In movies set in the Caribbean, there's invariably that one effortlessly cool scene in a smoky bar where the characters sip spiced rum, listen to samba and are all slightly sweaty. Upon watching said scene, you promise that when you've got the ticket money you'll quit your day job, move to Cuba and get low with all those attractive individuals. But now you don't have to, because Hotel Harry, the new eatery that's unassumingly tucked away in Surry Hills, will totally satisfy all your needs to be an extra in a Caribbean gangster movie.
Located on the corner of Goulburn Street and Wentworth Avenue, the century-old Macquarie Hotel building has been so beautifully restored that upon entering you immediately forget you're mere minutes from the CBD. With the wicker chairs, hand-painted Cuban detailing and sweet tunes, Hotel Harry's downstairs room Harpoon Harry is the perfect lunchtime destination for those looking to momentarily escape the daily grind. The upstairs restaurant, Paladar, is even more genteel.
Head chef Paul Wilson has designed a menu comprised of distinctly Nuevo Latino food, celebrating locally sourced fresh produce, delicately enhanced with vibrant flavours and aromatic spices. Drawing on his extensive knowledge of authentic Latin cuisine, Wilson endeavours to reinvigorate the traditional foods of the Aztecs and colonial Spaniards.
The cocktails are designed to immediately get you in the zone, with tequila, spiced rum and bright citrus flavours. There's the classic dark 'n' stormy and pisco sour and our favourite, the Paloma, a refreshing blend of tequila, sparkling grapefruit, lemon bitters and spiced rum. The good news is the cocktails are only $12, so if you're feeling particularly adventurous (or you don't have important reasons to get out of bed the next day), you can try them all.
The food is designed for communal dining; there's house-smoked almonds and olives marinated in orange and cinnamon to kickstart your spice tolerance, and if you're keen for something hotter, there's sweet potato bravas ($12), roughly cut sweet potato roasted until golden and drizzled with fiery chipotle and smooth sesame sauce. We recommend the wood-roasted eggplant ($18), baked until the flesh is so creamy it can barely maintain its form, and adorned with sweet bursts of ruby red pomegranate, fresh greens and light queso. It comes served with goat's crema and an ancient grain salad of faro, corn and quinoa and lightly blanched vegetables. Yum.
The real money is in the smoked meats (sorry vegetarians). Hotel Harry actually has a custom-designed indirect wood smoked barbacoa for slow cooking meat the traditional South American way (it's where we get the word 'barbecue'). All the meats are sustainable and locally sourced, and are cooked for hours over aromatic woods, rendering the barbacoa so damn tender you could cut it with your pinky.
There's pork barbacoa ($25) served with a dark, sticky mole and served in a warm terracotta ramekin with pickled vegetables and soft corn tortillas. But our favourite was the slow cooked beef brisket ($25), which comes with enough glistening slices of the most tender spiced beef for two to share and is served with a piece of fried bread, so you can mop up all those wayward juices. It really is an edible ode to meat.
Hotel Harry is bringing the vibrancy of Latin dining to the city, and it's not stopping at its own door. The venue is soon to add a street-side servery window, so you can palm your Cubano and be on your merry.