Food: Relaxed bistro
Address: 1 St. Marys Bay Street, St. Marys Bay
Reservations: not accepted
Drinks : Fully Licensed
From the menu: Cucumber and stracciatella $15; trevally sashimi $21; octopus and smoked paprika butter $24; tomato and peach salad $16; lamb skewer $26; Eton mess $13.
Before I spend 800 words telling you why you should eat here, I’m going to save both of us some time and tell you that there’s plenty of seating outside and Laurent-Perrier is only 20 $ the flute.
“It’s the kind of place you and I would go for a glass of bubbles if we suddenly had an hour to ourselves,” Victoria said, obliquely referring to our previous failed attempts to make the most of our time. without children (on one occasion we drove for a while trying to decide what to do before we hit rock bottom: park in front of The Warehouse and look at pictures of the children on my phone).
We had flirted with bringing our older daughters to dinner with us this time, but while it can certainly work in some ostensibly adult restaurants (Prego, for example, is surprisingly family-friendly), they would have a little resisted here.
There’s a cool and (not so) youthful vibe to the Ponsonby Hotel, helped in part, I’m sure, by my friend Albert Cho‘s grows vigorously on Instagram, but influencer recommendations only work if a place is really good, and this place is the one.
Their trevally sashimi plate is the most delicious raw fish dish I can remember eating in a restaurant, a wonderful colorful plate of cold flavor with so much going on it’s hard to tell what taste what, but the ingredients work so perfectly together that you suspend your critical analysis and just focus on making sure you get your share.
“Mango!” the waitress said when I asked her what the mystery flavor was but honestly even after ordering it again on a later visit it was hard to tell how they used it – mashed with chilli and sprinkled around the fish I think, but the spicy element was complex and smoky, not just the usual hint of fine heat.
And the trevally had its own thing, cured for its salty flavor but also for what it gave to the texture of the fish: al dente but without any sort of sticky resistance so every bite was clean and easy.
Yes, the Ponsonby Hotel’s best secret isn’t the hot crowd or the champagne d’appel, but the food, which is as good as you’ll eat anywhere. The chef is addicted to crushing every possible flavor element of the ingredients, so a lovely dish of stracciatella and cucumber is filled with dill and other garden herbs, then drizzled with a very spicy chilli oil.
READ: Bistro Hotel Ponsonby gets a touch of magic
Octopus – no longer a novelty order in restaurants but often undercooked so that it’s rubbery or mealy – gets the best possible treatment here, with the kitchen searing it in some way so that each little sucker is individually charred to crisp perfection while the flesh of the tentacle is tender to the bite. It comes with a “smoked paprika butter” which is a sauce, really, and even tastier than you probably imagine.
The focaccia bread fell off our order under the pressure of other dishes, but we really could have used it to mop up dishes like this; almost everything they served ended with a little pool of something amazing at the bottom of the plate, and while the index fingers make a good rubber spatula, they’re not as absorbent as a good piece of flat bread.
It would be a shame if you went home without trying the Eton Mess, a dessert that was everywhere and is almost nowhere anymore. The dish is basically a screwed up pavlova, and I mean that as a compliment – why would you have to carefully cut a slice of pav, trying to get a bit of everything, when they could just mash it all up for you in the kitchen and let you enjoy the chaos? Along with the usual meringue/berry/cream, they also do honeycomb slivers in this one: extra crunchy and extra sweet for a plate that always tastes light and fresh.
You will have deduced by now that nothing is very formal here. There have been a few attempts from the Belgian Beer Cafe to bring people back to this iconic corner, but I think they were too stuffy, requiring potential customers to make an emotional commitment to ‘going out to dinner’, which was probably asking too much in this, the golden age of the bailout.
The Ponsonby Hotel has cleverly transformed the room into a place open from midday until late, where you can have a drink and a snack that could turn into dinner without you really deciding what you are doing.
Younger diners may treat dishes like TikTok videos, following their noses from one to another both impulsively and compulsively, before finally realizing they’ve consumed way too much and they need to go to bed.