Blame the buzz words, but chefs who pay lip-service to the idea of seasonal or market-driven cooking and then offer laminated menus as unchanging as Peter Garrett's hairstyle make me want to kill. Or at least look somewhere else for lunch. There's little danger of that at Glebe Point Diner. In fact, they don't really have a printed menu at all. What they've got is a blackboard menu of maybe five entrées, six mains and four desserts. To that board's right is another smaller board listing the provenance of the day's produce in hasty chalk: Bermagui tuna, Coffin Bay oysters, Snowy Mountains pork, and so on. I've eaten at the restaurant five times in the past month and have seen substantial changes to the lineup each time. It's food that, if not local, is certainly seasonal, and cooked with an eye to its origins. And they have not one but two beers on tap from fabled local brewer Scharer's. Thinking regional never tasted so good.
Some of the dishes that have been more constant, like the chicken liver paté and the honey and rosemary panna cotta with baked quince, speak strongly of the provenance of the restaurant itself. Chef Alex Kearns and manager Andrew John both worked at Sean's Panaroma in Bondi for some time, and while Glebe Point Diner has a definite character of its own, anyone familiar with Sean's will see clear parallels. The paté is plated with a house-made organic bread that also speaks of Kearns' last job, at Bourke Street Bakery, but the quenelle shape it's served in, and the accompanying leeks braised in vin santo - not to mention the voluptuous breadth of flavour and fine texture - is pure Sean's. I've never seen a rosemary and honey panna cotta at Sean's, but the taste of this most sublimely set little number (paired admirably with that luscious quince) is pleasantly reminiscent of the Bondi restaurant's signature rosemary and white chocolate nougat.
Don't think for a second that I'm implying a paucity of original ideas or plagiarism of any sort on the part of the Glebe Pointers. They've got Sean Moran's blessing, for one thing. And if you were looking for a model for the perfect modern Australian neighbourhood restaurant, Sean's Panaroma would be a bloody good start. The Diner, as its name suggests, has a more casual vibe, with close-packed tables and bar seating perfect for solo diners and drop-ins. There's no beach view, but there's outside seating overlooking a beautiful old house on one of the lovelier, leafy point-end stretches of Glebe Point Road. The kitchen is open, the ceilings are high, the walls striped and the large lamp-shades very North Bondi Italian. Tables are paper over marble, the music is good, and the noise level is fair. I'd call it laid-back rather than intimate.
I like the food very much; I think it has broad appeal, both in conception and execution, but it's by no means dumbed-down. In its pared back nature, it strikes me as a cross between provincial Italian and London's St John, with a dash of nanna's house. Few dishes see more than three elements on a plate. Fried squid is as tender as wine gums, crisply battered and paired with a very yolky, slightly olive oil-bitter mayo and some fried parsley. It lasts maybe half a minute with a Scharer's lager. Ditto the tartare of excellent tuna with dried chilli and fennel seed on crostini.
Entrée salads, like the paper-thin slices of fennel, parmesan and pear or the chickpeas and silverbeet with pickled carrot, aren't much bigger than sides, but are invariably great eating, if a little heavy on the oil. Pasta ranges from the seemingly virtuous - orecchiette with radicchio and chilli oil or just broad beans and artichokes - to the clearly sinful - beef shoulder braised with chunky green olives on rigatoni - but the quality doesn't waver. Sorrel soup has just enough peas in it to balance out the leaf's sharpness; a couple of Coffin Bay virgin oysters shucked in before it's brought to the table take things on a turn for the luxurious.
So far, I've only had one main course I didn't like - mirror dory with mussels on the shell with broad beans and hand-cut chips. Nothing wrong with any element there, but they didn't have any real connection on the plate that I could see. It's quite the opposite story with the wickedly succulent Oaks organic chook roasted with bread sauce, greens and crisp taties - a holy trinity of good ingredients cooked with skill.
And, even though it's a blackboard menu, there are specials. Mention may be made, for instance, of some beef ribs or boutique-breed pork that has spent the entire previous evening in a slow oven. The Angus and wagyu ribs, yabba-dabba-doo in their heft and intensity, share the plate with field mushrooms and Roman beans. The buttery, shred-tender shoulder of pork beds down with savoy cabbage and apple sauce. There is nothing extraneous on these plates and everything plays its part. They are superb.
The aforementioned panna cotta is by far the highlight of the desserts, though a glossy chocolate ganache tart with perfect pastry, and banana and pear brown-sugar fritters with rum-and-raisin ice-cream show plenty of promise, and there's also a workable tiramisù. Service isn't quite Swiss-watch yet, but it's certainly friendly, and with the capable, personable John at the fore, things are looking good, and the short, sweet wine list he has thrown together is good fun, much of it available in 500ml carafes as well as by the glass.
Call Glebe Point Diner a triumph of good sense and straight-talking, if not good fun. If the foam-jelly-and-smear school of cooking irks you, the diner, with its blessedly untricked-up presentation is your inverted comma-free oasis. There are no mission statements on the menus and their philosophy of the virtue of freshness, diversity and honest cooking is expounded only through the high quality of their food and service.
I think you'll find the argument very persuasive.