81 Macleay Street
See the map
|Opening hours||Lunch from Friday to Saturday; dinner Tue-Sat|
|Features||Licensed, Accepts reservations|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Call||02 9184 7744|
Is there a more delicious snack bar than gilda? A skewer of salted anchovies and salted olives, seasoned with a yellow-green guindilla, this favorite pickled pepper from the Basque Country in Spain? It was invented over 70 years ago in San Sebastian and, boy, is it a good time with a cold, no-fuss beer.
Didn’t think you could improve on gilda – it’s one of those sacred food trinities, like dumplings, soy, and black vinegar, or fish finger sandwiches, hiking socks, and canape. But then Parlar chef José Saulog swapped the toothpick for toast and proved me wrong.
The bar and restaurant opened in the middle of Macleay Street earlier this month and a press release calls it a “Catalan-inspired fine dining restaurant”. A snack from the other side of Spain is a bit out of place then, but I think I can live with it.
The gilda toast ($16) is a wonderful balancing act between acid and sea, with springy bread swaddled with plump white anchovies and mayonnaise spiked with olive brine and guindillas. And sure, yes – it probably has as much in common with a real gilda as fish sticks have with fish.
Similarly, Parlar’s $11 pan tomate (tomato bread) is nothing like the raw, ready version found in Barcelona’s vermouth bars. There, the bread is simply rubbed with a mixture of pulpy tomatoes. Here, slices of yellow and red tomatoes are precisely layered on toasted bread like terracotta tiles.
These are tapas that suit the intimate, mood-lit and very opulent dining room. Restaurateur Andrew Becher, who also operates the French brasserie Franca next door, has adorned the space with streamlined oak and different shades of mandarin. Bar stools are more comfortable than some lounges I’ve been to, and reproductions of tapestries by American artist Alexander Calder brighten the walls. The tables are covered with golden marble.
Crema Catalana ($22) is topped with caramelized 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, of course, but the whole table? This is another thing. Most importantly, the pastry cream is perfectly fair and lifted with hints of orange and cinnamon.
The menu is designed so you can grab a few snacks and a cocktail (the boozy house creations are elegantly done and the classics are no problem), or sink into a banquette for a longer run.
Advice to the wise: skip the $29 glass of Louis Roederer NV champagne and consider cava, the (mostly) dry and tangy sparkling wine of Spain, for starters. Pares Balta Cava Brut is a great value bubbly at $17 a pour, and the money saved helps me justify spending $45 for 40 grams of jamon Iberico. My stars, it’s good, acorn pig yet, dark brown with succulent ribbons of fat that dance and melt on the tongue.
As you’ve probably figured out by now, it’s not exactly a cheap night. A $240 seafood platter for two – a lovely display of whole lobster, crab, langoustines and toothfish escabeche – is mentally filed under “whimsical birthday ideas for later.” I’ll have another spicy morcilla sausage sandwich ($16) instead.
Plump clams and salmon roe ($52) shimmer in a vinegary tomato sauce finished with four types of oils (chives, candied garlic, chili pepper, smoked tomato) for a zesty umami. Cornbread ($10) is a no-brainer for soaking up juices, and is also handy for sponging a beefy pedro ximenez sherry jus around a marbled wagyu side ($65).
If you’re only sharing one main course, make it the bonito ($52). Carefully charred and rested, the fatty fish is served on a garlic ajo blanco (almond bread and soup) with a texture close to mashed potatoes. Translucent grape slices are arranged on top to look like scales. There must be more tweezers in the kitchen than a stamp collector’s top drawer.
If you’re a fan of Mimi’s laid-back Mediterranean luxury in Coogee, but aren’t so concerned about its sometimes garish clientele, this could be the fine dining restaurant you’ve been looking for. The same goes for the people of Double Bay who appreciate Margaret’s high level of service, but would prefer less din at lunchtime.
Parlar is the kind of smart, thoughtful package that Potts Point can’t get enough of. No wonder he had me on anchovy toast and good morning.
Vibe: Ambitious bodega for fine tapas, quick drinks and special occasions
Essential dish: Bonito, Catalan spinach, white garlic ($52)
Drinks : Serious cocktails and spirits, plus an exciting selection of mostly Spanish wines
Cost: Around $220 for two, excluding drinks
This review was originally published in Have a nice week end magazine