I have many fond memories from the old East Village Hotel, so stepping inside the newly renovated pub made me wonder if my experience was going to be more like watching Mark Steven Johnson's Daredevil, or Christopher Nolan's Batman. Would the new venue simply be a continuation of the old venue? Or had the guys behind Goodtime Hospitality endeavoured to shine a fresh, new light on an old classic?
The renovation really has resulted in a complete facelift for the Darlinghurst stalwart, with a sleek wine bar downstairs leading up to the plush and cosy Athletics Club, and finally winding upstairs to the coveted Terrace, where we set up shop for the evening. Just going by face value, I was definitely leaning more towards Christian Bale's husky performance than Ben Affleck's subdued and dulcet tones.
The Terrace is surrounded by a veritable cornucopia of ferns and flowers, and simple, white furniture smattered around the place helps to instil the feeling of watching the sun set from a beachfront bar on the Mediterranean coast, or escaping to Mexico for a few moments. It's bright, breezy and welcoming — perfect for any upcoming summer shindigs.
The menu on the Terrace (which is different to the public bar downstairs) is designed to be shared, with four dishes being the recommended serving size for two healthy adults. Not being healthy or entirely convinced I'm an adult, we ordered five dishes and pre-committed to dessert. But first, a cocktail to take the edge off.
There's an extensive list on offer, with 13 drinks making the permanent menu. On top of that, there's a selection of four cocktails that rotate monthly, with each month having a themed holiday from which to draw inspiration. This month, it's a holiday in Mexico, so I treat myself to the Dryquiri, a mix of mezcal, bitters, passionfruit and lime ($19). The classic daiquiri is a drink that's super easy to make, but it's equally as easy to get very, very wrong. In this case, swapping rum out for mezcal pays off, lending a delicious smokiness that blends surprisingly well with the passionfruit, and the zest of the lime cuts through the cocktail to make a really balanced drink. Another notable inclusion on the list is the mango margarita, made with tequila, lime, mango and dressed with a chilli salt that will kick you in the teeth and demand that you say 'thank you'. Which you will, because manners.
The first dish to arrive is the seared scallop salad, one of the night's specials made with fresh papaya and crab. Now, although it's a special dish and won't be on the menu again any time soon, this dish is worth mentioning because it just exemplifies how the chefs are able to deal with such a diverse menu with relative ease. This salad is incredible, with the scallops cooked to perfection, not overly seasoned, and each of the ingredients bringing a different texture to make a light, fresh and flavoursome salad that you could most definitely make friends with.
For the lovers of meat and salty fish, the rare-grilled veal with anchovies and caperberries ($24) is a clear winner. Presented like a classic carpaccio, the thinly sliced veal lines the plate, with the extra goodies dotted artistically around it. The anchovies aren't overly salty, plus the caperberries provide a salty kick of their own; overall, the dish is very balanced. Some of this brininess, though, could have gone on the carpaccio of red and golden beetroot with quail eggs, watercress and horseradish ($22), which was a pleasing mix of colours and textures, but a little salt could have improved the flavour profile to no end.
The final two savoury dishes really hit the spot, with an escabeche of seared fish ($24) and the salted cod croquettes ($15) rounding out the main portion of the meal like absolute champions. The Latin American-style of marinated fish is served with a slew of pickled veggies and a touch of saffron, both of which add a new dimension to a seared fillet of fish. The vinegar of the pickles slightly overpowers the distinct flavour of the fish, but not in a way that is unenjoyable — it's just a little different. Then, the croquettes. Most people who've ever tasted a croquette have subsequently acquired a deep love for them, and the Terrace's homage to the classic deep-fried, potato fish ball doesn't disappoint. They're crunchy on the outside, soft and crumbly on the inside, and the cod flavour is delicate and subtle, especially when paired with a zesty aioli. Ten out of ten would order again.
When reopening a much loved venue, there are quite a few boxes you have to tick to get you locals back on side. Great décor that makes you feel like you're on a little mini-holiday? Check. Delicious food that fits the theme of the venue? Check. A varied drinks menu with a little something for everyone? Check. And, finally, floor staff that are friendly, efficient and attentive to every table, all at the same time? You'd better believe that's a check.
It had been a long time since I'd visited the East Village and, as I sip the last few dregs of a crisp German Riesling and polish off the last of the hot donuts with cardamom, orange and honey ($10), I relinquish all cynicism and finally give in. The East Village is definitely Batman Begins.
UPDATE, JUNE 24, 2018: For Sydneysiders looking for something different to do in the cold weather, East Village has transformed its rooftop terrace into a European-esque winter garden — complete with fairy lights brightening up the night, lambswool throws making the place cosy and a fireplace to sit around. Running for the duration of winter, it also features a monthly-changing menu, with hearty minestrone, stacked German-style bratwurst, gluhwein and an indulgent hot toddy currently on offer. The latter comes with Chivas 12 Jameson Black Barrel, Santis Malt Alpine Whiskey, bitters, sugar and smoke.