‘Push on.’ It’s the attitude chef James Parry learnt while working at Mugaritz – the famously progressive restaurant in the Basque country where the message is printed on the wall of the kitchen (it’s much longer in Basque). "When we were all crying, chef Andoni Aduriz would point to the sign on the wall," Parry tells us. He’s now got it tattooed on his forearm.
And it’s what Parry and Daniel Puskas do at their 36 seat Inner West restaurant. There’ll always be room in Sydney for the fine-dining behemoths fed by deep-pocketed backers. But it’s places like Sixpenny that can bob and weave between the lines, to the point where even their chefs change on the second Sunday lunch of each month. Sunday's 'Sixpenny and Co' is when Parry and Puskas collaborate with some of the country’s most interesting chefs. They've had Melbourne sugar tycoon Pierre Roelofs and Hobart’s favourite natural wine nerd and chef Luke Burgess, just to name two. That creative freedom bleeds into everything they do. And they don’t even have tablecloths.
The biggest change to Sixpenny in the past year or so has been the wine, which has gone from a modest and not-that-food-friendly all-NSW showing to a really vibrant, snappy and excitingly drinkable list from sommelier Sebastian Crowther, fresh from the Royal Mail in Victoria. There’s still local stuff on there, mind, it’s just that it’s scattered amongst rock-star names like Equipo Navasos, Dario Princic and Guiseppe Cortese. It was the final piece of an otherwise delicious puzzle. Best of all, Crowther’s operating from a big stylish wine consul in the middle of the room that looks not unlike a sexy wooden TARDIS. (Insert your own 'wine lord' joke here, readers).
The seven-or-so course menu is still very produce-and-tweezers driven, with most dishes delivered to the table by the chefs. Though for the first time since they launched, all the veg has been grown on their farm just outside Mittagong. There might be a fun-sized English muffin filled with a semi-sweet green tomato marmalade made from tomatoes they grew themselves, or it could be some hella vinegary kipfler potato-chip cellophane. Or maybe it’s a simple piece of char-grilled fennel laid next to a baby leek dusted with apple powder.
Puskas and Parry seldom go for the easy mark – they're not suckers for big hunks of protein, or creamy sauces and they don't always go for perfect acid balance. But they also understand the joys of a piece of good hot bread and nice butter ('Bob', the starter for their sourdough, has travelled with the guys ever since their early days together at Oscillate Wildly). That's also not to say that every now and then you can't break out the holy eff reaction by serving lightly grilled hangar steak covered in whipped lardo with a side of fried turnip and a grilled onion. F.U.C.K.
Sixpenny is no flash-in-the-pan. It’s earnest, but Puskas and Parry aren’t crying in the soup. They’re cooking at an extremely high level, backed by a polished team out the front who work the room with an assuredness that only comes from years of working in great restaurants. When you’re eating a perfect piece of steamed bass grouper bathed in stinging nettle sauce listening to Andrew Bird, the National and Alabama Shakes in a room as at home in '60s Denmark as it is in Stanmore 2013, you suddenly become very aware of what a restaurant could, and should, be. It’s this.