By Franz Scheurer
Michael McCann designed and quirkily named, Pony occupies an historic warehouse next to a cobblestone lane and features exposed brick walls, fabulously rustic wooden plank floors, a funky, Oldie Worldie space with a curious twist of modern wall hangings and an open kitchen. It offers both indoors and al fresco dining. The lighting is spectacular with downlights softened by different size drum skins and tortured stem-lights throwing jagged patterns onto the wall. Tables are wood, as are the chairs, and although cramped it is comfortable and never noisy with the clever, sound-dampening, sandstone block-reminiscent wall coverings on the back wall.
The staff looks extremely smart in a uniform of white shirt over brown pants, apron and shoes, and is very attentive, friendly and capable. The menu is small, concise and has various sections: tapa-like ‘Small Plates’, ‘From the Kitchen’, ‘From the Wood Fired Grill’ and ‘Sides’, with desserts listed separately. Prices are kept to a minimum, which is unfortunately reflected in a lack of bread service, almost no carbohydrates served with mains and one of those dreaded 10% surcharges on Sundays and Public Holidays. A stylish bar at the water end of the restaurant serves all the drinks and there are a good number of wines by the glass. The wine list is appropriate and, again, prices are keen.
We tried the ‘Grilled chorizo, chilli jam’, freshly shucked ‘Sydney rock oysters’ and ‘Crisp fried whitebait – aioli and lemon’ from the ‘Small Plates’ section. The oysters were fresh, briny and beautiful, just served with a slice of lime. The chorizo smoky and served with an excellent capsicum relish and the whitebait ho-hum, too large, with an aioli that tasted just like mayo.
From the ‘From the Kitchen’ section we tried the ‘House made bintje potato gnocchi, gorgonzola, spinach and pine nuts’, the ‘Risotto of prawns, peas, basil and mint’ and the ‘Parmesan crumbed lamb cutlets, zucchini fritters, baby carrots, glazed eschalots’. The gnocchi were outstanding; light, flavoursome but earthy and gooey. The risotto, made with carnaroli rice, was aromatic and rich without being gluggy, and the lamb cutlets were huge (never seen such big lambs) with very moreish fritters.
From the ‘From the Wood Fired Grill’ section we tried the ‘Seared calf’s liver, sauce diable, braised silverbeet, crisp bacon. This is a solid dish using iron bark wood to fire the grill but it was not cooked as requested (very rare). The bacon was a touch too salty (even for my palate) but the hand-cut chips (a side we ordered) balanced the salt.
Although in a tourist area, Pony caters for a lot of locals and regulars and, being open all day long, it must be hard work to keep it humming perfectly at all times. They might only have 35 seats inside and a communal table for 40 outside, but they do turn those seats over again and again, each day. Damian Heads, in charge of the burners, is an extremely talented chef, but also knows the cold, hard realities of restaurant life and the need to serve appetising food at an acceptable price. He has whipped his brigade into shape very quickly and the result is very pleasing.
The food is better than average, the service exemplary, and the space fantastic; in my book, of all the Michael McCann designed restaurants, here is where I want to eat most.
For more information or booking:
14-15 The Rocks Centre
Cnr. Argyle Street and Kendall Lane
Tel.: 02 9252 7797