Review: Neutral Bay Bar & Dining

4 09 2010

Neutral Bay has long been home to lots of fantastic Asian restaurants, particularly Japanese. However until recently there hasn’t been much else to choose from, especially in the evenings.

That has changed in the last couple of years with several new restaurants opening. Neutral Bay Bar & Dining is the latest, though it has good heritage being the sister restaurant of the inner west Glebe Point Diner.

It has a reasonably narrow shop front looking onto busy Military Road, and you could easily walk past it if you weren’t on the look out for it. That would be a mistake. Walk through the modestly sized bar at the front and you come to a sparkly modern dining room divided by high-backed wooden pews with an open kitchen along the left hand side. It’s a fresh clean space but the booth-like tables lend it a warmth and cosiness.

That clean, fresh, and modern, but yet warm and cosy feeling flows through to the food as well. You get the feeling that the food comes first here, and while there is plenty of skill and finesse in its production, there’s very little of the chef’s ego on the plate. Chef and part-Owner Alex Kearns previously worked at Bondi’s Sean’s Panoroma, famous for its use of fresh seasonal produce, and that influence extends here. Lesser but more interesting cuts are used, such as a Flat Iron steak. Actually it’s unusual that they’ve called it Flat Iron, it comes from the shoulder of the animal and is more commonly called Oyster Blade.

There are half a dozen options to start with, along with some larger dishes to share. We started with a charcuterie board of prosciutto, salumi and capicollo from Pino’s Dolce Vita who make and source the most amazing smallgoods including from pork from Bangalow.  Very simple but very good. We also ordered the salted blue-eye fritters were crispy but still moist in the middle. The tomato jam they came with was a good foil for the saltiness of the fish.

Charcuterie Board

Charcuterie Board

Main courses are divided into four sections.  “Mains” are mostly slow cooked homely dishes. “Pasta, Grain and Egg” included a more exciting than normal vegetarian option of pearl barley with artichoke, peas, nettle and pecorino.  “From the Grill”  had three steaks including the above-mentioned flat iron, and a ginormous 700g T-bone. “Fish” is well, fish. The menu is probably best described as “Modern Australian” but there are clear Italian influences, but pizza and pasta joint this isn’t.

Braised Kurobuta Pork Neck

Braised Kurobuta Pork Neck

I chose the slow cooked Kurobuta pork neck. Kurobuta is otherwise known as Berkshire pork. The meat was perfect, just the right amount of fat and tender pork with a couple of pieces of crispy crackling. Presentation wasn’t amazing as you can see, but that didn’t really matter, this isn’t really that sort of place.

There were only three dessert-sized desserts to choose from but there are also a handful of “small treats” and petits fours to have with coffee.

Pear & Raspberry Soufflé and Baked Chocolate Pudding

Pear & Raspberry Soufflé and Baked Chocolate Pudding

My criticism of the wine list is rather superficial – there’s a closely typed page each of whites and reds and no obvious demarkation between varieties or regions. However on closer inspection it becomes clear that the wines are grouped by variety and style. It’s an impressive list of mostly boutique wineries, about half Australian and half from overseas, mostly European. The majority are under $70 a bottle. They’re not necessarily cheap, but they’re certainly reasonably priced.

The service was good overall. Our original waiter was friendly and knowledgeable, speedy but without being pushy or getting in the way, but then he disappeared, called to the bar to help out there. For the last hour we had no one looking after us and had to flag down passing waiters to order dessert and get the bill. They also have made the decision not to lay the tables, so cutlery and glassware is produced from the clever storage shelves at the end of each bench when you sit down. This works well and gives it a more casual ambiance, but it was a shame that empty tables weren’t wiped down sooner after people left. Plus points though go to the bathrooms and their Aesop soap!

All in all a solid neighbourhood restaurant I’d be happy to go back to time and time again.

Overall Score: 12½/20
F: 5½, W: 2½, S: 2, A:X: 1 (scoring system)


Address: 132 Military Road, Neutral Bay NSW 2089
Phone: 02 9953 5853
Open: Dinner Wednesday to Sunday, Lunch Friday to Sunday, closed Monday and Tuesday.
Chef: Alex Kearns


Review: The Counter Burger – Custom Built Burgers

30 08 2010

Phew, back in Australia. Well it feels like I’ve been to the US, when in fact I just went north to The Counter, a little slice of America in Crows Nest.  I’m not normally that interested in something that could be described as a “family restaurant”. Apart from the fact that that’s how Maccas positions itself, eating out surrounded by other people’s kids isn’t my scene. But needs must, and I was on the north shore in need of a burger.

And did I find a burger. The top half of the menu is a pick your own questionnaire, first of all you choose from Beef, Turkey, Chicken or Vegetarian, then the size (150g, 300g or a whopping 450g), a choice of 10 cheeses, including “imported swiss” whatever that is, 18 toppings, 10 premium toppings, 17 sauces and 3 sorts of burger bun. It’s reasonably priced for a gourmet burger on the lower north shore – $14.90 for the perfectly adequate 150g, $17.90 for a filling 300g and an eye-watering $21.90 for a challenging 450g. Four regular toppings, one cheese, and one sauce are included. You can even ditch the bread and have it in a bowl with salad if you’re watching the carbohydrates.

Did I mention carbs? Chips, sorry fries, are nice and crisp, but come in a ginormous portion that would serve at least three. Other options include Sweet Potato Chips and excellent Crispy Fried Onion Strings, and the “Fifty-Fifty” which is half chips, half onion rings.  In fact the onion rings are the clear winner of the meal. Finely sliced floured and deep-fried slightly caramelised onion rings are crispy and perfectly seasoned (in contrast to the chips which are over salty).

The burger itself was made from good quality meat, but somehow it missed the spot. You can probably blame user error for that really as I chose clashing options from the multiple-choice menu. There is much to be said for a pre-defined menu with choices that work well together as designed by a proper chef. Oh, what? I am a chef? As I said. User error.

Did I say it felt like an American restaurant? What could be more American than Apple Pie on the menu? Well, um, an Apple Pie Milkshake.  I’m sorry, I didn’t have the balls to order one!

As for service, well it was friendly and adequate. Nothing special but competent.

All in all, would I rush back? Nope. There are as good/better gourmet burgers around the place. Would I be happy to go back at some unspecified time in the future? Yup. Probably.

Overall grade: C+.


Address: 118 Willoughby Road, Crows Nest NSW 2065
Tel: 02 9436 2700
Open: Lunch and Dinner Thursday to Sunday, Dinner Tuesday to Sunday.

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