Friday, May 31, 2013

A hoot of a time at The Owl House

From the moment we stepped into the moodily-lit, narrow, downstairs bar of The Owl House in Darlinghurst – on Crown Street not far from the Stanley Street intersection – we were in the very good and charmingly capable hands of owner and sommelier Amir Halpert and bar manager Owen Davies.

Winner of the Best Bar Food award in the 2012 Good Food Awards, The Owl House is a bit like a small restaurant with an excellent bar, or a small bar with an excellent kitchen. Either way, they’re doing something special in the terrace space with a perch-friendly bar and tiny kitchen headed by ex Aria chef Roy Ner downstairs; and a perilously tight, turning, wooden staircase to a warm upstairs dining room with a balcony overlooking the Crown Street action.

Downstairs at the bar at The Owl House
There aren’t many venues in Sydney that can claim to have both a fully formed bar and kitchen – one or the other often dominates. However, the food and booze feature equally at The Owl House; so much so that as part of their cocktail degustation, the bar matches some drinks to the food while the kitchen matches some dishes to the cocktails.

Ex New Yorker Halpert says that their full, proper degustation with matched, half-size cocktails is a first for Sydney. He was treating us to the degustation, with a few extras for good measure (dishes marked with * are not part of the standard cocktail degustation).

Margarita pearl at The Owl House, Crown Street, Darlinghurst
There was no fluffing about at the start – we got straight into tequila with a touch of molecular mixology: a margarita-filled pearl, starting the palate with a literal explosion of lemon juice and tequila in the mouth.

Freshly shucked Pambula oyster with Herradura anejo tequila sour foam - served
with Tequila Flower cocktail
The tequila theme continued with the first cocktail, Tequila Flower, featuring elderflower liqueur and orange blossom water, which went some way in repressing the tequila hit from Don Julio blanco.

Matched with the cocktail was a fresh-as-it-gets Pambula rock oyster hidden beneath a cloud of Herradura anejo tequila sour foam, naturally.

The tickle of tequila hit the palate first, preparing it for the most impossibly perfect and briney, freshly-shucked rock oyster in a seriously heavenly combination.

Kadaifi prawn with chickpeas tuile. Matbucha dip, heirloom tomatoes, caper berries and
tomato vinaigrette - served with Saffron martini
My jaw hit the table at the sight of the kadaifi pastry-wrapped prawn. The impressive thin wall of deep fried kadaifi aside, there was wonderment at the supersized prawn which would have rivalled a lobster.

The mille feuille-styled tuile wafers were made of chickpeas and tasted just like hommus, interspersed with colourful heirloom tomatoes and tomato-based Matbucha dip, while artsy squiggles of dressing completed the picture.

The Saffron cocktail matched the Middle Eastern flavours of the dish and was a great martini option for those new or still a little reluctant of the notoriously strong cocktail. A touch of sweetness and saffron exoticness added to the chilled botanicals of gin was just about the perfect cocktail for me.

Halpert then brought upstairs and shook a 1930s Cosmopolitan: fairly classic but for the spiced cranberry puree which added great depth. The sweet, light flavours of the Cosmopolitan were an unexpected match for the fish of the day.

Fish of the day with diamond shell clams. beetroot carpaccio, golf carrots,
semi dried kalamata olives and tomatoes - served with Cosmopolitan cocktail
The gasps of presentation surprise continued, and several half cocktails in, I managed to forget what the fish of the day was – something in a thin fillet, firm and flaking, served most deliciously with a crumble of semi-dried kalamata olives which added just the right amount of savouriness.

The wooden serving board was scattered with crimson puddles of beetroot thins, asparagus spears, tiny carrots and diced tomatoes in an ultimately healthy and artistic representation of a fish dish.

Smoked bone marrow and ox tail croquette* - served with Titanic by Stefan Trummer cocktail
From the bar snacks menu I had spied a lust-worthy croquette that Halpert kindly included in our meal. Bone marrow and ox tail might seem unlikely croquette fillings but through the ridiculously crisp crumb shell, an extremely smoky mixture of pulled ox tail and less discernible bone marrow was revealed.

The beefy croquette was matched to a cocktail homage to New York 'bar chef' Stefan Trummer's signature Titanic cocktail featuring champagne sorbet, Ciroc vodka, elderflower liquor and sparkling wine - a thoroughly enjoyable, girly concoction.

Deconstructed casoulet: Duck confit, braised pork shoulder, Toulouse style sausage, white beans and carrots* - served with Jack Rose cocktail
From the small dishes part of the menu, the deconstructed casoulet ended up being my absolute favourite, not only of the meal but possibly of the year so far.

The copper pot was filled with piping hot white beans bursting with porky flavour, while the excellent sausage, braised chunk of pork shoulder and confit duck drummette each vied for top spots on the white bean puree podium. Each component stood very well on its own and was divinely homely combined.

The Jack Rose cocktail of calvados apple brandy, lemon juice and pomegranate seeds lightened the richness of the wintry deconstruction.

Lamb cutlets with roasted baby eggplant, zucchini ribbons and pickled eschalots with semi dried tomatoes, goat's curd and chargrilled eggplant dip and lamb jus - served with Smoky Robinson
I could barely stomach the thought of a final main meal, which the kitchen had plated as a full size board of three lamb cutlets.

It was all happening on top of the stripes of smoky eggplant dip: semi dried cherry tomatoes, vibrant green ribbons of zucchini, pickled rings of eschalot and well-roasted baby eggplants, with a rich jus served at the table too.

The Smoky Robinson cocktail of Remy Martin V.S cognac, Drambuie, ginger and smoked capsicum with lemon juice was the ideally strong finishing touch.

Berry parfait served on balsamic glaze with poached rhubarb and berries - served with Chocolate Martini
Somewhat defeated at the sight of dessert, I nonetheless tried the berry parfait, served on lurid streaks of balsamic vinegar glaze and berry puree. Tart and refreshing, with poached rhubarb on the side, it was a surprising accompaniment to the thick and rich Chocolate Martini of 68% Valrhona chocolate, Belvedere orange vodka and Grand Marnier.

It's not that often that I'm completely enamoured with a meal or restaurant. I walked out of The Owl House very full and nearly ecstatic following a consistently astonishing degustation. The warm buzz of booze might have had some small part to play, but I can't remember the last time I had a meal that didn't peak and trough as such, but was steadily amazing throughout.

The presentation of their dishes is undoubtedly elaborate, and perhaps over the top for some, but the genuine heart and soul of The Owl House – from the menu to the service to the fit out and philosophy – makes any visit a hoot of a time.

Food, booze and shoes dined as a guest of The Owl House.

The Owl House on Urbanspoon


Sherrie Huang said...

The dishes are presented beautifully indeed! The croquette looks extemely tasty :)

Annie said...

would love to try that deconstructed cassoulet and the bone marrow croquette!

Vivian - vxdollface said...

I really like The Owl House :) looks like they've got a lot of new items on the menu!

Tina said...

Hi Sherrie - Everything was extremely tasty, which is hard to believe but true!

Hi Annie - The duck was definitely my favourite and the croquette not far behind (and the prawn and oyster!)

Hi Viv - Yeah, I think there's a new winter menu too! I hope the cassoulet stays!


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