I'm certain that we're in the naughty corner. When Gina texted me to tell me that she was sitting in the back of the restaurant at a very small corner table she wasn't kidding. Just a few minutes earlier at 6pm she walked into Bar H and asked for a table for three people. Asked whether she has a booking (she doesn't, as bookings are only for 6 persons or more) they call over the manager who tells us that we can have a table until 8:15pm where there is an existing booking. So the moral of the story? Grab five friends and make a booking or be prepared to haggle for a table (or wait outside as we see many outside do) because being a table of three that walks in at 6pm on a Friday night in a restaurant that seats 40 may not net you a space.
Wedged underneath a mural and the kitchen Gina and I perch on the banquette, Teena sits on the black plastic stool and we examine the menu. It's a good sized menu with a nice choice of entrees and mains. Chef Hamish Ingham is behind the counter and we are directly facing him. Formerly with Kylie Kwong at Billy Kwong, the menu has an Asian influence to it (and the tables and stools are tiny, much like those at Billy Kwong). Teena, Gina and I haven't caught up for months so a catch up and Happy Hour cocktails are in order but girl talk must halt momentarily while we order our food and drinks lest we overstay our two hour dining time.
Meiwei $10 (centre)
I'm not driving tonight so it's cocktail time! The Happy Hour menu has four cocktails at $10 each (normally $14.50-$15.50). The Meiwei is utterly drinkable and I take the waiter's recommendation for it as it is a sweet cocktail comprising of vodka, pomegranate juice, rambutan and fresh lime. I normally sip at cocktails and pass them on but this is deliciously sweet with a rambutan at the bottom. We do a circular round tasting each other's cocktails-Gina and Teena have the Gin Chi and the Ren Chen, both tarter but also good. And at 7pm our waiter helpfully lets us know that the happy hour is almost up and asks us if we want to order another cocktail.
Now the issue with the table was that there was no way that any more than one plate of anything would fit with the three of us crowded around it. Not a problem they tell us as each dish arrives just one at a time and they're all meant to be shared. We breathe a sigh of relief that we didn't bring the boys-the close quarters would have annoyed Hot Dog and Philippe doesn't share so he wouldn't have liked the sharing.
Steamed pork wontons with shellfish and chilli oil dressing $4 each
The wontons come out first. They're sitting in a slick, dark pool of seafood and chilli oil and they're silky, slippery and generously filled with pork mince. The seafood and chilli oil gives an interesting dimension to the wontons.
Prawn filled eggplant $6.50 each
I do love eggplant and this reminded me of the yum cha prawn stuffed eggplant but this one has a deep and rich with a dark, sticky sauce redolent in dark soya sauce.
Braised beef short rib with betel leaf $6.50 each
We knew that this would be a challenge to eat with our capes and sleeves in the way but we just leaned over, folded the edible betel leaves around the filling and tucked in. The soft braised beef short rib is a delicious contrast to the herby, fresh crunchy salad and I could have had several of these.
Roast duck with pancakes, cucumber & hoisin ( seves four )$40
There's a bit of a break between entrees and mains and by now it is quite full in the house. We all love duck and the roast duck is deliciously juicy and full of flavour. It comes with eight pancakes but our waiter offers us an extra one if we want it. It also comes with cucumber batons and green onion sticks and a moreish hoi sin sauce. We especially love the thin pancakes which have no hint of dryness at all.
Caramelised pork belly with fennel & Mint $34
The caramelised pork belly came as four rectangular pieces of soft, sweet pork belly with a melting texture. It was all hidden under a canopy of shaved fennel, radish and lots of mint and there was also the strong flavour of ginger too. On the waiter's advice we added a serve of rice for one to help mop up the sauce.
Coconut, pineapple and licorice $14
Even though we only had two mains between the three of us we were quite full and the dessert offerings were more of the ice cream/sorbet variety so we went with the mysteriously titled "coconut, pineapple and licorice." The coconut component came as coconut cream and tapioca, the pineapple came as little pieces of sweet, caramelised pineapple and the licorice was licorice sorbet. I'm not a huge licorice lover but this wasn't too aniseedy and really suited the rest of the dish. There is prettiness provided by the lemon balm and the fuchsia coloured pineapple sage scattered on top and the lemon balm and the coconut almost reminds us of a lemongrass curry!
Chocolate truffles $8
The four chocolate truffles were said to be flavoured with passionfruit and rum although neither flavour was particularly strong. They came with an appealingly thin shell and tasted mostly of good bittersweet chocolate rather than passionfruit or rum.
The clock strikes 8:30pm and we are on our way and we see that there is a large enough crowd waiting outside to get in. We haven't quite finished catching up so what better to do than sit and catch up on girly gossip in a car in the absence of a restaurant seat!
So tell me Dear Reader, do you like share plates or do you prefer to eat your own dish? And do you like to linger and talk or eat and go?
80 Campbell Street Surry Hills NSW 2010
Tel: +61 (02) 9280 1980
Open Tuesday to Saturday 6pm until late