There are two things we know about Panama: Panama hats are in fact not from Panama (but rather Ecuador) and Panama is home to one of the most impressive engineering feats in the world, the Panama Canal. Hundreds of years later, and in Sydney’s Bondi, we’re thinking the construction of the canal was less of an enterprise than snagging a table at this beachside hotspot.
But unlike these, you can take a seat at Panama’s bar at 7am, starting with huevos rancheros for breakfast – spiced black beans, smoked salsa, poached egg and chipotle hollandaise with a tortilla –along with a Panama Mary (their version of a bloody Mary, with house-made V8 juice). Round off your day with late-night drinks (A Fresh Prince of Jalisco, perhaps?) and a side of sticky-as-hell New Orleans baby back ribs. Sounds like a pretty good day, really.
The food is a mix of North, Central and South America fare, with a lot of things done well. The Panama burger is a juicy two-handed affair with hanger steak, house pickles, Swiss cheese on a sweet, soft bun and served with a side of salty, hand-cut chips. The char-grilled corn is bursting with sweetness, while the crisp southern fried chicken with gumbo sauce, fried okra and corn bread is a fine rendition (although not as awesome as Sydney’s wing benchmark, Duke Bistro). The four house-made salsas, which arrive on your table with every order, are a great (spicy) touch.
But not everything hits the mark. The corned beef hash brown, while plump and generous in size, has a slightly unusual texture and taste, and on our breakfast visit our food is served on the cool side. Perhaps it's teething problems with the floor staff who seem to still be finding their feet – although good banter and attention to detail is always provided by owner Anthony Kaplan.
By day, the handsome narrow room is light and airy, and by night it’s bustling with people, many of them perched along the bar watching the drink-making action. The rest of the space is a mix of exposed brick, pendant lighting, a white tile splashback, a beautiful copper window frame and polished cement flooring.
The well-priced wine list rounds off the package, or for something a little stronger try the Sip, Sip’n’Swig – a mini Corona (cute!) with a shot of tequila and a verdita chaser of mint, coriander, jalapeño and pineapple juice. We’re thinking we could get used to this Panamanian lifestyle.