Wednesday, October 06, 2010

They Got the Salt Part Right

Back when The Ex and I lived in Kenya, we used to watch this wonderful Australian reality show called My Restaurant Rules. The show, which only went two seasons, had its contestants create, start-up, and run actual restaurants. The restaurants were not simple fronts for a reality show – they were real functioning businesses with employees and a clientele who would hopefully vote for them each week. In addition to the public, the couples had to deal with the show’s fabulous (in all its connotations) judges who reviewed everything from the food and kitchen to the washrooms and staff.

Over two mouthwatering seasons, our favourite couple and by extension restaurant, were Evan Hansimlkall and Bella Serventi of Pink Salt in Sydney. Despite not winning the show’s second season, the pair re-launched their restaurant in the Double Bay suburb of Sydney. With my well-known obsession with the Food Network, it should come as no surprise that along with my decision to visit Sydney came the desire to seek out sample the wares at Pink Salt (version 2.0).

Filled with high hopes, I took the ferry from Central Quay to Double Bay for a midweek lunch. The first thing that hits any visitor to Pink Salt is the word PINK – in all caps. From the walls to the eclectic variety of throw pillows, every shade of the pink spectrum is present and accounted for. Although the slightly shabby interior could use a good dusting and some TLC, the décor was not unattractive or overly distracting. The theme went so far, I observed, that other than myself, most people seemed to be dressed for the occasion in shades of pink.

Immediately after being seated, I ordered a Watermelon and Rose Petal Martini. The delicate scent from the drink immediately spoke of the watermelon but the taste was, it seemed to me, oddly of lychees. The admittedly tasty aperitif was an alcoholic precursor to a middling Pinot Grigio and a rather too sweet house muscato.

After much internal debate, I ordered the Tempura Zucchini Flowers filled with blue swimmer crab and ricotta as my starter. As someone who admits to not salting her food at all, I found my initial bite somewhat salty despite the rather tasty saffron aioli accompaniment. Although slightly greasy, the zucchini flowers boasted a delicate crab flavor that didn’t overwhelm my palate.

My second course of Gruyere Cheese and Black Olive Ravioli arrived indecently fast for my sensibilities. Despite winning a Top Service Award in 2008, this was just another nail in the coffin of uneven service during my meal. By the time I had ordered and finally eaten both these courses, only thirty minutes had passed and that, by my standards, is simply unacceptable. I was obviously not there to eat a quick business lunch, and to serve my courses back to back because the chef was anxious for a break was unacceptable.

The excessively hot plate and melted cheese spoke loudly of a chef aching for a breather rather than one looking to impress his diners. The three large ravioli were once again salty for my tastes and immediately brought to mind the numerous comments on My Restaurant Rules that food was not salty enough. Perhaps Australians like their food with excessive amounts sodium, I reasoned.

Sitting on a bed of perfectly wilted greens, the ravioli tasted bitingly of olive without being overpowering. Considering they are out of season in the area, the delightful cherry tomatoes and Parmesan oil that topped the dish provided the perfect natural sauce and took the dish from nyeh to interesting.

Next up was an Apple and Fennel Crumble my waiter recommended on the strength that it, like him, was “very British.” The first course all afternoon long that wasn’t too salty, I found the crumble disappointingly lacking in flavour. The pastry chef’s choice to shred the apple rather than dice it was interesting but not one I would recommend to home cooks as the result was a rather mushy filling with little to recommend it other than a bland crumble topping. The sorbet, on the other hand, was a delightful treat for the taste buds: neither too tart nor too sweet. It was the perfect foil for my flavourless crumble.

In a town obsessed with cupcakes, it should come as no surprise that Pink Salt offered this small treat on their dessert menu to either consume in house or take home. I chose the latter and was well pleased with my decision as it helped me end my day on high note. The moist cake was topped with an icing that wasn’t too sweet and didn’t have that grainy texture I have come to associate with the genre.

When I first arrived at Pink Salt, an older woman next to me noticed me taking notes and asked if I was reviewing the restaurant. I nodded and she shared that she felt the eatery deserved no more than 2.5 stars out of five. I went in with high hopes and initially felt she was being a tad bitter. Three and a half courses later, I think she may have been generous. Even with credit given for the caliber of the wait staff, perfectly sized portions, and tasty cocktails, I find myself unable to overlook the excessively salty food, rushed service, vaguely shabby décor, and an overall sense that despite a solid business plan Pink Salt was still trying to get by on fame earned years ago.


sprinkles said...

I've never heard of that show before but it sounds like something I might like.

I'm sorry you had such a disappointing experience.

Brenda said...

Its such a disappointment when we try new places and they don't live up to our expectations.

It does amuse me that people dressed in pink. I would probably do the same thing :)

ladyfi said...

What a disappointment, but I applaud you for making the effort to go there and try it out. You get five stars for that!

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of the take-away cupcake! It reminded me of the macaroon take-aways at George in Toronto.
Pity about the salt.