It seems four venues weren't enough for the team behind Salt Meats Cheese, arguably one of Sydney's most popular gourmet providores. Following openings in Mosman, Parramatta, Drummoyne (in conjunction with Harris Farm) and Surfers Paradise, earlier this year they expanded once again with another outpost just off Broadway. This one steps away from the retail side of things, and switches the focus on dining in for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The venue's floor-to-ceiling windows make it look very beautiful from Bay Street. You can see people grazing on pizza and twirling pasta with a cocktail in hand under a golden hue of candlelight. Fitted out with exposed bricks, white tiled tabletops, an open kitchen and fake foliage, it looks quaint and cosy. From the outset it seems romantic, but, once inside the small space, it doesn't take long for the romance to fade.
With the spotlight on dining in at the Broadway venue, the service is surprisingly light-on. Even with several waitstaff on the floor, you still have to order up at the bar. This is fine at the pub, but at a restaurant that wants you to indulge in all things as delicious as salt, meat and cheese? Not so much. The confined space means that tables are cramped and there's little room to move; with staff floating around, long waits between meals and dishes that never get cleared, it's all just a bit of a kerfuffle. Especially when everyone sitting in the middle of the room has to shuffle their tables back and forth to make way for the flaming cheese wheel trolley.
And yes, you read correctly. Every Wednesday night is Flaming Cheese Wheel Night. That sees the SMC team pour a shot of brandy into a huge Parmigiano-Reggiano wheel, which is lit on fire and then filled with cooked pasta, which then gets tossed through the melted cheese. The spectacle is amazing and quite entertaining to watch, but, when our serving arrived ($25 per person), each mouthful was like knocking back a glass of brandy — presumably because there was too much alcohol left in the wheel from previous orders. However, we've heard that others have had better scoops of the cheese wheel, so it could be dependant on which night you visit. Give it a go if you're up for a gamble, otherwise we'd give it a miss and order from the regular menu.
Instead, we'd recommend the pappardelle with braised lamb ragu, gremolata, burnt orange, pecorino and thyme ($23) — it's superb. The pasta is cooked al dente, and the succulent lamb drenched in a tomato sauce made this the dish of the evening — especially when served alongside a refreshing pre-made elderflower spritz cocktail ($16.50) in a cute corked jar. The same praise can't be given for the black lobster pizza ($27) on a squid ink base. Topped with fontina, fior di latte, garlic oil and thyme, it reads like a dream, but the lobster lacked in flavour and the base was so soggy it fell apart on the plate.
SMC also serve burgers (which hardly fits the Italian-themed menu) and has a DJ playing evening beats from Thursday to Sunday nights. On the whole, there seems like there's too much happening at an eatery that was built around the basics of salt, meat and cheese. Luckily, we're big fans of those three things — so we'll keep visiting the group's venues for that reason.