Sip or Smoke? The choice is yours at NOLA Smokehouse.
Here we go again. Another week, another new Barangaroo restaurant. It would seem this precinct can do no wrong, drawing in a slew of hungry patrons almost effortlessly. On any given day, the landscape is electric, corporates and enthusiastic foodies marching the length Wulugul Walk like zealous salmon swimming up stream. Where will they dine today? Do they dare eat at the same place twice? “What about NOLA Smokehouse?” They ask feverishly.
New Orleans Louisiana, affectionally coined NOLA Smokehouse and Bar, marks one of the latest additions to the strip. Located on Level One of Tower One Barangaroo South, this 270 seater restaurant makes you feel like you’re floating above Pyrmont’s Jones Bay Wharf.
Wicker chairs and white shutters conjure an image of the visually striking homes you’ll find in a New Orleans neighbourhood. Freshening up the fit out are an array of hanging ferns; a turquoise floor mimicking the sunniest of Southern skies. This vibrant colour composition sets the mood as you first enter the foyer. What may put you off however are the stone-faced hostesses skulking around in tight bandage dresses. The thought of stuffing your faces with smoked meats suddenly feels that little less appealing.
If a sit down meal is on the agenda, be sure to first take a look at the bar. Neatly tucked around the corner is a bar championing over 500+ American whiskies with limited edition and hard-to-find single bottles being added to the list every week. Leading business operations is NOLA General Manager Pete Fischer. You’re not going crazy if the name sounds familiar, as Fischer also owns New Orleans-style small bar, The Swinging Cat. His passion for and knowledge of imported spirits is all too clear. Talking about the whiskies at NOLA, he explains:
“The range of spirits is growing so rapidly that we’ve been reprinting the list every week. Our bar staff are walking encyclopaedias and it makes sense to utilise their experience and passion for the products. We encourage customers to have a chat with the staff, tell them what they like and they’ll either find it or suggest a spirit based on their preferences. Our regulars now know to ask what’s new in that week and they love it”
Cocktails play a huge part in the New Orleans drinking culture and classics such as the Sazerac (cognac, Peychaud, Gomme, Absinthe $19), Hurricane (Bacardi Carta Fuego, Cachaça, Jamaican rum, passionfruit, pomegranate, orange $20) and Grasshopper (Eristoff Vodka, Branca Menta, cacao liqueur, cream $18) make for a solid starting point at NOLA.
We care for the classically Southern concoction – the Ramos Gin Fizz ($18) made with gin, citrus, cream, orange blossom and fizz. While gin, cream and egg whites might seem like a peculiar mix, Henry C. Ramos knew he was onto something when he concocted this now infamous cocktail back in 1888. Served tall, it’s silky texture glides down the throat, it’s light carbonation tingles the tongue. Would we order it again? We’re not so sure, but this creamy gin drink certainly has our minds ticking over.
The rich culinary history of New Orleans makes for a melting pot of cuisines including French, Spanish, Mexican, South American and North Africa. NOLA Smokehouse offers a restrained interpretation. There’s certainly no Gumbo, Jamalaya or Poy Boys on the menu. Rather, you find a heavy smoked meats focus with a light peppering of seafood dishes. Classify yourself as vegetarian? Go somewhere else.
If you’re a party of two, expect to pay premium dollar for modestly sized mains including the Fillet Steak Au Poivre ($38) and Red Gurnard with Mexican chorizo, clam and shellfish bouillabaisse and rouille ($35). Larger groups are encouraged to dive into pricey sharing style options including the 1.2kg dry aged Jack’s Creek Cote De Boeuf ($140) and 12 hour braised Melanda Park pork neck ($58).
Before your meal begins, it’s encouraging to find however that the boring bread basket is banished. In it’s place, weighty hunks of warm Jalapeño corn bread are guaranteed to awaken your tastebuds ($2 pp).
On the small plates and entree menu are crowd pleasers like rock and pacific oysters ($4.5 each, 1/2 dozen $25 and dozen $48) served either natural, in an aged red wine and eschalot vinaigrette or chipotle Bloody Mary style. For a more decadent encounter, order the Oysters Rockefeller made with Ricard, watercress, chervil, garlic, lemon and buttery brioche crumbs (1/2 dozen $25 or dozen $48). Served warm, you can taste the earthiness of the watercress contrasted against the acidity or the lemon. The brioche crumbs are butter laden and delicious. Thankfully, with all these added flavours, you can still taste the ocean – the flavour of the fresh oysters is certainly not lost.
A not-so-Southern but nonetheless pleasant starter is the Hiramasa Kingfish Pastrami ($25) served with pomegranate, heirloom tomato, creme fraiche, nasturtiums and rye crumbs. The Kingfish sashimi is lovely and fresh, cleverly contrasted by the buttery rye crumbs and acidic pomegranate seeds.
Reaching the meats and BBQ section of the menu, proteins are available in either 100gm 0r 200gm. The waitress explains that at least 2-3 portions of meat (100gm) are necessary for a table of two. With that in mind, we order the Jack’s Creek dry aged beef brisket ($15/$28), organic chicken ($11/$20) and Junee lamb ($13/$24). The smoky flavour of the meat shines through well, offering a nice depth of flavour. Is it wow-ing us though? Not particularly. Perhaps this is due to the fact that our perception of traditional smokehouse is tied with notions of decadence and excess. A small 100 gram slither of brisket on our plates leaves us feeling underwhelmed.
Filling out your meal are a range of sides, including mac ‘n’ cheese ($12), a simple slaw made with lemon and scallions ($9), BBQ spice garlic corn and crisp okra ($11) amongst other things. The hero dish here is the mac n’ cheese, served in a sexy copper dish with a thick layer of oozy cheese and crispy bread crumbs.
Reaching the dessert menu, it’s hard to say no to comforting classics like the pecan and southern comfort tart ($13). Served warm with a scattering of sugar coated pecans and creamy vanilla ice cream, it’s the sort of dish that has you naughtily grinning between each spoonful.
In the magical land of Barangaroo where choices are endless and quality of the highest standards, we see NOLA holding the potential for greatness. We can’t help but notice that the restaurant is rather empty. It is only early days but perhaps they need to reconsider their pricing, as the portions don’t feel overly generous. At this point in the restaurant’s journey, NOLA Smokehouses’ major draw card is definitely its bar offering. It’s a Wednesday night and the bar area is packed with after-workers blowing off some steam. And why wouldn’t they? Whisky lovers clink glasses and say ‘cheers’ to the hundreds of stellar spirits at their very disposal.
NOLA Smokehouse Sydney
Level 1, International Tower 1, 100 Barangaroo Ave.
Barangaroo South, NSW 2000 Australia
Phone 02 9188 3039