The joint is jumpin’: mixologists flamboyantly pour drinks to those who’ve nabbed a seat at the bar while chefs shuck away, sending out wooden Ruinart boxes of oysters to their fate. A bluesy soundtrack wafts over the vast space as patrons sip and slurp, oblivious to the muggy heat that has enveloped the rest of Sydney.
The glamorous space on the Woolloomooloo end of Riley Street is certainly accustomed to the finer things in life. Prior to its reincarnation as a restaurant, Riley Street was once multi-billionaire Frank Lowy’s garage, storing, what I can only imagine, would have been a bevy of luxury cars. This is pure speculation but, let’s be honest, the co-founder of Westfield and Australia’s fourth richest man in 2014 is unlikely to arrive at a meeting in a Ford Fiesta.
It is only fitting that stepping into Riley Street Garage provokes memories of New York nights, sipping martinis in a dark and brooding restaurant in the meat packing district. The Art Deco interior combines sky-high walls of exposed concrete with polished wooden floorboards and leather stools and, despite what you may assume, food here refuses to play second fiddle. Chef Regan Porteous has an impressive resume, hailing from Maze in London, Hong Kong and Dubai before working locally at Toko in Surry Hills. His Japanese experience can be seen in dishes such as the ‘fish n’ chip’ tartare with miso dressing, a cheeky play on a classic Aussie favourite, with paper thin ‘chips’ and raw fish. The beef carpaccio is dotted with capers, brioche croutons, aioli and micro herbs with a subtle soy vinegar that allows the beef to stand on its own, without detracting from the quality of the produce. A punchy pickled vinaigrette, tossed over chunks of perfectly seared tuna, fight for attention in the mouth.
Oysters are the star attraction, served in an ice-filled wooden Ruinart box, there’s two varieties of the day; Pacific and Sydney rock with four variations: natural, smoked soy truffle, mignonette jelly and tempura. Shucked at the bar, the smokey soy truffle is hands-down the crowd favourite and a dish that we all agree we will return for. Still-translucent scallops are served in the half shell and paired with a glorious citrus (yuzu) koshu garlic butter, that I would happily eat in spoonfuls, without anything else.
Just a short cab ride from the CBD, Riley Street also offers a “PitStop” menu from Tuesday – Friday, offering $12 burgers and, our favourite, a mini crispy pork knuckle with pickled apple salad and fries ($20).