In a bite
If roast chook is Australia’s national dish, The Paddington is advanced Australian fare, where $39 for a whole rotisserie chicken is both egalitarian and deliciously good value.
The upstairs dining space is like going around to a friend’s warehouse loft for dinner.
Setting the table
It must be hell living in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and having to drive home down Oxford Street past The Paddington every evening.
Inside is chef Ben Greeno, who helped turn Momofuku Seiobo at The Star into a three-hat restaurant before he hitched his wagon to Justin Hemmes and the Merivale Group.
Hemmes has the Midas touch when it comes to creating the pubs and restaurants Sydney craves. He’s just relaunched the Newport Arms, another part of his 2015 buying spree, but first got the former Paddington Arms, which he snapped up in 2014, up and running last November, as a more dining than drinking den. It has a typically sassy Merivale blend of killer cocktails and great wines alongside food that manages to be appealing, on trend and not to blame if you get home and find your wallet empty.
The Paddington has returned some of the mojo many lament Oxford Street lost in the process.
The English-born Greeno is as talented as he is modest, having also worked at Rene Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen, and London’s Restaurant Sat Bains.
Now he’s gone from $200 tasting menus to $39 roast chooks. But don’t go all snobbish about that.
Whenever there’s a pop quiz about Australia’s national dish, it’s surprising that people say spaghetti bolognese, or leg of lamb, and not roast chicken. After all, in the past 30 years, Australians – the biggest meat eaters in the OECD – have completely changed the protein they put on their plates, halving lamb consumption, cutting back on beef by a third and upping chicken by 250%. They eat 40kg annually, around double the next most popular meat, beef.
The free-range Bannockburn rotisserie chook at The Paddington should be Plan A for everyone in Sydney’s east on those nights when they can’t/won’t/mustn’t/shouldn’t cook at home.
What to eat
Well, on those nights, spend $24 for half a bird with chips, gravy and a cos leaf salad with chive vinaigrette. It’s one of the city’s bargains. That’s a meal for two at a lively venue in a posh suburb for $12 each and exactly why I’d swing by the Paddington at least once a week for dinner. Take four people, have the whole bird for $39, and that’s less than $10 a head.
The best part is Greeno’s created such a finely oiled machine in this 220-seat, two-storey diner that your meal arrives within minutes – fast food in the very best sense, as the custom-built French rotisseries pump out more than 100 chooks a day, along with sundry side dishes.
That’s not to say The Paddington is a total bargain.
The money’s in the entrees, which sit around the $20 mark, starting with an fragile-yet-lush parmesan custard under tangle of pea shoots and nasturtium petals, with peas and sprouted pulses, plus a sprinkling of sweet heat from Basque pepper ($18).
At $24, the crab smeared on toast with the prettiness of long strands of fresh herbs across the top is the most expensive entree, but well worth the money for its opulent simplicity, while the shredded cabbage with nutty spelt grains, kombu and marinated raw prawns ($22) manages to simultaneously light and hearty.
Among the other mains, there’s a thick slab of sliced Wagyu beef ($39) with broccoli, mustard seeds and a richly classic jus that’s so generous it’s too much to finish and the remainder went home in a doggy bag.
With hindsight, we’d skip the onion with sesame and soy ($9), which seemed a little bland and uninspired in the context. The sides, priced between $9 and $12, are another one of those fine print moments that can see the bill jump, but most of the meals are already pretty self-contained so you can skip them. Except the rotisserie carrots ($10) with pumpkin seeds. Definitely try those.
One clever thing Greeno’s done, especially as the dad of his own young family, is a cracker little kid’s menu of $12 dishes – roast chook, leg ham (yes, they come with fries) and crumbed fish on an English muffin, along with roast carrots and potatoes for $5.
One of England’s great gifts to the world is decent desserts and Greeno delivers in spades. Yes there’s cheese, but why bother when there’s an insanely tempting salted caramel chocolate mousse with crunchy bits on top; and the lusciously refreshing and pretty elderflower jelly with raspberry sorbet, both $13.
What to drink
The wines overall aren’t typically pricey the way many Merivale wine lists tend to be, with plenty hovering around the $50-$60 mark.
Try a couple of glasses of wine to unwind – let’s say the $11 Branu vermentino di Gallura from Sardinia, or a $12 pinot grigio by SC Pannell in the Adelaide Hills, and you’re heading home for under $50 for dinner two with that half chook. There’s even a $9 Mudgee shiraz on a list that’s a backpacker tour of reasonably-priced drinking, from Argentina to Italy, France, Austria and New Zealand.
The $16 cocktails are excellent wind-downers, especially the Milano spagliato – campari, prosecco, mandarin and lemon – and for old Loony Tunes fans, the Fog Horn, Leg Horn, a sort of whisky negroni (not to be confused with the gin-based foghorn) made from Chivas Regal with Punt e Mes vermouth, Campari and manzanilla sherry, with a splash of chicken fat.
Merivale’s almost psychic ability to give Sydney the restaurants it craves – fun, relaxed, affordable, energetic – continues with The Paddington. And with Greeno in charge of the open kitchen, you know that as delicious and simple as it is now, things are only going to get more interesting as time progresses.
Greeno also plans to open a takeaway chicken shop next door. Bring. It. On.
One more hint: Don’t make the mistake as I did and ring the Paddington Hotel for a booking, thinking you’ve got The Paddington. At least that explained why they said they weren’t too busy and didn’t even bother taking my name…
Need to know
384 Oxford St, Paddington. (02) 9240 3000
The Paddington, Sun-Thurs noon-midnight; Fri-Sat noon-3am
(reduced menu 3pm-5.30pm, after 10.30pm)
[Restaurants are rated out of 5 knives and forks. The Paddington scores 4]