Well, Smith Street is no way near as thrillingly perilous as it used to be, is it? You’re more likely to get mugged by a $200 bottle of wine than a charming deviant these days, but while we lament the death of the cool grunge factor, we’re digging the awesome new snacks. You’ve got Easy Tiger, Huxtable, Josie Bones and Gigibaba covering everything from Thai to mod-Korean to gasto-pub fare, making the 'Wood 'hood one of the best places in town to get your eat on.
The latest restaurant/bar to join the share-plate-and-good-booze battalion is Gorski and Jones, brought to you by Linda and Paul Jones of Alimentari and hospitality veteran Meaghan Gorski. The trio have hit the ground running, pumping out turbo-fresh, easy-does-it Italian snacks thick and fast. It’s the sort of joint where you could just as easily rock up solo and work your way through a book and a plate of San Daniele prosciutto as get a table and rowdily spend a night giving the group-effort-sized bistecca steak a workout with your motley crew.
We’re not sure if there’s a council law requiring all Smith Street renovations to feature scraped back brickwork, a long marble bar, industrial light shades and some form of animal mascot (here, a plastic shark), but if there is, Gorski has complied. The airy venue is embellished with a nifty back courtyard for summer barbecue and drinking action (we’re hearing whole beast rumours), a sprouting of pot plants, a big old wood-fired oven and glass charcuterie and antipasto cabinets for pimping their deli wares. It’s got summer nights written all over it, so commandeer a bar stool and step into a cool Bellini of white peach purée and Prosecco (semi-sweet Italian bubbly). Or head straight for the wine list, which is set up to hit both ends of the drinking spectrum offering four whites by the glass, ranging from a workmanlike Victorian chardonnay at $7, to a rump-kicking German riesling for $17 a hit. Sure, that’s a pricey sipper, but we like that you have the opportunity to try some pretty good gear without investing in a bottle.
A grunge-chic crew are working the floor and bar, doing a good job for the most part of slicing the salumi and air-dried hams to order, and dropping recommendations along with crusty bread and mounds of fresh ricotta at tables. It’s early days yet, so we put a lost drink order or two down to being too busy too quickly.
What you get on any given day will vary according to the whim of the kitchen, but if you don’t give the antipasto platter a nudge, you’re a damn fool. We’re talking caramelised onion tart with sticky sweet sugar glazed pearl onions on a flaky butter-pastry sphere, and roasted pumpkin and toasted pinenut frittata (like a shell-less quiche) flecked with fragrant bursts of orange zest. It’s like a series of mini lunches (all vegetarian, by the by) pulled together with sprigs of herbs and soft hunks of dippin' bread. In place of olives and dip, you get a lashing of roasted tomato and capsicum ratatouille-style sauce, and a stack of broad beans, freshly skinned and given a casual rough-up with salt, oil and a few nubs of ricotta. It’s the sort of fresh gear that makes you wonder whether Jamie Oliver is in the kitchen screaming “lovely jubbly” and wildly spraying lemon over everything from a distance. He isn’t in the kitchen for the record – Mr Jones is, and the guy is giving that big old oven what-for. Bone marrow gets a firing in there, and is served up as two tall rings of bone, crowned with a garlic, parsley and salt crust and backed up by wafer-thin sourdough toasts. We’d rather the toasts were a little more flexible and absorbent to sop up the melted marrow fat, but hey, we’ll probably live longer for being unable to.
Surprisingly there’s no pizze being churned out, but we’re not really fussed when there’s braised rabbit cacciatore served on the bone for messy fingered dissection. Scoop and mix with smooth polenta and the acid-bright cooking liquor, blushed with tomato. It's easy eating, costing a cool $25 for almost all the mains. Not too shabby, folks.
We will miss the "have you got a ciggie" refrain as the gentrification of Smith Street marches on, but you can’t fight City Hall – especially not when the compensation is so damn tasty.