Justin North is a busy man. He's got fine diner Bécasse, sandwich shop Plan B and now Etch, located at the InterContinental Hotel.
Headed up by chefs James Metcalfe and Tristan Robertson, it's like your classic bistro with a Spanish twist and a focus on local produce. Share a bunch of appetisers like their play on sardines on toast - vintage sardines (yes, really - ours date to 2007) with a tiny dice of green apple and shards of crispbread, or the very pretty deep-fried goat's cheese balls on a little puddle of vanilla and lavender honey - they sound more like dessert than dinner, but they really work. And don't miss the skate knobs (little bits of chopped up skate wing, battered and deep fried) served in a paper cone with lemon and caper aioli.
If there's one thing you eat here, make it the incredibly floral sweetcorn and blue swimmer crab soup enriched with sherry cream – a marvel from first spoonful till last. Once you've come down from your soup high, there's the prawn cocktail with the world's tastiest prawn toast – a double prawn stock is dried out then sprinkled on to the crisp bread – or confit duck croquettes with sauce gribiche, a great sharing proposition. Double plus yay for the daily specials like Monday's lobster omelette or Wednesday's roast rib of beef served with super silky mash, slices of asparagus, a scattering of broad beans and garnished with crisp fried celery leaf. If you're heading in on a Thursday, there's roast suckling pig replete with golden crackling and a pile of greens. Mercy.
Don't like the day of the week dictating your diet? Try the fish and chips – beer-battered flathead is served on a little wooden board with a little bucket of chips that are deep fried in beef dripping. Oh, hell yes. Or go the slow-roasted saltbush lamb with zucchini, beans, carrot and capsicum, topped with a quenelle of crushed potato. And if you're up for a bit of carb loading, order the fried Provencal potatoes with prosciutto and garlic mayo - an Atkins devotee's worst nightmare and absolutely unreal.
Desinged by Mima Design, the room sees an open plan dining space with white walls, arched windows and the odd whimsical touch like teeny winged light bulbs, antique mannequins, bird-shaped bowls of feathers and drum-shaped lampshades, each with a different silk print as well as a sheer laced curtained area for private dining.
The wine list is incredibly well priced with plenty available by carafe - you could potentially get away with spending as little as $30 if you're on the austerity drive. That said, you also have the opportunity to spend big with some real heavy hitters gracing the list.
Our picks for dessert are all of them. But if you have to chooose just one, it should be either the caramel date tart with burnt butter ice cream and earl grey tea syrup - incredibly rich, not too sweet and simply presented - or the Catalan creamed rice. A perfect balance of flavour and texture, the latter involves a blob of reduced custard that takes on an almost gummy (in a good way) texture joined by creamed calasparra rice and a slash of orange marmalade. For comfort food kicked up a million notches, try the banana and mango sherry trifle - the perfect summer dessert.
This restaurant is the best thing to have happened to Sydney dining in some time - it's reasonably priced, the food is cranking and the service is top notch. Get there now. Myffy Rigby