It’s difficult to comprehend that five years have already passed while living in Sydney’s inner west. Saying goodbye to 9 years of apartment life in Pyrmont was pretty easy and finally buying a house in Erskineville was a dream come true. The back yard is now renovated, the new kitchen is complete and already my sights are set on a bathroom revamp. All in good time.
Over the last five years I’ve become all too familiar with the local restaurant scene of King Street south; figuring out what’s good, what’s average and keeping up with the comings and goings. One thing I have noticed is that since the opening of Bloodwood early last year the Newtown and Erko hipsters have been yearning for a place to chill with friends, somewhere other than the local pubs. The Moose (opposite Bench) opened at night to cater for such people, attracting 20-30 somethings into its dark and cosy drinking hole.
It looks like the ball is still rolling along King Street south with the recent opening of Bench, slap bang next to my neighbourhood pizza place – Pizza Picasso. Several months back we talked with owner Robyn and heard exciting plans for her new wine bar with its design, concept, finishes and food. I couldn’t help but feel excited and a little saddened at the same time. Saddened for pure selfish reasons about losing the quiet Pizza Picasso dining room where we enjoyed many a Corsica and Blue Nude pizzas, bottles of vino and the fact that Robyn always knew what we’d order before we even sat down. It isn’t the end of our world, though, as Picasso’s is still going strong pumping out the pizzas to phone and walk-in orders and that lone pink table out the front will see our posteriors sometime soon.
The internal transformation is a dramatic one; very inner city, very urban. Your eyes are immediately drawn to the illuminated bunch of grapes on the rear wall, a custom-made light feature that doubles up as wine storage where at night it’s like an altar to the grape. A narrow communal bench splits the room in two beneath a shower of industrial lamps and tangle of cables, bouncing light off another grape feature on a side wall.
The wine list is pretty impressive, compact like the space, and covers most tastes. Speaking of taste; what about the food? Small share plates that are big enough to pick at – cheese boards, olives, pizzetta’s and a few more tidbits. I tried not to guzzle the beautiful Spanish Tar & Roses Miro and what slowed me down was the terracotta dish of red chilli & garlic prawns (14), slightly blackened with an equally burnished half of lime. The julienne of chilli set a light tingle on the lips but not strong enough to knock the chilli-phobes off their stools. My tongue was dancing. Seriously. The bench fly (10) is a similar looking dish of pan-fried chorizo with strips of pimiento, lightly charred, another winner.
The main reason I order the Blue Nude pizza at Picasso’s next door is because it’s flecked with bubbling gorgonzola and when I spot gorgonzola dolce pots (12.5) on the Bench menu I make sure I don’t leave without having it. The small platter has enough crostini to accommodate the beautifully pungent cheese plus sweet rose petal jelly and bunch of muscatels. Great combination and gorgeous presentation complete with rose petal.
The drinking crowd, unlike some other drinking holes around the traps, seems to fall in the 30-50 age bracket. There’s no deafening music, the folk are civilised and you don’t have to scream at your mates just to be heard. Looks like I have nothing to be sad about anymore. I’m elated.