After more than two years of buzz, build-up and building delays, Poly has arrived. A sibling to Ester, the two-star restaurant in Chippendale in inner-city Sydney, Poly opened its doors last night in chef Mat Lindsay's typically low-key style – a post to Instagram in the early evening was the extent of the publicity fanfare.
"It's not as serious a meal as Ester is," he says. "Most of the stuff we want to have people eat with their hands."
That could be salt and vinegar onion rings, say, or a yabby that's been split in half, threaded on to skewers and cooked over coals. The kitchen's mammoth grill is the centrepiece of the open kitchen and drives the short, sharp menu. Lindsay and head chef Isabelle Caulfield (latterly sous chef at Ester, and a former manager of 121BC) aren't just cooking over open flame and embers, either; the set-up allows them to smoke food and slow-cook dishes on the middle shelves.
Fans of Ester's pretty plating will find joy in the kingfish tartare topped with tiny overlapping rectangles of charred leek, and in the wreath of endive leaves that crown a dollop of Brillat-Savarin.
Among all that wine-friendly food, Ester's signature blood-sausage sandwich would fit in nicely but the ever-inventive Lindsay won't be bringing the dish across town. Instead, he has created a "blood pie": a Pithiviers-style round of malt rough-puff pastry with a boudin-noir filling.
Drinks are in the more than capable hands of Lindsay's business partner and Ester beverage boss Julien Dromgool. At Poly he offers a larger wine list, and can further indulge his passion for particular styles or regions (current obsession: Sicily). As at Ester, the selection leans towards the biodynamic, organic and natural. Poly's list includes 20 wines by the glass, as well as 10 sakes and eight cocktails, among them the restaurant's signature drink: a riff on a Negroni that brings tequila and Dolin bitters into the mix. Wildflower's International brew is on tap, and there could be a collaboration with the Marrickville brewery down the track, along the lines of the bespoke wines made for the restaurant by Si Vintners, Jauma and Commune of Buttons.
The large, light-filled open-plan room was designed by Anthony Gill, the architect behind Ester. It mixes industrial elements such as concrete and resin with warmer touches such as oak tables. Seating is across a mix of communal tables, banquettes and a generous L-shaped bar, which extends into a long communal table.
Like his diners, Lindsay, who was named Chef of the Year by his peers at the Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Awards in 2017, seems both relieved and surprised that Poly's time has finally come.
"We've been ready for a while now," he says, before laughing: "But it's also like, the last couple of minutes before service we're not ready."
74-76 Commonwealth St, Surry Hills, NSW, (02) 8860 0808, polysurryhills.com.au, Mon-Fri 5pm-midnight, Sat noon-midnight, Sun noon-10pm.