Merivale's latest pop-up is a far cry from its last one. There's no disco ball. No walk-in wine fridge. No thumping music. No tables on a driveway. For this one, the hospitality empire has gone slightly more highbrow, and has called in a Michelin-starred chef.
Heading up the outfit is Alastair Little, a chef considered by many to be "the godfather of modern British cooking". His eponymous restaurant Alastair Little was considered ground-breaking in the 80s, as one of the first of its kind to put the focus firmly on food.
So, what does this mean? Essentially, no gimmicky food trends, no decorated plates, no designer dining rooms, and definitely no fancy napkins folded into a swan. Just good, honest food. In a bowl. With a spoon.
The first hint that this might be a relatively relaxed affair is the location, upstairs from the rowdy CBD Hotel. The creamy-coloured dining room, which once belonged to Bistrode CBD, is light and spacious, filled with paper-topped tables lined in a row and the recipe for its chicken liver pâté is painted along one wall — but we'll get to that in a second.
The menu is just one printed sheet, listing a handful of French, and some Italian dishes. There's rump steak with fried potatoes ($40), an autumn vegetable minestrone ($18) and fish of the day with slow-roasted vine tomatoes ($35).
We make a smart move and order the potted Tuscan-style chicken liver and vin santo pâté ($18) that arrives preciously sealed under a lid of clarified butter. It's rich and meaty, with a hint of raisin fruitiness, cleverly paired with a scoop of not-too-sweet onion marmalade. If only they had left it out of the fridge to soften.
Then, a crown roast of duck ($38) revealing a shiny coat of honey and soy glaze and rosy flesh within, accompanied with a spongey apple and rosemary clafoutis.
Meanwhile, the bourride of seafood ($35) goes down swimmingly, with every bobbing crustacean, including, mussels, prawns and squid, steeped to succulence. It's greatly enhanced by a bowl of red garlicky rouille that jolts the fish broth back to life.
The food is both unfussed and delicious, however it's a shame the bill isn't quite so easy-going. Sydney certainly has a place for informal French dining, but how much it should cost you is another matter.
The pop-up does not yet have a closing date, but we recommend scheduling a visit sooner rather than later.
Images: Kopper Finch