Italy, wine and more than a dash of Surry Hills style collide at the reboot of The Dolphin Hotel in Sydney, which opens its doors in the first week of June. Icebergs restaurateur Maurice Terzini says it'll all be infused with the same spirit that turned The George Hotel in St Kilda into The Melbourne Wine Room, one of the defining Australian restaurants of the late 1990s and early oughts under his stewardship.
To this end he has recruited Icebergs chef Monty Koludrovic, former Wine Library and Buzo co-owner James Hird, and designer George Livissianis to transform what was a middling-to-average watering hole into a pub for the now. Livissianis's Christo-meets-Haring makeover is dazzling, Hird's wine list is an interesting mix of the out-there and the hell-yeah, and the food offer might just be better still.
We've laid hands on draft copies of the three menus that will be served at the vast and labyrinthine site. Here's our read:
The Public Bar
It's equal parts pub-comfort and Italian bar style on The Dolphin's simplest (and cheapest) menu: pies, a burger and a Black Angus minute steak are complemented by spaghetti puttanesca, "insalata di Cesare", pizza al taglio and a sandwich inspired by Harry's Bar in Venice.
The Wine Room and Salumeria
Wine is the word. Some dishes bring the wine onto the plate - risotto made with vin jaune, the yellow wine of France's Jura region, Blackmore bresaola flavoured with Patrick Sullivan's gamay, or Testun al Barolo, a hard Italian mountain cheese crusted with grape must. Others simply appear to flatter what's in the glass as shamelessly as possible: bonito and foie gras crackers, cheese and bacon bread, a vitello tonnato done with shellfish oil, and a spaghetti "carbonara" loaded with cheeks of leatherjacket that's sure to give the carbonara purists plenty of angst.
The Dining Room
Think of a union between Icebergs and Da Orazio, Terzini's other Bondi venue, and you're most of the way there. Pizza is a focus, but it's not especially traditional, combining albacore tuna, prawns, preserved lemon and ricotta on one example, and mushrooms, truffle, washed-rind cheese and parsley on another.
As in the Wine Room, cured meats are also a focus; just when you thought the word couldn't be debased further, the draft menu has a note that says the selection of prosciutto, salame, formaggi and salsicce have been "curated" by butcher Anthony Puharich and chef Koludrovic. That grave insult to the English language aside, here the meats are plated with interesting garnishes, again not especially traditional - the prosciutto and melon teamed with perilla, the mortadella (from LP's Quality Meats) with fried olives.
Healthy sections for seafood and meat round it out - grilled octopus with kipflers and salsa verde, and whole fish done with sorrel and herb butter among the former, gnocchi with braised lamb neck and green olives, a grilled rib-eye with red wine sauce, and pappardelle Bolognese with buffalo ricotta among the latter. The dessert offer includes a Nutella sundae, rhubarb and Aperol granita, and a lemon pudding done in the wood-fired oven.
Terzini says the irreverent, freewheeling style of menu is what dining in Sydney in 2016 ought to be about. "Sometimes the industry is a bit too serious," he says. "We're upholding our values and farm-to-bar approach, but we're having fun along the way. We're not just inspired by food and wine - it's just as much about lifestyle."
The Dolphin Hotel, 412 Crown St, Surry Hills, NSW, (02) 9331 4800, dolphinhotel.com.au
Grab your copy of the June Gourmet Traveller, on sale 26 May, for details on our reader dinner at The Dolphin.