It was a greatly appreciated distraction from job hunting (oh, the joys of redundancy!) when I met up with a dear friend last Thursday evening at The Owl House in Darlinghurst. We had both expressed a desire to go there some while ago, but I was concerned that the menu lacked options for a vegetarian; I was proved quite wrong!
Monica is sitting at the bar in the small, candle-lit ground-floor room when I arrive and she is already excited about the venue, saying that it reminds her of bars in her homeland of Spain. I join her in a glass of rosé, a 2010 Coates Pinot Noir Barrel Fermented Robe from South Australia, and we climb the narrow, creaky staircase to the dining room upstairs. At the front of the building there’s an extremely narrow balcony with a shelf to eat off and we perch ourselves on stools there, feeling quite like the eponymous bird-life, peering down from our coop at the quiet end of Crown Street.
We order three very different dishes, all vegetarian, and are genuinely delighted by the originality and fabulous flavours of all of them. A whole grilled baby cos lettuce comes on a wooden board draped with Spanish white anchovies, semi-dried cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, chunky sourdough croutons and parmesan dressing. A robustly flavoured adaptation of a Caesar salad, the char-grilled lettuce is surprisingly moreish and the anchovies fat, shiny and sweetly briny, all drenched in creamy, cheesy dressing.
Cured bonito on pickled papaya and mint salad, with yuzo gel, chilli jam, wakame and radish is altogether a different story with refined, clean Asian flavours. The fish is of superior quality, like sashimi, beautifully complemented by the umami flavour of the seaweed salad and the papaya which is pleasantly reminiscent of mango chutney. It’s pretty as a picture, too, with its vivid pinks and greens.
Also very attractive to look at is a warm salad of quinoa, broad beans, Boston Bay mussels and zucchini flowers, served with foamed mussel sauce. The most unusual of our three dishes, the crisp Spring vegetables and softly granular quinoa hide a wealth of large, plump, sweet mussels at the bottom, and the light sauce has a lovely lemon acidity with perhaps a touch of white wine.
To finish we share a butterscotch panna cotta with caramelized nuts and coffee liquor, served with almond chocolate candy. Monica declares it a proper Spanish ‘flan’, which is better known in Australia and the UK as a crème caramel. The contrast between the cold, very smooth, panna cotta and the crunchy, sticky nuts is inspired, and the butterscotch and caramel flavours are right up my alley.
This is a great little bar with an international wine list, adventurous and delicious food, and warm, friendly service. I expect we’ll be back!
The Owl House
97 Crown Street, Darlinghurst
Visited 8 November 2012