74-76 Commonwealth St
Surry Hills, NSW 2010
Nothing tastes as good as a celebratory meal, and oh do I have reason to be celebrating today. After barely 3 years out of university, Chris (aka my other half) has been promoted to a senior software developer! He’s of course stoked, and don’t tell him I said this because he’s already had so many congratulations that he’s running the risk of getting a big head, but I’m also completely thrilled – for him, and for this excellent excuse to splash out on dinner at Poly.
This may seem unfair to every wine bar and restaurant ever, but I’ve been looking for something to replace the huge Embla-shaped void in my heart ever since leaving Melbourne. As it turns out, Sydney isn’t much of a wine bar city, but that’s not to say it’s a complete wasteland. After some careful research, I found Poly, which seemed very promising indeed. It boasts a walk-in policy (though there is a small number of tables set aside from reservations of 2 or more), an ever-changing menu of small plates powered by a wood fire, and a unique drinks list that’s described by people more in-the-know than me as ‘biodynamic, organic, natural, and global’.
As other reviewers have pointed out, try as they might to insist that they are a wine bar, Poly is much more of a barstaurant, similar to the likes of Cumulus Inc. But that’s not a bad thing; I’m a big fan of the hybrid, which has all the casual comforts of a wine bar, without losing the more refined dining experience of a restaurant.
You know what restaurants should do more of? Gourmet soft drinks. As a usually-non-alcohol drinker, it’s a total bummer when I feel like something nice to sip on with my meal, because usually alcohol is the only way to go. But not at Poly; their house-made Orange and Rose Soda ($7) was utterly scrumptious, the soft florals gently running over the brightness of the citrus, with just a little bit of fizz added in to make it feel extra special.
Whilst we perused the menu, we were served up a dish of Popped Buckwheat, fragrant with anise, to nibble on. This is where I will also take a moment to comment on the service. Up to this point, it has been borderline appalling; not only did our waiter seem completely disinterested and neglected to explain any of the menu to us, he left our table before I had even finished speaking to him, and was just generally difficult to get a hold of all night. I wouldn’t have even known that this was popped buckwheat had I not read other people’s reviews before my visit.
I’ve loved the combination of Tomatoes and Anchovies ($3ea) ever since I’d been introduced to it at MoVida, and this tapa of cherry tomato speared with plump anchovies was a little blast of sweet, salty, and sour in the mouth – perfect for waking up the tastebuds before a long meal.
I may have been a bit bummed about the service so far, but this Garlic Bread ($8) was all I needed to feel better. Drenched in garlic butter, this massive golden ingot of bread was cooked over the wood fire until it was hot and crunchy on the outside, with a crust of cheese baked into the top, whilst leaving the centre moist and fluffy. But that’s not even the full story; the sheer gloriousness of this bread was elevated to the next level with a dish of smoked butter, adding another layer of woodsy fragrance (not to mention extra richness) to the already intoxicating flavours.
Let’s take another look at it shall we? It’s just so damned good, and I just love bread so damned much!
The garlic bread was a near-impossible act to follow, but thankfully the Beetroot and Burrata ($15) was such a different entity altogether that you just can’t make the comparison. The cold roasted beetroot was delicious, its bold, earthy sweetness mellowed out by the oozy ball of creamy burrata. It may have been a simple dish, but the high-quality ingredients meant that nothing more was needed to make it shine.
Just as indulgent as the garlic bread was the savoury Waikato Gouda Donut ($15). Think a long, golden churro curled up and fried to perfection, but instead of cinnamon sugar, it’s encrusted with a middle-eastern-influenced spice mix, and filled with a soft, cheesy dough that melts in the mouth. It’s super rich and probably one to share, but it’s definitely too good not to finish every last morsel of.
I was slightly disappointed by the relative lack of seafood on the menu when I visited, but calling the Sweet and Sour Lamb Ribs ($18) a consolation prize would be unfair. This was a dish that fully showcased the potential of the wood fire in the kitchen; blushingly pink in the centre with a smoky charred crust, this was the most well-cooked lamb I’ve ever had, so tender and full of flavour without any hint of gaminess. The sweet and sour seasoning was bold enough to contest the richness of the meat without overwhelming its flavour, and the surprising hint of heat at the end left me keen for more. Alas, if I wasn’t so full!
Of course, I may have been full, but I’m never too full for dessert. I spotted the Smoked Milk Ice Cream, Whipped Honey ($15) on my first pass over the menu, and mentally marked it down to order then and there. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve never had anything like this before. The combination of milky ice cream, a caramel-like sauce that’s been infused with the very essence of woodsmoke, and warm whipped honey with the texture of marshmallow fluff, was so unexpected that it took me almost halfway through the bowl to wrap my head around it. It completely threw me with just how much it tasted exactly like the smell of a marshmallow roasting over a campfire. This is a must-order for sure; not only because it tastes good, but also just for the sheer bizarreness of the experience.
In comparison, the Grilled Strawberries, Plums, Umeshu ($15) is a very frank and guileless dish indeed. The last berries and stone fruits of the season were grilled over the wood fire, bringing to mind everything good in summer – beach sunsets, backyard cookouts, and giant bowls of fruit, plump and warm in the sunshine.
I had been worried about Poly not being as good as it appeared on paper, but it lived up to my expectations, and then some. To be sure, it’s certainly not quite the same as the Melbourne wine bars that I’m used to, but it falls under the same umbrella with its beautifully made and deceptively simple food. If I had one gripe (other than the service, which did not pick up throughout the entire meal), it would be that despite the seasonal and ever-changing menu, the choice of ingredients and cooking methods made the food feel less fresh and produce-driven than it could have been. I will admit that Poly is not quite as stunning as Embla, but it is very, very good.
Rating: 16/20 – polyamory.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.