I’m trying to remember the last time I was at Gowings. It was probably 2005, and I was there to look for some item of camping gear to take on my next Duke of Edinburgh expedition (I know.). Followed by an iced coffee at Retro Cafe next door. This was the cafe of choice for my teenage friends and I, the years before 2006 when Gowings closed. I think because we could chain smoke and the cute baristas would flirt with us.
6-years-later, after a 17-month restoration program, Sydney’s most historic landmark has reopened as QT – a destination hotel, spa, bar and restaurant. Of course I’m only here to eat, at Gowings Bar & Grill – the latest offering from Rob Marchetti of North Bondi Italian and Neild Avenue fame.
It’s a European style brassiere that feels very dark New York. Having only been open for as many days as I’ve been back in the country, my dining companion, Hair’em, is as keen to check it out as I am late on Friday night for dinner. The entrance was a tad hard to find with the front of the building still covered in scaffolding. I did circle the corner before spotting the fancy doorman astride a small arcade in-between the State Theatre and old Retro cafe. I was expecting more song and dance but it fits seamlessly in to the landscape.
Arriving in the QT hotel lobby I’m still feeling New York loft – deco, fashion, plush furnishing but with nostalgic character. Just up the stairs – follow the Broadway style lights – and you’ll find Gowings Bar & Grill and Gilt Lounge (next time).
The only problem I’m dealing with now, is that fact I’m late. And you know it’s my pet hate. Unavoidable really, with a delayed plane (thank you Qantas) but my anxiety is eased with a glass Veuve and all is forgiven by Hair’em. En-route to our table we pass the coffee cart and seafood room. And keeping with the theatre of it all, a great open kitchen with staff dressed in matching white driver style hats. Plates painted with fish line the walls in-between the beautifully resorted windows – I’d love to see these during the daytime.
We’re shown to our table – simple and black with Art deco style chairs. But unfortunately we’re right under the draft of the air conditioning coming down from the stairs to Gilt Lounge above. A gorgeous woman in a short tight black dress – she, and a dozen others that look just as incredible, works here – offers to take my jacket, but it needs to stay on in this chill.
The menu is extensive, offering local artisan produce and cooking techniques mainly focused around a wood fire rotisserie. Before we have a real chance to check it out, Rob brings a Beer steamed prawn cocktail ($18). Not just any old prawn cocktail though – four plump and sweet crystal bay prawns perched on the edge of a giant glass bowl filled with a school prawn, ice berg lettuce, cucumber and cherry tomato salad. The cocktail sauce is a far cry from the tomato sauce mixed with melted vanilla ice cream (recipe courtesy Mrs. Fraser, Newcastle). This one is made with fresh wasabi and cognac. Yum.
Too busy gas-bagging, we decide to leave the rest of the ordering up to Rob and next to arrive is the Hot spanner crab cakes ($19) served on a bed of hearts of palm, aioli and hot sauce. Fat with juicy crab meat and lightly dusted in crunchy golden crumbs. Perfect with the creamy heat of the aioli and hot sauce. Can you see the design on the china? Blue rimmed and with a little picture of Gowings building on the edge. Very cute.
Our lovely sommelier whisks over to tell us that next, he’s taking us on a trip to Germany. To the Mosel River in fact, as he pours a glass of Riesling. Just in time for some Hand dived wild scallops (market price $7-12 per piece). Half served with basil butter the other half with sea-urchin, lemon and mint butter.
The wood fire rotisserie may be running a little hot tonight when the smoke alarm sounds and fireman turn up not long after. Love a bit of drama.
Sides arrive in succession; Steamed spinach and shallots ($11), Fried onion rings ($7) and Iceberg, red peppers, Ortiz anchovy, seeded mustard dressing ($10). I know it’s daggy, but there’s no lettuce I love more for a salad than iceberg. It will forever conjure up memories of chopping one up to drown in Paul Newman’s own Caesar dressing for lunch when I was a teenager. And I love tonights salad for the same reason, the saltiness of the anchovies and tangy of the mustard against the crisp, watery, freshness of the iceberg.
Then, all my prayers are answered when a medium-rare Shiro-kin full blood Wagyu 9+ ($48) is delivered. Oh how I’ve been craving a good steak, for months now. Attempting to fulfill this desire, only to be let down everytime – only made things worse. But this tastes incredible. Perfectly cooked and seasoned – a crunchy charred edge and melting pink centre. Heaven.
I’m an easy get with a dessert menu, anywhere. But rarely does every dish excite me as much as this list of sweets – Soft centered molten chocolate cake, pistachios and hazelnut nougat filled with house made clotted cream ($14); Double baked dark chocolate crème brulee, last season’s sweet marinated cherries ($14): Hot zabaglione, biodynamic egg, dry fini marsala, rose water, vanilla, sponge fingers in a drizzle of chocolate sauce ($14) and Vanilla goats cheese cake, raspberry granita, spearmint jelly and raspberry sherbet ($16). Yes to anything and everything! But there were three words we just couldn’t go past… Hot. German. Doughnuts. ($12). Using Rob’s grandmothers recipe they arrive ‘hole less’ and dusted with cinnamon and nutmeg sugar.
Somehow the highly underrated paper doily is making it look much less sinful than I believe it is. We’re told the best way to attack it, is just to rip in to it…
It tastes amazing. Light and not too sweet. Doesn’t it just look like something sent from heaven by the food gods?!
Gowings Bar & Grill – QT, 49 Market Street, Sydney NSW 2000 – +61 2 8262 0062