Sunday, May 8, 2011
Gastro Park, Potts Point
Gastro Park in Potts Point converts each plate on your table into a playground – ingredients flirt with the colour wheel and inspire stomach-flips and early-childhood thrills. Surprise textures and flavours are part of the adventure.
This is the new restaurant for Grant King, who was head chef at the acclaimed Pier. From the Ralph Steadman-like logo for Gastro Park to the see-through cutlery holders made out of gel and odds-and-ends, everything is spiked with a sense of fun.
Dishes include Wagyu Grissini flavour-coated in savoury crumbs and shreds of cheese; a ready-for-blast-off Gazpacho served with an avocado "sandwich" (made with lacey-crisp wafers); a Zucchini Tofu accompanied by a "garden" (cucumber ribbons, dried zucchini slices and zucchini powder round out the "greenery"); and Potato "Churros" (golden, crisp-edged and impossibly fluffy and light – the greasy-fingered guilt of eating one is offset by the cheeky joy of it).
Will loved the Tagliatelle entree, its tangled strands full of resounding flavour thanks to the "textures of duck" and slippery jack mushrooms ($26). His main, Saddle of Lamb was supercharged with cauliflower slivers and wild mushrooms ($38).
My Morel and Truffle Cheese Macaroni ($35) was also brilliant – the intensely savoury "tubes" were ready to be coated in a rich egg yolk confit. A handful of salad leaves and tart Jerusalem artichoke fragments kept it from being overlavish.
The wonderland quality of Gastro Park is most obvious with the desserts. The Mandarin and Chocolate ($20) is a mini-sculptural installation, with fizzy powder, chocolate shells, parfait and mandarin sauce either hidden or displayed in eye-catching configurations.
The highlight, though, is the Nitro Pavlova ($18), which is a frosty remix of the Australian staple. Dig your spoon right in, and you may scoop out some bracing guava sorbet, coconut "bubbles", basil seeds or lush shavings of pineapple. It's a light-headed marvel and light years from the pav you'll find at a local bake sale.
Another aspect of Gastro Park we really enjoyed: the service. Especially Julien, our waiter, who previously worked with Grant King at Pier. Not only was he knowledgeable, good-humoured and accommodating, he also wrote down a music recommendation for us when we were trying to case-solve what song was being played as we ate (Shazam had let us down and so had our hopeless brains; we guessed the track to be by Kings of Convenience, Julien corrected us by pointing out it was The Whitest Boy Alive – of course, Erlend Oye's other band!). It's an excellent thing that he's the custodian of the restaurant's song choices.
Also, the ever-changing menu contributes to the unstaid, playful atmosphere. The head chef decides on what to serve depending on the day's available produce and seasonality. While key dishes will stay, the not-set-in-stone openness adds a jolt of adventure and invention. The vegetarian menu I chose from was still being finalised at quarter to six before the evening's service.
Gastro Park is newly opened – it's only been around for over two weeks. It's a great counter-argument to people who assume that crowded restaurants are the best and empty ones are to be avoided. There weren't many other diners when we were there, mainly because the place's profile is still low. It's not going to stay that way for long, given the reputation of its kitchen and the quality and originality on show (also, it's going to land a major newspaper review rather soon).
This restaurant reminds you that it can be worth taking on that childhood habit of spending hours in a Park.
Gastro Park, 5-9 Roslyn St, Potts Point NSW (02) 8068 1017 www.gastropark.com.au.