Weeknight at the Carrington Hotel. And it’s pumping.
The Carrington Specialite: Beba y Cene
This once unobtrusive Surry Hills pub has been revamped into a buzzy Spanish-style tapas bar with colourful Moorish tiles, a glass-topped tapas counter and a collection of Iberian paraphernalia.
With standing room only at the front bar and decibels rising, our plans for a quiet date night are thwarted. The place is getting packed by the minute.
Standing at the bar right beside me is Michael Weldon. In the far corner, I spot Kate Bracks, both Masterchef 2011 finalists who became runner-up and series winner respectively.
I score the last of the empty tables in the second bar area while Mr G waits a good fifteen minutes for our cocktails. One girl behind the bar tells him she’ll get “the professional” to make them. Another gives him a cursory glance, and he waits in line for the male bartender to start mixing and shaking.
The Dionysus Martini ($17) combines home-made fig-infused Vodka with Medos Honey Vodka and comes served Martini style, with a big wedge of blue cheese on top. The cocktail has a marked sweetness and a slightly fruity character followed by a strong alcohol kick. I like it. The blue cheese, which inevitably disintegrates into the glass, cuts through the sweetness and proves to be a good accompaniment. Some may prefer this as an after dinner cocktail, I don’t mind it either way.
Withered on the Vine
Withered on the Vine ($17) has Spanish Gin, Sloe Gin, Campari, Grape Sugar and lemon and is also in a Martini glass with dried muscatels on the rim. The bitterness of the Campari is evident at first sip while the gin and grape sugar gives this aperitif-styled drink a lift. It’s easy to drink and we can easily order another.
After savouring the cocktails, we decide that we want to eat. The Carrington has a bar menu, Menu de la Barra, but we prefer to sit in the adjoining dining room where the choice of dishes is more elaborate. The current waiting time for a table is an hour and a half.
Amidst some entertaining soft porn – a threesome with three hot girls, one who is clearly enjoying the attention – we kick back with a couple of glasses of Spanish wine in a dark corner.
Aura Rueda Verdejo ($8) and Torres Grenache Carignan ($9)
Despite the long waiting time, the ambience here is party-like. It’s casual and fun, and strangers smile at one other and make the kind of friendly banter you get when everyone is relaxed and enjoying themselves.
After an almost two hour wait which begs the question, “does pornographic art makes the time pass quicker”, we make it to the restaurant section.
The Carrington menu
Mosaic tiles in front of the kitchen
The dining room packs a third bar and a split-level dining area with dark walls, red leather banquettes, round tables and cute wall lighting covered with striped awnings. The noise levels here necessitate shouting at each another and at the bubbly waitstaff who are accustomed to it. As much as I tend to avoid such places, I am having a great time. And while the couple beside us are engaged in interesting travel, food and sex conversations, there is no need to pretend I’m eavesdropping.
The food does not take too long to arrive and our earlier patience is rewarded with a couple of complimentary tapas dishes.
(front to back) Sobrasada on toast, Kingfish pastrami, kohlrabi and fried bread, Grilled paella onigri
From the Pinxtos menu, the Sobrasada on toast ($3) is a spicy and smoky sobrasada sausage paste spread on a thin toasted bread – delicious and moreish. The Kingfish pastrami, kohlrabi and fried bread ($4) packs a good flavour and I like the combination of the kingfish with the kohlrabi.
Grilled paella onigri
The grilled paella onigri ($4.50) is an intriguing triangle of paella that has been crisped and topped with aioli and calamari. The triangle of rice and choriso breaks on contact which makes it easy to share among two.
Spicy Basque wings
Spicy Basque wings ($14) are six pieces of tender chicken wings with a finger-licking spicy pepper sauce.
Braised cuttlefish, chorizo, chickpeas and mint
The braised cuttlefish, chorizo, chickpeas and mint ($18) is a sizeable dish designed to be shared. An interesting combination of ingredients, I find it a little mild after the spicy flavours of the previous dishes. It could do with a little more cuttlefish and chorizo with fewer chickpeas. If you want to order this dish, as for it to be served before anything hot or spicy.
The Fabada ($19), the Spanish cousin of the French cassoulet, is a perfectly cooked white bean stew cooked with pork belly, ham hock and chorizo with toasted breadcrumbs on top. This is my favourite dish of the night and one that I would always reorder on subsequent visits.
Dessert menu on the wall
Scribbled on the wall, the choice of churros con chocolate, crema catalan and Pedro’s sherry trifle are teasing me. But as it is after 10 pm on date night, the bellies are content and dessert will have to wait for another time.
The new Carrington has won me over in an instant. The cocktails are impressive and the dishes pack a lot of flavour. Whether it’s the dining room menu or its subset menu de la barra, the food takes you to the tapas and pinxtos bars and of Spain with a casual and convivial ambience while it somehow manages to retain an Aussie feel.
With a well-priced menu and good food to match, the experience at the Carrington is designed to make you return with good friends and work your way through every dish. And that is exactly what we intend to do.
538 Bourke Street
Surry Hills NSW
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