81 Macleay St
|Opening hours||Lunch Fri-Sat; dinner Tue-Sat|
|Features||Licensed, Accepts bookings|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $ 40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9184 7744|
Is there a bar snack more delicious than the gilda? A skewer of salty anchovy and briny olive, punched up with a yellow-green guindilla, that favorite pickled chilli of the Basque Country in Spain? It was invented more than 70 years ago in San Sebastian and, by golly, it’s a nice time with cold, unfussy beer.
I didn’t think you could improve on the gilda – it’s one of those holy food trinities, like dumplings, soy and black vinegar, or fish-finger sandwiches, hiking socks and the couch. But then Parlar chef José Saulog swapped the toothpick for toast and proved me wrong.
The bar and restaurant opened in the middle part of Macleay Street earlier this month and a press release spruiks it as a “Catalan-inspired fine diner”. A snack native to the other side of Spain is a little out of place then, but I think I can live with it.
The gilda toast ($ 16) is a wonderful balancing act of acid and the sea, featuring a plump white anchovy swaddling springy bread and mayonnaise spiked with olive brine and guindillas. And admittedly, yes – it probably has as much in common with an actual gilda as fish fingers do with fish.
Similarly, Parlar’s $ 11 pan tomate (tomato bread) is nothing like the rough and ready version found in vermouth bars across Barcelona. There, bread is simply rubbed with a pulpy tomato mixture. Here, yellow and red tomato slices are precision-layered across toast like terracotta tiles.
This is tapas to suit the intimate, mood-lit and very plush dining room. Restaurateur Andrew Becher, who also operates French brasserie Franca next door, has decked the space in contoured oak and varying shades of tangerine. The bar stools are more comfortable than some lounges I know and reproductions of tapestries by American artist Alexander Calder brighten the walls. Tables are topped with golden-hued marble.
Crema Catalana ($ 22) is capped with caramelised white chocolate designed to match that marble, which is a level of consideration I can’t say I’ve seen before. Designing a dessert around a particular ceramic, sure, but the whole table? That’s something else. More importantly, the custard is perfectly just-set and lifted by notes of orange and cinnamon.
The menu is designed so you can breeze in for a couple of snacks and a cocktail (the boozy house creations are elegantly done and classics aren’t a problem), or sink into a banquette for a longer innings.
Word to the wise: bypass the $ 29 glass of Louis Roederer NV champagne and consider some cava, the (mostly) dry and zesty sparkling wine of Spain, to start. Pares Balta Cava Brut is great value fizz at $ 17 a pour, and the money saved helps me to justify spending $ 45 on 40 grams of jamon Iberico. My stars, it is good, acorn-fed pig though, deep maroon with luscious ribbons of fat that dance and dissolve on the tongue.
As you have probably realized by now, this is not exactly a cheap night. A $ 240 seafood platter for two – a beautiful display of whole lobster, spanner crab, scampi and toothfish escabeche – is mentally filed under “fancy birthday ideas for later”. I’ll take another spicy morcilla sausage sandwich ($ 16) instead.
Pudgy diamond clams and salmon roe ($ 52) glisten in a vinegary tomato sauce finished with four types of oils (chive, confit garlic, chilli, smoked tomato) for dialled-up umami. Cornbread ($ 10) is a no-brainer to soak up the juices, and also comes in handy for mopping up a beefy pedro ximenez sherry jus pooling around a marbled wagyu flank ($ 65).
If you only share one main, however, make it the bonito ($ 52). Carefully blow-torched and rested, the oily fish is served on garlicky ajo blanco (bread and almond soup) with a texture approaching mashed potato. Translucent grape slices are arranged on top to resemble scales. There must be more tweezers in the kitchen than a stamp collector’s top drawer.
If you’re a fan of Mimi’s casual Mediterranean luxury in Coogee, but not so fussed on its occasionally gaudy clientele, this could be the fine diner you’ve been looking for. Likewise for Double Bay locals who enjoy the high level of service at Margaret, but would prefer less lunchtime din.
Parlar is the kind of smart, considered package Potts Point can’t get enough of. No wonder it had me at anchovy toast and hello.
Vibe: Ambitious bodega for fancy tapas, quick drinks and special occasions
Go-to dish: Bonito, espinacas a la Catalana, ajo blanco ($ 52)
Drinks: Serious cocktails and spirits, plus an exciting selection of mostly Spanish wines
Cost: About $ 220 for two, excluding drinks
This review was originally published in Good Weekend magazine