Salt-baked sweet potato, almond, dandelion was the first of the scrumptious snacks by bar owner Chef Roy McVeigh that we tried at Dragoncello Surry Hills. McVeigh likes leaves he explained, leaves with flavour, not an unnecessary garnish. So in keeping with his food philosophy, he chose the name Dragoncello (Italian for tarragon). A gorgeous rich full-flavoured offering at only six bucks, and designed to share.
McVeigh has done the rounds of fine restaurants, in Sydney and beyond, including Berowra Waters Inn and Bathers Pavilion, and has extended his food craft interstate and overseas. When we heard that he'd opened Dragoncello we rushed in to try his food, the first time he's been able to demonstrate his own creativity.
He designs his food in layers, and thinks about the harmony of the dish, salt, sour, bitter, sweet and umami. The opening menu shows nine small plates, seven of them under ten dollars, and three more substantial dishes, all set for sharing, very modern and an innovative extension of his classical training.
Take, for example, his update of Coq Au Vin: Chicken, onion, shiitake, merlot, chocolate. Or the 'natural MSG' plate 48 hour slow cooked BBQ flank, mushroom, seaweed, Bordelaise. Or, a crisp skinned and delightfully fleshy Barramundi, cauliflower, beurre noisette, Vadouvan. The three'mains'.
Paté, spiced bread, chamomile is a winner from the small plates, with the ethereal mousse offset by the contrast of crunchy croutons and wobbly jelly. The deep rich blood of Venison Boudin, caramelised pear, popcorn is a stunning expanse of taste and textures.
Weeds, garden leaves describes the salad side and synchs with the McVeigh leaning. There's a garden at the bar, and the Chef also has access to half an acre in Sydney for growing some unusual and interesting leaves the types to which others in Surry Hills won't have access.
After studying chocolate with Kirsten Tibballs at Savour, McVeigh is also a dab hand at desserts. And he brings his unique contemporary touch to them. Potato chip cake, sour cream, salted caramel is unexpected and is sure to become a signature. His love of gardening shows through again in another dessert, with Strawberries in hay, three basils based on his growing combination of one garden bed. Two cheese plates - Goats cheese, beetroot, pumpkin seed, marigold and Brie, truffle, celery, walnuts, grape - are also offered. Sugar coated jelly cubes, Bubble gum gummies (just three dollars) are natural and uncoloured and soft, a lovely chewy mouthful as a perfect end to a bar dinner with coffee.
Yet while the Dragoncello menu was the drawcard, we were delighted by a wonderful range of international wines, plenty by the glass, compiled by Sommelier Stuart Sanders (who has previously worked with Three Weeds, Koi and The Beresford). Dragoncello isn't just about wine though, and also offers some unique cocktails such as the one-of-a-kind orange margarita with salted cardamom and coriander seed foam. The cocktail list is a work-in-progress with new plant based cocktails yet to come.
The room, like its owner is honest and opens by sliding glass door on to Cleveland Street. Industrial rusted metal, and distressed walls offset a long comfortable studded leather banquette, painted black enamel tables, a couple of high bar tables with an array of stools, and raw wood shelving on the back bar.
Dragoncella truly has an unique identity, that's a little upbeat, and it is sure to quickly become the new hip hang-out in the area.
|466 Cleveland Street|
|+ 61 2 8399 0907|
Wed – Sat 5pm – midnight
Sun 5pm – 10pm