Though there’s still a place for a bag of salt and vinegar chips at the pub or a bowl of olives while you’re waiting for a table at a restaurant, a wave of excellent bite-sized dishes has emerged in the shadows of Sydney’s small bar revolution. Taking a hint from the enviable European tradition of aperitivi, where a little plate of something salty is set down next to your drink to whet your appetite, lately we’ve been making a dinner of it.
It’s a hell of a lot of fun to sit at the bar rather than a table. There should be aperitifs first, maybe a Negroni, followed by wine poured by the glass. You’re probably hungry, but not that hungry, so you order a few little plates to graze on. Ideally, the kitchen will be open late and they’ll be quick on the pans. Here are some of the bar snacks that have caught our attention lately. [fold]
Braised Short Rib, Pickled Onion and Gorgonzola Panino – 10 William Street
Packed with small tables and perpetually abuzz, this Italian hole-in-the-wall by the Fratelli Paradiso troupe boasts the king of all bar snack menus. Their panino, thanks to head chef Daniel Pepperell, is perfectly proportioned and packed with a whole lot of punchy flavours. Unctuous and rich, slow-braised short ribs are cut through by rounds of scarlet pickled onion, topped with pungent Gorgonzola on a soft, ever so slightly grilled milk bun. Pinot noir food at its finest.
Vegetable Pickles – Hartsyard
A hearty, American-slanted eatery on Enmore Road, Hartsyard’s bar is a wide and beautiful thing to perch at, and it doesn’t hurt that the bartenders supply some excellent banter over the counter. Their dish of pickled seasonal vegetables – both sour and sweet at the same time – is a simple recipe executed with such an acute delicacy that it’s almost too pretty to mess up with a fork. A crisp combination of radishes, white turnip, crunchy fennel, carrot, celery and the surprising addition of soft mushroom caps make for a textural, refreshing bar snack before digging into a plate of Hartyard’s famous fried chicken with hot sauce.
Fish Fingers – Wine Library
If fish fingers conjure up memories of the heavily breaded and boxed variety from your childhood, never fear. At Wine Library, a moody little wine bar with a broad and interesting wine list just near the corner of Oxford Street and Jersey Road, the traditional Spanish tapa of salt cod croquettes is reworked into a reincarnation of the English classic. A combination of salt cod and fluffy potato is encrusted in a crunchy crumb, cut into thick batons. They arrive at your table tucked into an anchovy tin, a little pot of paprika mayonnaise on the side. Nothing like what your mother used to make.
Roast Crickets with Garlic, Chilli and Lime – El Topo
We’ve spoken to Chinese-Australian chef Kylie Kwong about her new way of cooking with insects, but those in Mexico have been at it for hundreds of years. El Topo was one of the first in Sydney brave enough to serve up a plate of crickets to enthusiastic diners. And though it may just be for novelty value at first, these ultra-crunchy snacks tossed with garlic, fresh chilli and lime are just like eating the shell of a prawn. After all, crickets are the prawns of the land. Go on, be adventurous. Best followed by a salty margarita.