Suffer stodgy Italian and average Vietnamese no more, Newtown. Bloodwood, the brand new restaurant from ex-Claude's chefs Jo Ward, Claire van Vuuren and Mitch Grady is open. Bridging the gap between Thai food at Bank and a nine-course molecular journey Oscillate Wildly, it's a very welcome addition to the Inner West.
Though Bloodwood (named for the native tree, not the Orange winery) has only been open a couple of days, it's already full. Designed by local architect Matt Woods, the majority of the space has been built using recycled and reclaimed materials from the vintage chairs upstairs, to the massive sleepers framing parts of the open kitchen downstairs. Look up and you'll see coloured doors of all shapes and sizes flush against the ceiling. Exposed bright orange pipes snake their way up the walls and the massive light sculpture downstairs looks like something out of a Michel Gondry clip. If it's a warm night, bags a seat on to the massive open balcony.
Don't expect a fine diner when you visit - it's not that kind of place. Instead, you'll find a neighbourhood restaurant bashing out share plates such as fried chicken wings so meaty and crisp they'd make the colonel jealous. They're served with light, tangy yoghurt remoulade. You'll also find plenty of vegetarian options on the menu, some better than others. The vadai (dhal fritters with green chilli and tamarind chutney) are reminiscent of the veggie burger pucks you find in health food restaurants. But you'll also find the best polenta chips in town here, all golden and super crunchy, with a gutsy gorgonzola dipping sauce on the side.
It's far from curtains for protein fans, though. Jo Ward's time with legendary Australian chef Cheong Liew shows in dishes such as the mix of pork, crab and shiitake mushroom wrapped in bean curd skin, fried then cut into rounds. The result is juicy and rich yet incredibly light and very moreish - especially when paired with a Manhattan on the rocks. Speaking of drinks, the cocktail list is short, sweet and simple (Bloody Marys, Manhattans, Martinis) but the wine list needs depth. Still, it's reasonably priced and it's not that much of a mission digging up something you'll be happy drinking. Did we mention they serve longies of Coopers?
It's all about sharing here and the food is fantastic for groups. Larger dishes such as the lamb kibbeh - missiles of spiced lamb mince blanket a dice of merguez sausage on a bed of eggplant - or the sweet-as-a nut king prawns with garlic and lemon. If you were dining solo, you could certainly order the likes of the grilled squid salad with radicchio and green olives, which also works well as a bar snack.
Dessert wise, go the Bloodwood trifle - a handsome hunk of pound cake with a scattering of blueberries, rhubarb jelly and pomegranate granita - all served in a stemless wine glass.
Take two for Newtown. It's on the brink of a major explosion. Get into it.