Friday, 25 July 2014

Next Door Kitchen and Bar - the South Bank curse strikes again

I've not had a lot of luck when dining over at South Bank and over the last few years have had some pretty mixed experiences.  Ranging from the superb, Stokehouse (see post here) and Aquatine (see post here), to the fairly average and to the really poor, most of our dining experiences in the precinct had not been brilliant. So when we decided to go out with our usual dinner buddies, I was a little bit hesitant when I saw Next Door Kitchen and Bar on the list.  I'd heard mostly good things about the little restaurant in Little Stanley Street, so I thought that I'd take the chance and get in and test it out.

Next Door Kitchen and Bar poses as a 1920's style restaurant and while I could picture it in my mind if I tried really hard, I didn't really get the connection.  Sure, the tables and chairs could have resembled furniture from the '20s, the fit-out of the kitchen and main dining area more closely resembled a contemporary style restaurant with mismatched and stylish black tiles and dark wood panels.  It was a freezing winter's night, so I suspect that the very modern 'mushroom' heaters didn't help with the theme either.

We'd been to Regional Flavours earlier in the day (see post here), which had taken over a large part of Little Stanley Street and Next Door Kitchen had been pretty packed at the time.  It was also really busy when we arrived for our 7:30pm reservation and it looked as if it hadn't let up all day, so I was feeling a little more comfortable that we could be onto another winner at South Bank.  We'd arrived a little earlier than our dining companions as were able to have a look over the menu and get a bit of a feeling on what we'd order.

Looking over the menu, I actually struggled a little bit to find much that really excited me.  The menu itself was fairly short and very much about share plates, in fact, there was only one list of food that ranged in price from around fourteen bucks, right up to about twenty five.  Some of the items looked interesting, but then there would be an ingredient that fell into my 'avoid' category and I'd have to rethink my options.  While we were looking over the menu CITB turned up and joined us at our table and while TB went straight for the cocktail menu, CI had a look at the food and pretty much reacted like I did.

We spent a few minutes squabbling over the choice of restaurant and even contemplated trying somewhere else, but sanity prevailed and we decided that we would make the most of our visit.  After we'd settled down, we looked over the extensive cocktail menu and all decided that a stiff drink might help us all relax a bit.  I've come to the realisation that I am terrible at picking cocktails!  I'd been talked into one of the waitress' favourite cocktails, the 'hit on all sixes' even though SC was sceptical, and when it came, I didn't like it.  It was great though, SC had ordered a winner in 'the cats meow' and after I pulled my sad face, we swapped.  While I couldn't see the '20s in the menu or the decor, the cocktail menu was definitely in the zone.

While everything on the menu was supposedly for share dining, we decided on a more traditional approach and each ordered starters and mains.  CI and I both went for the crushed wagyu meat balls with provolone cheese and sticky onion jam, mainly because there was not much else that interested us.  I'd love to say it was an inspired choice, but it was more a lucky choice, the meatballs were actually really tasty.  The moist crushed wagyu sat on a bed of sweet and sticky onion jam that worked wonderfully with the full bodied beef.  A sprinkling of provolone cheese added some saltiness to the starter, which was devoured in quick time.

I really liked the look of TB's choice of sumac spiced calamari with chickpea curry, onion crisps and coriander salsa.  The calamari was quite artistic in the way it was sliced and it was cooked extremely well with the overall appearance of the dish enhanced by the crunch onion crisps.  The dish itself had a few ingredients that I normally avoid, namely chickpeas and sumac spices but the little taste that I had of the dish was quite tasty.  Being a fan of Indian spices, TB really enjoyed her starter.

I'm not really sure that a soup counts as a share dish but I did sample a little of SC's potato and leek soup with razor clams and parsley.  The soup bowl came presented with a parsley puree in the centre with the potato and leek soup poured in at the table.  It was probably the pick of the starters with the creamy texture of the soup sitting nicely on the palate.  The pure white visual of the soup was somewhat ruined when the parsley puree was mixed in but the slightly bitter taste balanced well with the sweet potato and leek.  I think if I was to come back to Next Door Kitchen, it would without doubt be my choice.

Overall, our starters worked out pretty well, but mains would be a different story.  SC had been pretty excited about ordering the baked red claw yabbies with wasabi butter, shaved wagyu and wasabi crumble.  We had visions of a refined looking dish with lots of colour but instead had a plate of food that looked as if it had been thrown together in a hurry and was actually rather unappealing to look at. Worse, the yabbie was slightly undercooked with a texture that wasn't quite right, not bad enough to send back, but not great.  The wagyu on the plate looked a lot more like corned beef and tasted fine but we didn't see how it worked with the yabbie and the sauces on the plate didn't add much flavour.

CITB didn't have much luck with their mains either.  They'd both ordered the pulled lamb shank with maple roasted pumpkin, red onion and lemon yoghurt and there were clearly issues on the plate. Firstly, we couldn't really see the lamb shank, sure there was a big lamb cutlet, but where was shank bone with meat falling off a the touch?  Secondly, the lamb cutlet was clearly well under cooked, with fat that had not really rendered fully.  Lastly, the maple roasted pumpkin on CI's plate was massive and really quite ugly, in fact the whole dish lacked refinement and polish.  I'm actually OK eating very rare meat (being the carnivore that I am) and ate the cutlet for CI while he ate the little bit of boneless shank on the plate.

I was definitely the winner of the night with my twice cooked duck with white bean ragout, pancetta and spiced sausage.  Again, it was the only real option that appealed, so it was blind luck over superb menu choice.  I liked everything about the dish; perfectly cooked duck that fell off the bone, full of flavour and yummy; a white bean ragout that completely surprised me with it's depth of flavour; best of all, the spicy sausage was a chorizo (yay).  There was a huge chunk of pancetta that added a nice hit of salty goodness to the plate.  I think the only thing that would have improved the plate would have been more of that pancetta to add just a smidge extra saltiness to help balance out the rich white bean ragout.

Only CI and I were willing to attempt dessert, with TB getting her usual espresso martini and SC sticking with a warming hot cocoa.  CI went for the toffee pineapple upside down cake with pistachio ice cream, which looked amazing, even though it was on the ugliest plate I have seen in a long, long time.  It was actually quite a shock to see such a distracting plate, especially since most restaurants seem to be going with beautiful and cool looking plates.  I wasn't sure if it was there for shock value but I hope to never see a plate like that again.  Phew, that off my chest, the lashings of toffee worked nicely with the sweet pineapple cake, and while it was an unusual pairing, it worked very well.

I'd ordered the dark chocolate marquise with chocolate soil and honeycomb, which was the best looking plate of the night.  I actually thought that this dessert was more like a chocolate mousse, with a light and creamy texture and was very different from any marquise I've had before.  What ever it was, there was a lot of it and as delicious as it was, I think there could have been half as much.  The chocolate was rich and the honeycomb helped balance out that richness, but once the honeycomb was gone, it was just a too much chocolate.  

So continued our mixed bag of dinners over at South Bank.  There were a couple of highlights from the night, all of the entrees, the desserts (minus that plate) and my twice cooked duck.  Good as they were, they really didn't compensate for the yabbies and the lamb dishes, which should not have made it through the pass.  I'd been Instagramming through the night and had a number of comments about the colour of the lamb, which was clearly not right.

We'd been really happy with the service for most of the night and the waitresses were all really friendly and very efficient.  In keeping with the theme of the night though, our mains were brought out by a different waiter and he just slopped the mains down in front of SC, who had to pass them around the table, instead of placing each plate to its rightful recipient.  Not good and quite memorable for the wrong reasons.  Yeah, apart from my main, that whole course was a write off.

There was no doubt that if I'd only considered my starter, main and dessert, it would have been considered  successful meal, but I can't really ignore that my three dining companions all had major issues with their meals.  It was a shame, I could see what the team at Next Door Kitchen were trying to achieve with the meals, it's just that the application fell short on the night.  I might wait for the next menu change and head along for a mid week meal, just to see if it was the dreaded Saturday night blues.  We shall wait and see!

The chocolate marquise looked amazing - not sure if it was a marquise or a mousse though!
I couldn't pick the 1920's theme in the restaurant
It was a freezing night and our heater went out!!

Next Door Kitchen & Bar on UrbanspoonNext Door Kitchen & Bar

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