quenelle of sorbet was served on a slippery black tile, with fine chocolate shavings all over.

Sticky rice and red bean donuts with anise ice cream
More substantial were the glutinous rice "donuts" filled with sweetened red bean paste; a take on Chinese jin deui. I adored the anise flavoured ice cream they were served with while the donuts themselves were a little heavy and rich with oil, but a fun, creative approach to traditional Chinese.

Looking back at the warm yellow hues of the cosy restaurant, I think the ambience and design of the resturant are definitely one of my favoured aspects. But even without charcuterie and cheese plates this time, Bar H has impressed again, especially the salads. So it's a happy hello to the Asian flavours - hope you're here to stay.

Bar H on Urbanspoon


Dumpling Girl said...

I got the same voucher too, and loved it. Your post has me wanting those wontons and red bean doughnuts all over again.

MissPiggy said...

I'm pretty sure this is the same voucher we had also (You know they have a new voucher availalbe at this very moment). I loved the food, esp the calamari salad.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if it's the same voucher I saw a few days ago in Spreets... if it is I want one!

hollypop said...

looks nice but i'm a bit sad. i love the h for the mod oz kind of flavours.
isn't there enough places to get asian food in sydney?
hmmm :-/////
i doubt i can eat any of this food now.

how weird is it that district dining and duke got hats and not bar h?!

Richard Elliot said...

Ooh the food looks good. I noticed Bar H for the first time when I was at Cafe Ish and it looked like an interesting venue.

I might have to keep my eyes peeled for one of those vouchers and check it out!

Sticky Penguin said...

I was at Bar H for the first time just a week or so ago - I went with a group of about 6 and we had the banquet. I'm glad you mentioned the restaurant has had a change in direction, as when I first got there, I was a little surprised by the oriental-influenced menu as I'd thought it had a different focus. Any reservations I had, though, happily disappeared - the mix and balance of dishes was wonderful. I loved the wontons, too, and there was a divine mix of sorbets (including rhubarb and coriander - simply divine!). It was good to look over your pictures of the dishes, and sounds like you had a similar experience. Think I'll definitely be back to Bar H again...

Tina said...

Hi Dumpling Girl - Oooh, the calamari and beef short rib have to be my faves.

Hi MissPiggy - Wasn't that salad an absolute stunner? Such balance of flavours...

Hi lateraleating - Yes, I've seen them do a few rounds of vouchers now; cooking classes too.

Hi hollypop - I guess there aren't that many mod Chinese places, but yeah, I kinda miss the old H for fab, accessible mod Oz.

Hi Richard - It's such a gorgeous, engaging space; I think that alone ticks boxes for me.

Hi Sticky Penguin - Glad you liked it all the same :)

Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) said...

I've always wondered about this place when I've wandered past, as I can't quite figure out what they serve inside!

Tina said...

Hi Rita - And now you know! Yeah, the name gives nothing away, nor the fitout


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