A Balmain restaurant pairing smoky South American meats with a drinks list worthy of a cocktail bar.
If smoky charcoal meats paired with a notable international wine list has your interest piqued, venture off the usual Darling Street drag in Balmain. There you'll find The Provincial, a restaurant that is serving up South American food with a heavy French accent.
This cross-cultural food baby comes from real influences; the two owners (who are also brothers) travelled to South America to learn the art of charcoaling before partnering with a French chef and sommelier to develop the menu. As a result, smoky meats cooked on a woodfire charcoal parilla make up the mains, but entrees fly the French flag, making their mark with a mix of more intricate flavours.
The Sydney rock oysters topped with passionfruit and ginger jelly, fennel and salmon roe ($18-34) strike the right balance between sweet and savoury. In contrast, the scallops with sunchoke purée, watermelon, radish, chicken crackling and hazelnut vinaigrette lack the flavour you'd expect to get from all those additions ($17).
The Provincial's use of quality produce and the smoky flavours from the parilla do much of the leg-work with the mains. Rally a friend and order the one-kilogram T-bone with Café de Paris butter and spiced salt rub ($89) or, if you're looking for something to hit the sweet spot, the Berkshire pork chop with charred fig and burnt spring onion vinaigrette is rich without being decadently so ($30). Although the charcoal meats are the main event, a serving of salt-baked beetroots with pickled strawberry, almond and ricotta salata (that's hard, salted ricotta) or a potato cake with bell pepper sauce and aioli doesn't go astray (both $9).
Where the French flair really comes to light is on the cocktail list. The Boulevardier with Bulleit rye, Campari and vermouth ($17) is the kind of cocktail you can sit on for an entire meal. It's similar to a Negroni, but has a much more subtle taste that makes for really easy drinking. Likewise, The Botanic Garden with gin, St Germain elderflower liqueur, mint and lemon is light and refreshing and something you could drain glass after glass of.
In fact, The Provincial's drinks list is a drawcard in its own right. The wine list is predominantly international and boasts some interesting drops the sommelier can talk you through. The Lorca Fantasia from Mendoza, for instance, is sweet on the nose — similar to a dessert wine — but surprisingly crisp and clean to taste. And, again, something you can sit on for the whole night.
For a twist on the usual whisky nightcap, try The Reid single malt vodka from New Zealand. From one of only two places in the Southern Hemisphere that make malted vodka, the unique spirit becomes sweeter on the palate and smoother on the tongue when served on ice compared to straight-up. If you're open to surprises, try them both.