Syd­ney re­view

Clos­ing the door on Gas­tro Park, Grant King looks south for his new guid­ing star at The An­tipodean. And, writes Pat Nourse, the re­sults are most promis­ing.

Gourmet Traveller (Australia) - - Contents -

Grant King’s new restau­rant, The An­tipodean, looks most promis­ing.

New Zealand, if you

lis­ten to the mil­i­tant New Zealan­ders who work in the Gourmet Trav­eller of­fices, not only brought us the pavlova, lam­ing­tons, the flat white and Lorde, but also in­vented fire and domesticated the sheep. At­tempt to counter this line of ar­gu­ment by rais­ing such tri­fling Aus­tralian con­tri­bu­tions to civil so­ci­ety as the black-box flight recorder, ul­tra­sound scan­ners, the elec­tric drill, AC/DC per­ma­cul­ture, the med­i­cal ap­pli­ca­tion of peni­cillin and, if you’re a fan of Bruce Pas­coe’s re­search on Abo­rig­i­nal agri­cul­ture, the in­ven­tion of bread, and they’ll blither about bungee jump­ing and jet­boats. Jet­boats.

In fair­ness, I feel I should add that they seem happy to let us have Rus­sell Crowe.

Where this leaves us in the mat­ter of chefs is tricky. Tricky in that if they’re any good, they have a habit of mov­ing to the big is­land, and don’t of­ten go out of the way to show­case L&P, hokey pokey ice-cream, and Perky Nana choco­late bars in their restau­rants.

Which brings us to The An­tipodean. Grant King hails from New Zealand, and has de­cided that cook­ing with in­gre­di­ents sourced from Aus­trala­sia is the way for­ward. But don’t worry – that’s about it in terms of con­cept, and the menu at The An­tipodean is bliss­fully un­adorned by any­thing re­sem­bling a phi­los­o­phy or a mis­sion state­ment. If you’re look­ing for a place to pi­geon­hole it, just file it un­der “very tasty food”.

Among the tasti­est things it serves is shav­ings of New Zealand abalone – I think they call it paua over there – with a gooey-cen­tred egg. The thing that pushes it firmly into whoa-baby ter­ri­tory is the com­bi­na­tion of the abalone and some shi­itakes King has found in the Blue Moun­tains. The sin­gu­lar tex­ture of abalone, given a slip­pery rhyme by the mush­rooms, goes past the sub­lime into deeper ter­ri­tory.

The pas­sage in Fuch­sia Dun­lop’s mem­oir, Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pep­per, in which she re­lates the dawn­ing of her ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the “elu­sive de­lights” of abalone, a shell­fish she had pre­vi­ously con­sid­ered tough, rub­bery and not re­ally all that great, is mem­o­rable and worth re­vis­it­ing here.

“The Gentle­man Gourmet leans over the ta­ble to­wards me with a sug­ges­tive grin. ‘We are all adults at this ta­ble, so I hope you’ll for­give me if I speak frankly. It’s just so hard to ex­press the love­li­ness of that sen­sa­tion. The only true com­par­i­son in my opin­ion’ (here he low­ers his voice to a whis­per) ‘is with gen­tly bit­ing your lover’s hard­ened nip­ple. Some­thing only a mas­ter­ful lover will ap­pre­ci­ate.’ Blush­ing, I take an­other bite.”

Nip­ples aside, on the strength of that dish I’ve de­vel­oped a fairly in­volved the­ory about or­der­ing at The An­tipodean. It goes like this: if the thing has mush­rooms in it, get the thing. Ad­mit­tedly the data set I’m work­ing with here isn’t huge, but the ag­nolotti – lit­tle pinked-edged parcels of maybe very slightly too thick pasta en­cas­ing buffalo-milk feta – are very happy in their mush­room broth. The ad­di­tion of fresh>

pine nuts – an in­ter­est­ing odd­ity – bring a pleas­antly waxy bite to the party.

The back­drop to all this talk of wax and nip­ples is fairly se­date. The An­tipodean is much the same room it was when this used to be Gas­tro Park: a glassed-in flat­iron shape nos­ing down Roslyn Street on the site that was once home to the great and per­haps not to­tally licit late-night drink­ing den called Baron’s. Kings Cross might not be any­where near as en­ter­tain­ingly weird as it used to be, but Roslyn Street still of­fers up a rea­son­able quota of the bewil­dered and be­wil­der­ing parad­ing past the windows to en­liven the evening. In­side it’s 75 or so seats around a scat­ter­ing of un­clothed ta­bles. Pot­ted na­tives and a black­board menu dress things up a bit, and the mod­erne Cu­tipol cut­lery matches the two-tone nap­kins beau­ti­fully, but I think the most ap­peal­ing dec­o­ra­tive fea­ture is the pig’s leg.

It’s po­si­tioned in the mid­dle of the restau­rant, propped up on a stand, cloven hoof point­ing yon­der. It’s been air-cured by some small­go­ods wizard in South Aus­tralia un­til it re­sem­bles noth­ing so much as jamón Ibérico, the fa­bled ham from Spain that vir­tu­ous pigs dream of be­com­ing af­ter they die. Cut by hand into ragged swatches, it could be per­fectly ex­cel­lent served on its own, but King throws some pick­led muntries into the mix for a sweet-sour foil. It is splen­did.

It’s a re­fresh­ingly sim­ple ap­proach for a chef who has not been afraid to dive deep into am­bi­tious ideas and plat­ing in the past. It was King in the kitchen cook­ing along­side owner and chef Greg Doyle and pas­try ge­nius Ka­t­rina Kane­tani when Pier took out Restau­rant of the Year a decade ago. Had you stepped into Pier in 2007 you might have en­coun­tered crab­meat “with a tomato wa­ter bub­ble”, or vichys­soise sponge with leek and smoked oys­ter oil. And when King opened Gas­tro Park in 2011, the El Bulli-in­flu­enced molec­u­lar theme con­tin­ued. He liq­ue­fied gnoc­chi and gar­nished one dish with a sub­stance he called rhubarb wire. There were blan­kets made of jelly and put­tanesca-flavoured wafers of un­usual size.

Com­ing from Pier, King was also par­tic­u­larly good with seafood. Josh Ni­land might be wow­ing them up at Saint Peter with fish cook­ery now but King was dry-fil­let­ing fish with his eyes closed and cook­ing their scales when Ni­land was still in short pants. At Gas­tro Park he turned cala­mari into crack­ling and dressed seared lob­ster up with co­conut, char­coal and sor­rel. He cracked open tuna spines to get at the shimmering jelly in­side. In a good way.

And to his great credit, no mat­ter how tricky things got (and they got plenty tricky), the qual­ity of the in­gre­di­ents seldom wa­vered. Ar­ti­sanal wine­mak­ing is some­times crit­i­cised for con­found­ing va­ri­etal char­ac­ter. In lit­er­a­ture, play­ing with tone, nar­ra­tive and other ef­fects, ar­gue some crit­ics, comes at the cost of true feel­ing. But who says it has to be an ei­ther/or sit­u­a­tion? Fidelity and artistry can go hand in hand. On a good day, King’s cook­ing makes a clear ar­gu­ment that you can de­con­struct your cake and eat it too.

At The An­tipodean he has pulled back on the tech­nique con­sid­er­ably, but the food is none­the­less not quite like any­thing else in town. Sure, there are nat­u­ral oys­ters, and bits of beef skew­ered on rose­mary that are just bits of beef skew­ered on rose­mary. But they go well with the “crab sauce” listed as an odd­ball side along with the (ex­cel­lent) sour­dough and but­ter. Toast and sar­dines

King has pulled back on the tech­nique, but the food is none­the­less not quite like any­thing else in town.

is about as revo­lu­tion­ary a pair­ing as knife with fork but that doesn’t make the flat­tened fil­lets on fin­gers of bread, topped with tufts of brightly dressed pars­ley and shal­lot, any less sat­is­fy­ing. And that goes dou­ble for nar­row lengths of puff pas­try topped with goat’s curd and charry leek.

King likes to team clams with smoked ba­con vinai­grette, throw fer­mented squash and pep­per­berry at raw kan­ga­roo, and make a but­ter out of pick­led wal­nut to com­ple­ment the se­ri­ous beefy rich­ness of Rangers Val­ley tri-tip. He makes a fresh blood pud­ding and then takes a sharp left with the ad­di­tion of quan­dongs and pick­led ba­nana shal­lots. White vine­gar re­duced with su­gar and lemon peel into a gas­trique, mean­while, unites a per­fect pale-pink hunk of roast suck­ling pig on the plate with a glow­ing or­ange round of per­sim­mon.

The food at The An­tipodean is not with­out the oc­ca­sional ques­tion mark. Some­times things lean oddly sweet, some of the meat seems like it’s been cooked in a bag or combi oven be­fore it’s been grilled, and a gar­lic yo­ghurt sauce does sur­pris­ingly few favours for a side of green beans.

But the fish cook­ery is blaz­ingly good. Sal­tand-pep­per New Zealand floun­der is not at all the Chi­na­town stan­dard the name might have you ex­pect. The fish isn’t deep-fried but rather cooked in the steam oven, com­ing out whole, dressed with (yes) salt and pep­per. The gar­nish of grilled pen­cil leek and fer­mented shi­itake grounds the juicy meat to a tee. Flat­head gets a more mus­cu­lar treat­ment, the chunky fil­let roasted and served al­most Bour­guignon style with melt­ing halved baby onions and thick lar­dons of house-made ba­con on a pool of red wine sauce. Put some of the baby po­ta­toes all but caramelised in beef fat on the ta­ble and you can keep win­ter at arm’s length an­other day.

Ser­vice? It’s not go­ing to win any prizes but it’s down to earth and re­fresh­ingly re­laxed. A sim­i­lar path is trod with the drinks. The of­fer of a Red Oka­roni, a play on the Ne­groni made with Okar, a South Aus­tralian take on Cam­pari, is a bit of fun, and there’s in­ter­est (if sur­pris­ingly lit­tle from New Zealand) on the all-Aus­tralasian sin­gle-page list. Value is fair, and there’s plenty around the $65 mark, but you wouldn’t say the wine is a fea­ture in it­self – you’re here for the food.

Ice-cream flavoured with marigold, maybe, to go with fresh and freeze-fried man­darin. Or, bet­ter yet, pink grape­fruit, scooped out, made into a cream then tucked back into its skin and topped with a thatch of pomelo jewels and dusted with David­son plum. King has lost none of his knack for mak­ing mem­o­rable desserts.

Gas­tro Park, it was said in the pages of this very mag­a­zine, sounded like some­where you wouldn’t want to let your dog off its leash. (Or walk in an open-toed shoe.) Like many an en­ve­lope-pusher, it dated fast, even as its food re­mained uni­formly tasty. In The An­tipodean, Grant King plays gen­tly in­stead with our no­tion of “lo­cal”. What’s closer in food terms – Perth or Auck­land? What does a fish know of na­tional bound­aries. It’s a con­cept short on soap­box and long on flavour; hope­fully it’ll prove a ro­bust ve­hi­cle for an un­usu­ally tal­ented Aus­tralian chef.

KIWI POL­ISH Above, from left: An­tipodean owner-chef Grant King; New Zealand abalone, Blue Moun­tains shi­itake and soft egg.

OFF THE SCALE From top: salt-and-pep­per New Zealand floun­der, grilled leek and fer­mented shi­itake and brown but­ter emul­sion; jamón Ibérico-style cured pork from South Aus­tralia.

ZEST APPEAL Pink grape­fruit and pomelo cream.

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