Late night supper
Nestled comfortably among the lawyers and bankers of Collins St, Syracuse has long been the haunt of the Friday-night suit crowd. The tall ceilings of the Victorian era Bank Place building reflect opulence and charm and the Mediterranean cuisine is built around a solid wine list. Almost an institution in these parts, it's clientele is shifting now to a slightly younger, late-20's/early-30's crowd and the style of menu reflects this change: The bulk of the two-A5 pages is dedicated to small, tapas-style dishes designed to share over a glass of wine, with the focus on the latter. Only a handful of larger dishes around the $25-$30 mark appear, along with a similar number of desserts. The place feels (and sells itself on it's website) as a bar, but many call it a restaurant. I'm undecided as to whether or not it works, but after two visits I'm still keen to return, so that's probably a good sign.
Our first visit was just the two of us, for a late supper (about 9:00pm) on a Friday night. The late start may have contributed to the 'bar' feel, but our second visit (with a larger group) closer to 6pm saw remnants of the Friday-night drinks crowd reinforcing my earlier impressions.
The food is, undoubtedly, very good. Head chef Hal Riches (ex-Dutton Enoteca, now Church St Enoteca) produces dishes of a consistently high standard. Original without being over-complicated, plates see only the freshest produce. Over the course of just a few weeks, several menu-listed dishes morphed subtly to reflect the availability of good ingredients: A rare tuna salad (presumably deliberately under-described on the menu to allow such changes) changed from bright autumn colours to a more substantial affair with dark green leaves and a tangy anchovie dressing, both of which were delicious. Despite seeing a couple of tired old favourites on the menu, all the dishes were wonderfully refreshing and reassured me that simple dishes (such as the perfectly seared calamari) are given the same care and attention as the more creative endeavours.
On both visits, we ordered exclusively from the small dishes on offer. The downside of this style however is that it means a chef is often making 4 or 5 plates for a table of two, which slows things down a bit. It never felt slow, as such, rather just very relaxed. You wouldn't want to be in a hurry, so just sit back, order a bottle of good wine (there are plenty to choose from) and enjoy your evening.
The wine list is difficult to describe. I had no problems choosing wines on both occasions, but the list was rather black and white in terms of interest - each wine was either very well known to me (but good, don't get me wrong) or I had no idea what it was. Normally, I rate unknown wines as a big plus - I'd simply ask the staff and learn, but this brings me to my one (small) gripe, in that the staff are rather hard to get hold of. When you manage to flag one down (which may involve grabbing at their apron strings as they whisk past carrying towers of tapas), you're left with the impression that they, also, may not know the more unusual wines too well. That may be a side effect of a rapidly changing by-the-glass list which would require constant education, but nonetheless it was a little disappointing.
Also worth a mention is the dessert list - it's not going to blow your mind, but if you can't decide whether or not to indulge, let me tip the balance in favour of indulgence, just one more time. Check out the "Chimney Sweep" - a simple scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, dusted with ground coffee and a topped with a shot of bourbon. I found this an enlightening experience, given that I don't usually drink bourbon, but enjoyed it immensely.
Syracuse continues to be a wonderful evening/lunch/glass-of-wine out, but don't be in a hurry or it's an unfair test. Great food, wine and a solid client base mean that Syracuse will be going strong for many years to come, so drop in a give it a try.
Rare seared tuna salad; Polenta with baked mushroom; Duck and Rabbit sausage; Garlic prawns with lemon and olive oil; Seared calamari with wild rocket;
2005 Moss Wood Chardonnay