New year, new NOLA. Troy Spencer puts the soul back in soul food at Sydney’s very own New Orleans restaurant and bar.
It’s a case of survival of the fittest in Barangaroo these days, a competitive dining scene and high rental costs quickly separating the sheep from the goats. NOLA Smokehouse and Bar arrived to the precinct fairly early in the piece, opening its doors in early 2017. After a few initial teething issues, it has continued to do a roaring trade.
While a menu of decadence and meat-sweat inducing grandeur has proven to lure in a hungry corporate crowd, new Head Chef Troy Spencer was keen to breathe new life into the buzzing 270 seater restaurant. Entering the kitchen in November 2018, Spencer’s ability to tune into the astute diner’s wants has resulted in a new offering that hones into what New Orleans is all about, soul food.
So what’s changed?
Gone is the refinement of much of the earlier menu that contradicted the laid back essence of good New Orleans fare. You can now expect more of the recognisable flavours and influences of this vibrant Southern state, Spencer continuing to showcase an impressive smoked meats offering.
Spencer explains – “When creating my first menu for NOLA I wanted to bring us closer to what the New Orleans, Louisiana cuisine is all about without losing our very own creative, NOLA Sydney twist. I’ve taken a more authentic approach to our signature NOLA dishes such as the jambalaya and gumbo and introduced rustic entrées which I think are more complimentary to the smoked meats and barbecue offering.”
The blackened tuna ($26) served atop a crisp rice cake with smoked avocado is a textual delight, notes of spice mingling with the smokey essence of the fish and avocado. A highlight from the entrees is certainly the BBQ Beef Short Rib ($28). Tender and gelatinous, the beef is only enhanced by a smothering of coffee gravy and a side-serve of biscuits.
Crisp duck neck sausage ($34) also gets an honourable mention, made start to finish in-house. It’s an impressive feat, while a dollop of Creole mustard, parsley and tarragon gives the dish a punchy end note.
Mains follow a similar path, adopting a paired back approach to plating relative to the previous menu. The technique and finesse isn’t lost though, the Blue Swimmer Gumbo ($34) with fried crab, red beans and white rice perfectly balanced. Glide a big spoon (forget the fork) across the plate and be sure to taste a bit of everything in the one mouthful.
Let us immediately quell your anxiety if you thought that a new menu meant change to NOLA’s smoked meats offering. Rest assured, that has stayed exactly as is, proving its worth as one of the most popular items on the menu. For those looking to taste a bit of everything, the Pit-Master’s Pick ($49pp with minimum 2 people) is a logical choice.
A selection of BBQ meats including slow roast pork shoulder and brisket hits the decadent quota, however is unfortunately missing an accompaniment of pickles to cut through the richness. Even the biggest eaters on the table are quickly brought to a halt, heavily breathing quickly ensuing.
While a meat-fest at NOLA is bound to fill your stomach, be sure to feed your soul with a serving of dessert. If you had the previous rendition of NOLA’s S’mores, the new menu sees a completely stripped back version of this American classic. Gone is the fancy quenelle of ice cream, smear of touched meringue and other mod-plating cons and in is a humble trio of graham cracker, marshmallow and chocolate.
For those looking for a smack of Louisiana nostalgia, the Eight Layered Doberge Cake ($18) does exactly that. Layers of chocolate custard, lemon curd, whisky syrup and soft butter cream offer the last decadent flourish to your new and certainly improved dining experience.