There's been some confusion of late about what makes a restaurant 'retro'. Classic French fine dining has been copping a fair whack of the stick but really, nothing has dated faster than molecular gastronomy. Nitrogens, gels and anything involving the word ‘degrees’ were everywhere you looked a couple of years back. While Sydney's fine diners are now plundering local parks and beaches foraging for ingredients, techniques using liquid nitrogen and thermoregulators have filtered into neighbourhood restaurants like Graze.
This little place on Harris Street doesn’t do tablecloths, only has a few wines on the list (BYO is $5 corkage and we highly recommend you make a trip to Ultimo Wine Centre on the way) and, for the type of food they're offering here, keeps the prices way down (entrees are around $12–$15 and mains don’t teeter past $26).
There’s a lot of technique for technique’s sake on the menu. Happily, though, there are no inverted comma 'foods'. The jamon toasty ($14) involves two tiny little toasted cheese and ham sandwiches served with a plastic, milk carton-shaped container filled with a warm creamed-cauliflower soup (they're calling it a milkshake) on the side. The only problem is trying to suck it through the paper straw, which collapses when the heat hits it. The kitchen might want to look at metal or plastic if they’re really committed to the idea.
Smoked chicken croquettes ($12) are little balls of mash mixed with shreds of smoked chicken and strips of pancetta, crumbed and deep fried. They don’t really need the basil mayonnaise, which is overly lemony and under-seasoned. Some of the flavours in general are questionable – tonka bean and scallop, vanilla mayo – and there’s a sweet, perfumed astringency that kind of jangles with the ingredients. There’s better success with the slow-cooked Dandenong lamb ($22), which is firm-yet-tender and served with braised peas and a carrot puree.
Desserts need work. A nitrogen-poached chocolate fondant ($14) is more of a frozen chocolate pudding lump than the inside-out fondant it's meant to be and while super-fine shavings of mint and vanilla ice ($10) are fresh and lively, the slices of peach served with it are not quite ripe or sweet enough to do battle with the excellent granita.
There's obviously skill in the kitchen here, but the folks at Graze might benefit from stepping away from the chemistry set and spend more time concentrating on good old-fashioned cooking.