Stepping into the timber hull of Woodland Kitchen & Bar, the warm and moody atmosphere exudes sophistication. But don't fear any upscale snoot here, the jeans-and-T-shirt clad staff create a friendly, casual vibe and are happy to help you navigate the menu, informed like they eat there every day. Taking over the old Pony Dining spot on Neutral Bay's Grosvenor Road, chef and new owner Damian Heads bought the place to offer expert yet accessible Modern Australian showcasing the simple flavours of his locally sourced produce.
There are plenty of temptations to start. Damian's signature dish, resurrected from the old Pony menu, the yellowfin tuna spring roll ($16) is a must-try. The sashimi-style tuna is flash fried so only the pastry outside is crisp, while the inside stays raw. The edamame mash is light and delicate and compliments the flavour of the tuna. If you feel like something a little more classic, the grilled ciabatta ($9.5) comes with a variety of olives and creamy whipped feta I want to take home and spread every day on my morning toast.
But don't fill up on too many starters, as the hearty mains are just as appetising. Cooked in Woodland's woodfire grill using slow-burning charcoal and iron bark logs, the steaks need barely any seasoning. The dry aged sirloin 350g ($38) needs just a squeeze of lemon to bring out its deep, smoky flavours. Pig out on the pork cutlet ($32), with kipfler potatoes, speck, pea sauce and a crackling twirl on top; it's a flavour overload but it'll be hard not to scrape the plate clean. For any lovers of bacon, this is the obvious choice. For something on the lighter side, the seared scallop salad with green pawpaw, cucumber, chilli, lime and peanuts ($22) or the woodfire-grilled salmon with pickled beetroot, orange, feta, mint ($28) are just as good options.
The dessert menu is just as hard to choose from, offering classics like vanilla creme brulee ($12.50) or the devilish caramel and chocolate tart, served with double cream and honeycomb ($14.50). For a tipple the wine list is ample and varied, or if you're feeling fancy, the cocktail list has all the favourites necessary for a good girls' night.
Bringing proven experience and delicate finesse to the Modern Australian grill, Heads has turned this spot into a comfortable and versatile place to eat, relax, catch up and still impress.