299 Princes Highway
|Opening hours||Tue-Thu, 5pm-late; Fri-Sat, noon-late; Sun, noon-10pm,|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9567 8242|
No offence, Princes Highway, Arncliffe, but I don’t think you’ve ever been glamorous. Clamorous, yes, with the ceaseless traffic thundering past on its way to somewhere else, like the airport, or the city, or the beach.
This time, I’ve stopped, due to a slice of foodie Zeitgeist that has turned up here, via Venice Beach, Los Angeles. There, Gjelina restaurant’s “New American” seasonal, shared-plate cuisine has been wowing punters and critics since 2008, its status now iconic. According to one reviewer this year, there is “no place where the people are more beautiful, the vibe more Cali-chic, the food more true to our gourmet/carefree aspirations”.
Feros hotel group boss Chris Feros and his executive chef Joel Gottlieb were thinking big, then, when they opened Sarita’s Drinks and Plates in the Rocksia Hotel in June, inspired by Gjelina’s, whose clientele includes the likes of Julia Roberts.
LA influence aside, the Rocksia’s roots are very much Princes Highway, Arncliffe. It used to be a car yard before it became a hotel, and Sarita’s was the hotel’s nightclub before it getting a makeover with wood, white tiles and pendant lighting by Humphrey and Edwards, the interior designers responsible for Matt Moran’s Chiswick.
We are seated at a table on what used to be the dance floor. The space is so large, the design loses some of its zing in a sea of wooden tables and bentwood chairs. Viewed, however, from the grand double entrance doors that announce the ambition of Sarita’s, you can see how good-looking this joint is. It is divided in two by a long banquette, hanging ferns and handsome lights — the larger section is for dining, the smaller for drinks on bar chairs at high tables. Bar chairs are set up around the open kitchen, too, so diners can see their food being cooked, and eat it right there.
My friend and I bypass the pizzas and choose a selection of vegetable, meat and seafood share plates. The friendly young women who take our orders are knowledgable about the menu, focussed on seasonal ingredients, and the excellent cocktails. We are very pleased with our One Night in Paraiso and Pimms Jug selections, and the marinated olives we nibble on as we await our plates.
The tempura-battered zucchini flowers, stuffed with ricotta and caramelised walnuts, prove a delicious combination of textures — firm, crispy and soft all at once. Salt and pepper calamari is such a ubiquitous dish, but is done well here, the calamari evenly coated and glammed up with pickled fennel, chilli salt and a black aioli dipping sauce (balsamic being the colour agent), which actually looks like melted milk chocolate.
The crab cakes on avocado mash are a tad ho-hum, while the flavour of the Nepalese dumplings ordered from the specials somehow jars with the rest of our spread, the mild heat of which becomes predictable. “The chefs love chilli,” says our waitress.
In context, these are quibbles, especially when I tuck into a contender for the best plate of potatoes in Sydney. The crushed then fried kipflers are noisy with crunch while the aioli does its creamy job, but add the tartness of pickled red onions and a hint of fresh dill and the result is star-making.
Finally, the lamb cutlets with lemon potatoes and salsa verde are tender and juicy and seasoned just right. They are a teaser for the gathering plates which serve four and include whole wood-roasted chicken and slow-roasted lamb shoulder.
I would be keen to try them, and my friend and I talk about coming back with a group, to sit in one of the retro-style circular booths ringed with floor-to-ceiling curtains and bathed in mood lighting. Set off to the side, they look exclusive. Glamorous. Fit for an LA star. Princes Highway, Arncliffe, could this really be you?
Kipfler potatoes; lamb cutlets; zucchini flowers; salt and pepper calamari; outstanding cocktails
Rustic chic with a dash of sleek
Youthful, friendly, in-the-know