Stanley Street Merchants

Monday, 30 June 2014

Stanley Street Merchants is here for a good time, not a long time. A crowd-funded project by IconPark, SSM presents a new frontier on the Sydney dining scene. Fronted by chefs Matt Stone and Duncan McCance, the team is joined by bar manager Bobby Carey and general manager 'gin maestro' Jez Spencer. Together they may look like a renegade bikie gang but they're ready to serve you up decent tucker with some old fashioned Aussie hospitality. Don't mind if I do...

The rather fantastical spread of entrées that covered the table. We did still have four courses to go, mind you. I think we did good

IconPark is about concept above all else and their first instalment looks to be a brilliant success. But a viable business? Who knows, but there are definitely bums on seats. As I sit writing this, tonight is totally booked out, and it's only Monday. That's a pretty good sign, right? The celebrity card of Matt Stone was handy to get the idea over the line. He has gone from strength to strength cooking at Greenhouse in Perth and more recently Silo by Joost in Melbourne (my spiritual home, haha). 

The very thrown together appearance of the downstairs bar/eatery perfect for drinks or brunch. Upstairs is more formal dining for the 'oldies' like myself...! Credit: Alana Dimou, Broadsheet Sydney

We were quietly ushered past the bar hipsters and whisked upstairs where there is more of a proper restaurant going. Partitioned by wooden doors, it felt like we were eating in a train carriage (cute!). Rather cosy, and perfect for conversation over a drink to a soundtrack of Mumford and Sons. Can't complain. You can track the SSM team's progress as they worked busily to get the restaurant ready to open earlier this year. It's all happened very quickly and lends a rather unpolished feel to the place which has so much more soul. Tell me if I'm sounding ridiculous...?

Part 1 of snacks: charcuterie board and baba ghanoush and house made foccacia. Mild salami, bresaola and wild boar salami (pretty out there) served with aged carrot and miso toast. I could not make out the miso flavour at all unfortunately. The eggplant dip had a lovely chariness to it and the bread was a winner (can't beat freshly baked)

We decided to try the Chef's menu which is a five course affair - that part was non-negotiable. SSM's food philosophy is all about local (heard that before?!), honey sourced from Neutral Bay and native Australian ingredients featuring prominently. The sad part is that we know next to nothing about the beautiful produce growing in our own backyard. Kylie Kwong and Matt Stone are at the forefront of this movement - deep fried insects and all.

Part 2 of snacks: fried spice cauliflower (left) and fermented vegetables (right). These were stand out dishes for me - the cauliflower was cooked beautifully and had a lovely toastiness with all the heavy spice coating. The fermented veggies were punchy and tart and balanced out with some native sea succulent. Yum!

Fermented brown rice, pine mushrooms, parsley. Achieving a risotto like texture, the brown rice is soaked in whey overnight. The results combined with king oyster and pine mushrooms and the lurid green of a parsley oil make it a killer dish

Twice cooked corn fed chicken, sweetcorn puree and jerusalem artichoke crisp. This was another favourite - the chicken was so tender with crispy skin. The puree was so sweet it could have been a dessert course on its own. Pretty crazy stuff

A new addition to the menu for the night: grilled skirt steak with oregano and shaved Manjimup truffle. The meat was cooked beautifully but the truffle was overpowered by the charriness of the beef - shame!

Kangaroo, Australian native fruits, herbs & spices. The kangaroo was cooked well and complemented with the native fruits (including whoppingly sour quandongs) and astringent Warrigal greens. Can't get much more patriotic than this!

A collective sigh when this dish hit the table: poached quince, macadamia, wattleseed, and buttermilk ice cream. I definitely have a thing for quince and funnily enough, I've never cooked with it before (must change this). Ticking the dessert boxes of presentation, texture and flavour (A+). This dessert was everything I could ask for and more...

"No ants, I'm vegan" - I overheard these exact words from an adjacent table, no kidding. I. am. amazed. And not in a good way. This lovely morsel is served with its jar bottom screwed in containing cherrywood smoke. The dish itself is a charcoal toasted marshmallow, raspberries, flowers and ants. There was a bit of debate as to whether they were actual ants as garnish here (me being the cynic) but I can confirm that yes, they're real - in all their crispy glory

White chocolate and yoghurt mousse with kale/cucumber granita and rosella (left). This was plated beautifully, the white chocolate noodles added a nice height to the dish. The yoghurt mousse I could take or leave. The granita was delish, and melting fast. Aussie cheese board with dried figs and house-made carbs (oh yeaah)(right). The cheeses were a cheddar, blue and goats curd; certainly not to everyone's tastes but suits me just fine (!)

Stanley Street Merchants achieves what most Sydney restaurant/cafés could only dream of doing. Utilising some of the incredible produce Australia has to offer, I'm positive they would have no problem in another location once this 3 month stint is over. Bold in flavours and execution, SSM makes for a rollicking fun night out. They're also open for brekkie and lunch in case you're wondering. You better get in while it's hot as it's due to close (noo!) in roughly a month's time. We need something like this for keeps! My eyes and ears are peeled for the next chapter. Exciting times ahead.

Missing SSM already! Let's hope they reincarnate into something else pronto Credit: Alana Dimou, Broadsheet Sydney

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