It was two years ago when Mr NQN and I visited Barcelona and the biggest thing was Vermouth bars. Vermouth, or fortified wine flavoured with botanicals and aromates was popular in small bars and paired with tapas snacks. And we wondered why we didn't have anything like that in Australia because vermouth is a pretty fabulous drink.
Enter Banksii. Australia's first Vermouth bar named after botanist Sir Joseph Banks has opened on the waterfront at Barangaroo by Bar H's chef Hamish Ingham and sommelier Rebecca Lines.
"Would you like a round of vermouth on the rocks? I'll tailor it to each of your personalities," they ask us. It's a risky proposition matching vermouth to complete strangers that you profile from their clothing and behaviour but we're game. There are 40 vermouths available here with dry, white, rose and red vermouths.
Out comes a round of vermouth and she sets them down and explains each one. We're all for sharing so we sip "our" vermouth and pass it on. Mine is a Chinato Vergano Vermouth and I have to say that I love it. It's also the sweetest of the lot. In fact everyone loves their chosen vermouth except Mr NQN's Mancino Secco which is a bit watery. "What is she trying to say about me?" he asks jokingly.
We're in a bit of a hurry as we have a late Halloween screening of The Craft to make but it isn't very busy this Saturday night. By all reports weekday lunches and dinners are incredbily busy here but weekends are more chilled.
We start with the Kurobuta Berkshire prosciutto, tender folds of prosciutto with crunchy glazed almonds and slices of grilled peach.
The next dish is the macadamia nut dip, creamy, slightly nubbly and nutty with some croutons, sweet and sour currants and crispy fried sage. I'm definitely going to try making a version of this it's so good.
The prawns are split in half and come with a curry leaf butter, made for dipping the crusty bread rolls into. There aren't a lot of prawns per serve for this though with three halved prawns.
The salad is next, fresh with a sweet pop of young peas, sugar snaps, samphire, borage leaves, a fluffy goat's curd and shavings of cheese. It's a light, refreshing but gorgeous spring salad.
Another round of vermouth arrives, without prompting, but at $5 to $9 a pop it doesn't break the bank like a round of cocktails would. My Professore Alla Vaniglia Vermouth is more intense, too rich for some but heady in vanilla and chinotto or bitter orange. This time Mr NQN (who is a terribly big sweet tooth) loves his vermouth, the sweet Antica Formula.
It's time for our mains and I think I preferred the entrees to the mains creatively speaking. While the duck is good, some parts can be a bit dry and a bit more sauce would have been great. It comes with red vermouth soaked native Davidson plums and sauce, those very tart and crisp plums. It reminds me of a distant cousin of Kylie Kwong's plum duck.
Then there is the beef short rib, soft and smokey with a pumpkin puree and shavings of white carrot with pickled onions. The beef is very soft and it's everyone's favourite main.
The fish isn't quite as photogenic, but the flavours are in the Asian territory via the strong fermented chilli. The soft, delicately textured fish is cooked perfectly and also paired with wild fennel vinaigrette and dandelion.
The sides are French fries with smoked salt (alas a bit on the cold side) and broccolini which are fine but we would have loved to have seen something a bit more creative.
We beg off another round of vermouth lest our enjoyment of the movie be addled by alcohol (or maybe enhanced!?). But it's time for dessert.
I'm going to confess something that may make you unfriend me but trifle doesn't do a lot for me. It's a bit of wet sponge, alcohol and jelly and fruit which I'll try but it often fails to excite. However this is a lovely one made a bit more special with the sweet fresh raspberries that dominate the dessert. There's also rosella jelly, burnt vanilla custard, vermouth sponge.
The pear and rosemary cake is said to be Hamish's grandmother's recipe. It's a generous slice of rosemary scented cake with baked in pears with a dollop of cream fraiche sorbet on a biscuit crumble.
You know you're with a bunch of food nerds (said with affection) when we look at the quennelle of chocolate mousse and wonder if the hole in the centre is meant to hide a surprise. It isn't, it's just a scoop of bittersweet chocolate mousse with freeze dried mandarin, mandarin granita and chocolate soil. Alas I got to this right at the end so I didn't get much of this but it was a crowd favourite.
And did we make the movie? Well we were late by 10 minutes-because we had the wrong time not because the kitchen couldn't do it!
So tell me Dear Reader, when you have a time limit do you usually tell the staff or do you wing it? And are you a fan of Vermouth? Would you have them match it to your personality or would you prefer to choose?
This meal was independently paid for.
33, Barangaroo Avenue, Barangaroo NSW 2000
(02) 8072 7037
Open 7 days 12noon to 11pm