Now here’s a part of this city I don’t get to as often as I’d like. When I moved to this town, twenty years ago, I temporarily lived in a room above the restaurant I cooked in. It was on Victoria Street opposite the Tropicana and when I built up enough funds I got myself a rental at the bottom of Macleay Street in Potts Point; city and harbour views for $350 a week. That was 1993 and something tells me that two bedroom art deco apartment goes for much more these days. Potts Point and the Cross was my introduction to Sydney and my work and social life revolved around it.
I remember when a rising star named Neil Perry dabbled with Middle Eastern food at a place called Rocket down where Mezzaluna now resides, whisking up a flurry of excitement in a time when things like coriander, rocket and focaccia were the it ingredients in this town. Times have changed. The Cross had a slightly gentrified spit-and-polish soon after that hotel above the Coca-Cola sign was converted to apartments but much of it is still as crusty as it was; and these days, coriander, rocket and focaccia are as common as curly parsley.
Bayswater Road in the Cross has had its share of comings and goings. Brothels, night clubs, pubs, restaurants; it’s been a whirlwind of new faces. It never ends. I remember eating at Bayswater Brasserie. It closed and became a promotional pop-up NZ restaurant. Smiths on Bayswater moved in soon after with its awesome Reuben sandwich. It closed and became Crane Sydney, where we’re at today.
The bones of the place remain but a few cosmetic touches can be seen. Astro turf on the front terrace, a variety of soft furnishings and, of course, a whole new menu of food and drinks to be had. Edison light globes add an amber dimness to the space with a funked-up soundtrack and painfully hip clientele giving the feeling of being in a cocktail bar as well as a fusion Japanese restaurant.
Chef Taichi Ito is as meticulous as they come. Previously working his craft at Stamford Plaza, Sake and Zuri Lounge in Brisbane, he now shares his love of food with those that strut through the doors at Crane. There was no strutting on my behalf, just an invitation, an open stomach and eagerness to try a few things from Taichi’s menu.
Sashimi was the most fitting place to kick things off. Sea barramundi with white soy ($17). Easy on the eye and a pleasure to eat. Delicate slices of West Australian barramundi with hints of soy and sesame flavours along with a juicy crunch from the tangle of daikon and carrot threads. More barramundi came shortly after; in chunk form and playfully named sea barramundi bites ($19). Laid on top of lettuce leaves, the barramundi pieces are marinated in sweet miso for 24 hours before being baked and sprinkled with crunchy arare; rice crackers in snow form.
Tataki anything gets my attention, as many of you may already realise. When there’s kangaroo tataki ($22) on the menu, I simply can’t resist. Here it’s lightly seared before being thinly sliced and arranged on Greek pita bread with ginger, mirin, tomato, micro herbs and basil mayonnaise. One part of me loved the juiciness of each mouthful while a small part of me didn’t like how soggy it became. Another part of me wished it didn’t play the fusion game, instead being presented more traditionally so that the kangaroo could be the hero of the dish.
I couldn’t help but be reminded of an eggplant dish we devoured at Melbourne’s Akachochin when I saw the nasu miso cheese ($18) on Crane’s menu. Here we have half an eggplant, deeply scored and topped with Napoletana sauce, sweet miso and cheese. It’s baked to the point of bubbling, and while in theory I should love it, I found parts of the eggplant very firm and undercooked.
Taichi took it upon himself to surprise us with his sashimi new style ($20). Alternating rolls of Petuna ocean trout and Port Lincoln kingfish, rolled and filled with julienned daikon, a little carrot, some chives and a hot sesame, grape seed and ponzu sauce. Also on top are small pieces of tosazu jelly, adding a vinegary layer to the delicious mouthful. A lot more subtle, but with a chilli kick, was the dynamite tofu ($12). The dish seems to be a play on agedashi tofu, just without the broth, but with dripping mild chilli sauce. The tofu is firm, lightly crusted and deep-fried and aside from a chilli bite and soft texture, there’s not a great deal going on.
The duck ($36) breast certainly comes with a hefty price tag and is cooked to absolute perfection. Segments of juicy orange and baby spinach leaves garnish up the plate and truffle honey forms an excessive pool of sweetness, overpowering the pink breast meat. Taichi suggests we try a sushi roll as we’re told they’re getting a bit of a following by people in the know. Fire crunch ($19) sounded like a good contender and despite my stomach rapidly losing real estate, it was well worth it. Spicy fresh tuna, mayo, cucumber, spicy tobiko and very crunchy fried onion on top. It’s made to order, has some of the softest rice I’ve had with sushi rolls and is a pleasure to chomp into.
The hands-down star of the night was the ocean trout ($30), served much like Japanese fishermen do when they’re on the job. A little cabbage, onion, sweet miso, the fish, shimeji, enoki and shiitake mushrooms; all bundled in foil and oven baked. The fish is boneless, flakey and divine. There was about a walnut-sized void in my stomach at that point so I literally had a taste of the green tea tiramisu ($12) for dessert. Cubes of green tea sponge topped with a thick and creamy layer as well as a macaron, a cookie and black sesame ice cream to the side. Ok, now I’m stuffed.
hnf & co dined as guests of Crane.