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Gowings Bar and Grill at QT Sydney reviewed by Terry Durack

A review from Sydney Morning Herald writer, Terry Durack

Eat out 

You enter past red-wigged door staff via the glorious art deco doors of the State Theatre, walk through the gilt-and-marble Parlour Lane cafe and bar and head into the lift, at which point the background music recalibrates to reflect the number of people travelling (romantic, lonesome, or party). You emerge into the first-floor lobby of the QT hotel to a stunning installation of suitcases and found objects by Swedish artist Michael Johansson, head up a few stairs past a kinetic digital installation, and arrive at the loud, dark and bubbly Gowings Bar & Grill. It feels like you’re crashing a party.

The QT is clearly not your average hotel, as it is fond of saying about itself. The flamboyant design and art-driven Sydney newcomer to the QT portfolio (joining Port Douglas and the Gold Coast) is housed in the beloved former Gowings department store linked to Sydney’s most ornate theatre. A wall of wine leads to the smart upstairs Gilt Lounge, while a sleek, darkly tiled open kitchen is chockers with wood-fired ovens, wood-fired rotisseries, open grills and a glass-fronted seafood showcase starring an entire yellowfin tuna hanging by its tail, ready to be cut as needed.

The forward-thinking management of AHL, which also owns Rydges Hotels & Resorts, may have met its match in restaurant consultant and food director Robert Marchetti. He’s a walking, talking ideas machine who eats trends for breakfast (clay-roasted spelt granola); as fired-up with big ideas (recruiting executive chef Paul Easson from Melbourne’s Rockpool Bar & Grill) as he is with small (designing black-lacquer bento boxes for room service).

Marchetti and Easson’s menu is trend-buckingly vast, running from New York deli staples such as matzah ball soup and a pastrami and brisket sandwich to steaks, oysters, crudo, and good old-fashioned comfort food including beef bourguignon and Holstein schnitzel. It’s brasserie food updated with the latest kitchen trendlets such as beer-steaming and detox salads.

The beer-steamed prawn cocktail ($18) is more an installation than a dish, with three large prawns clinging to the rim of a handsomely dimpled glass bowl set over crushed ice inside a larger bowl. But wait, there’s more: a toss of tiny steamed and peeled Clarence River shrimp, cucumber, cherry tomatoes and shaved iceberg, zestily dressed with wasabi, horseradish, aioli and ketchup.

A multi-layered ”11-seeded” sandwich of pastrami, corned beef, brisket, asiago cheese and sauerkraut ($18) can’t compete with New York’s finest, but the mountain of finely sliced meats is packed with flavour. The bread soggily succumbs too soon to its mustard mayonnaise, however. Steak tartare ($29) makes a decent lunch dish, the hand-chopped, grass-fed fillet topped with a biodynamic egg yolk and strewn with slivers of pickled shimeji mushrooms and a pretty thatch of purple baby chard leaves. It would be better with toast.

There’s nonna food to be had in two particularly plump, partly boned quails, stuffed full of malt and barley bread, sage, ham and peas and spit-roasted. Sauced with quail jus and served on wilted butter lettuce, they’re proof a real cook is in the kitchen. Sides and salads are sufficiently interesting to allow a diametrically opposed order of fabulously crisp and salty royal blue shoestring fries ($9) and a detox salad of grated carrots, tomatoes, cucumber, beetroot, onion, chickpeas, coriander and mint ($17).

Put together by Ian Cook of Five Way Cellars, the clever 120-bottle small-batch, limited-release list of Australian and international wines makes good reading. Just as 2011’s Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir from Martinborough in New Zealand ($70) makes good drinking; lush and velvety with a spicy finish. Prices are par for the course, without too many bargains.

Chocolate looms large on the dessert list, and a rebooted dark chocolate affogato ($16) is a bowlful of fun, the ice-cream rich, dark and studded with crunchy chocolate pearls and coffee beans, with ristretto- and espresso-marinated prunes lurking. Grating more chocolate on top at the table is probably a step too far, but feel free to argue.

The universally young, cheery and good-looking staff dress as if going to a party, which, of course, they are. There’s so much machismo, charisma, energy and chutzpah here, it’s almost scary. If determination were all that were needed to be the hottest ticket in town, Gowings would be on fire. Sydney has a new playground, people. You can even eat there. And, I believe, stay the night.

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