In the heart of Darlinghurst, nestled somewhere between split-personalities (the new Jekyll and Hyde) and the most fabulously seedy of locales (AKA The Golden Mile), lies Sydney’s answer to the most exciting of excuses to get out, The Alibi. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but restaurants of late have really lifted their game, probably out of fear of ending up like some of our most long-standing but recently ill-fated casualties (Bilson’s, Berowra Waters Inn, the Becasse Empire by Justin and Georgia North, to name a few). The Alibi is no exception, and with a smart fit-out and some of Sydney’s best Japanese fusion chefs, not to mention the best typography and signage I’ve seen all year, I have a feeling this place is going to be a mad, raving success.
Let me start from the beginning, which of course is a Pavlova Martini. This heavenly creation of kiwifruit, strawberries, vodka, lemon juice and sugar syrup (I personally prefer the name “Simple Syrup”, it seems to aid with waistline guilt and diabetes concerns), is a terrific ice-breaker to yet another family gathering. Somehow, all news is more easily digested with a cocktail in hand, and a second order of the signature cocktail, aptly named The Alibi (dark rum, peach liquor, caramel and lemon passionfruit purée) allows for sufficient lubrication for the proceedings to be thoroughly enjoyable. Besides which, with two former Saké chefs, I’m unsure how an alternative could be possible.
Every girl needs a man to take over the ordering process for her now and again, and in this case it happens to be the lovely Will Smallbone, General Manager and seasoned cocktail expert and barista with experience working with the likes of chefs such as Jared Ingersoll & Tony Papas. Having started in the family business at Bayswater Brasserie on the bar side of things, venturing more recently into Café Mint where he undertook serious training in coffee under champion Barista Phil Pak, Will has a well-rounded view of what’s what and, I have to say, a great eye (or bud of the taste variety) for what works.
Sushi Chef Shimpei Hatanaka is no stranger to the industry. Japanese born and Australian raised, he mastered his craft during a four-year stint at Establishment’s Sushi-e and an then overseas posting alongside Shaun Presland. He, in his own words, has “created a couple of dishes that highlight the unique Umami flavours – it’s the wonderful subtlety of Japanese cuisine that still gets me fired up about my job”. I fear the vegetarian side of our ordering unfortunately doesn’t do justice to the unique experience available in the kitchen, but thankfully the food does justice to our ordering.
Edamame “salt flakes spicy” kick-starts the proceedings, while Warm Potato Salad with crushed kipfler potato, fennel, Sicilian olive, chive and truffle is an imaginative and tasty take on what has proved a very boring offering of many a meal. A side of Steamed Broccoli with spicy Ponzu (which the veges are warned off due to the inclusion of Bonito, a type of fish often found – and often concealed – in Japanese cuisine) could be more interesting, and I will be sure to enquire about a safe sauce next time around.
The Alibi Salad with witflof, radiccio, radish and baby beetroot with chervil and white yuzu kosho dressing sounds complicated but is a welcome palate-cleanser in lieu of some of the more substantial mains to follow, while Baby Root Vegetables with beetroot, heirloom carrot and spring onion with Bricks pastry and goats cheese/almond foam offers a unique take on some of the pickled versions seen all over the city right now (see Chiswick, Osteria Balla, Gardels Bar at Porteno, the list goes on).
Head Chef Adam Lane clearly keeps a close eye on the kitchen, and both the Crispy Tofu (with pan tossed asian mushroom and lettuce heart with yuzu den miso) and without (one of the veges at the table has an unheard of aversion to mushrooms and is given an alternative with “eggplant caviar”) are equally as good. It’s no wonder, considering he stems from a heritage at locals Est, Banc and Tetsuya’s, as well as having worked at the only Thai restaurant to ever have gained a Michelin Star, London’s Nahm, under maestro David Thompson. It’s refreshing to hear his perspective, where he explains “I love the lightness and delicacy of Japanese cuisine, and I really enjoy the challenge of mixing ingredients that you wouldn’t usually think of putting together – finding the perfect balance of flavours is what keeps our work exciting,” something I’m sure never gets old when it comes to keeping customers happy.
The evening has proved thoroughly enjoyable and tonight, everybody is on their best behaviour. After our cocktails, heavy feeding (with only light consequences), lubrication with wine and great conversation, the only thing left to do is dessert. With four flavours of ice cream to choose from (which, unusually are all gelatine-free except for the usually safe sorbet) it’s impossible to go past the first three, an incredible combination of White Sesame, Green Tea and Belgium Chocolate. To top it all off (and really put us over the edge) is Banana Harumaki (fried banana spring roll with shiso, milk chocolate and sweet red bean) which conveniently renders me mute, convenient due to the amount of work I have to do when I get home and the attractive proximity of the aforementioned sordidness of Jeykll and Hyde and close-by allure of the Golden Mile.
Having not had the opportunity to sample the remaining five cocktails (and that was just on that page) clearly the only thing left to do is return. With heaving spots such as L’il Darlin, Victoria Room and The Passage just across the way, you really couldn’t go wrong beginning, ending or highlighting the night with a visit here, which will celebrate its “official” open any day now. And don’t forget, if ever in need of a serious Alibi, this is the spot to be.
Victoria St, Darlinghurst