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A new owner, new chef, fresh coat of paint and a few old favourites make everyone a winner at this Darlinghurst haunt.

The waiter insists that they have actually installed more lightening, but new owner Mike Manassen’s makeover of the Victoria Room has left this place decidedly moody. And I don’t mean cigarette haze and dank carpets; this is a modern take on classic styling with a healthy lick of navy paint that points it in the direction of Daniel Craig’s Tom Ford suit.

To old fans of this Darlinghurst mainstay, the layout will be familiar at the very least; the bar looks more or less in tact and (minus the notable lack of white linen) there is a strong sense of continuity to the floor. But my god if it doesn’t feel a whole lot sexier— the Victoria Room has evolved from the definitive in comfortable feminine drinking to a date spot for those looking to impress.

Open up the drinks menu and breath a sigh of relief — the breadth and detail of the Victoria Room’s cocktail list continues to make skipping a pre-dinner drink borderline rude, or at the very least misguided. Bar manager Luke Hanzlicek doesn’t shy away from the theatrical side with the Beetnik cocktail (Bookers Bourbon, Punt e Mes, house-made beetroot and raspberry shrub) smoked in a vintage decanter at the table, and the-tiki-treat-for-a-new-era the Space Monkey (Angostura 1919, Banana liqueur, yellow Chartreuse, falernum, pineapple and lime juice) gets a friendly table-side blowtorching (both coming in at $21 a pop).

The wine list is similarly set to impress, with the perfect aperitif/oyster match in the 2012 La Zona Aneis ($61 a bottle). If you are sticking to the glass, try out the 2010 Bantry Grove Chardonnay from Orange ($12.50/glass).

In keeping with this fresh wave of pheromones, the oysters are a must-have. Head chef Samuel Cheetham serves up Sydney Rocks or Pacific ($4 each) — depending on what is best on the day — with a Campari granita that you will be spooning up once the oysters are finished and then telling your friends about. Follow that up with a charcuterie board ($24) boasting salumi, wagyu bresaola, jamon and prosciutto di Parma before you move into the mains proper. Or try out the mahi-mahi and scallop ceviche for further proof that a well ripened avocado takes any dish to the next level ($19). It is tapas style dining in as much as you are best off sharing, but don’t imagine that you will be staring down two meatballs with a $35 price tag — no one is leaving the Victoria Room hungry.

Cheetham took over from long term chef Joe Gambacorta a few months ago, and his mains should assuage any of your metathesiophobic tendencies. On the waiter’s suggestion, slow roasted pork belly with sweet mustard glaze ($28) came accompanied by roast potatoes with smoked sour cream, preserved lemon and shallots ($14) and roasted cauliflower, charred peppers, almonds and white anchovies ($14).

Honestly, I trust that the rest of the menu is equally delicious, but I’m not sure that I could go past ordering this trio again. The potatoes had me wax lyrical — until the cauliflower arrived and opening my mouth for anything other than a freshly stacked-up fork seemed impossible — and having to forgo the last pieces of pork to leave room for dessert was enough to warrant an apology to our waiter. It was that good. Wash it down with a bottle of ‘the Cabernets’ ($59) from wine legend A. Retief, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and malbec, and you could even impress yourself.

On the other side of all that, we were scanning the dessert list for something light, fresh and fruity. Enter semi-frozen mango and yoghurt, passionfruit, liquorice and sumac ($17). The burgundy and tartness of the Middle Eastern spice balanced out the dessert in taste and appearance, rounding out the evening with aplomb. If you find yourself in the mood for a little more decadence, lash out and order a couple of glasses of the 2008 Cookoothama Botrytis Semillon for $13 a glass to accompany your dessert.

All in all, head to the Victoria Room for some old-world charm without that second-hand smell.

Published on May 08 , 2012 by Ruby Lennon

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