It was a wind swept evening as we arrived at The West Hotel’s Solander Dining and Bar for dinner, the warm summer evenings were nothing but a distant memory. As seems to be our new tradition, my good friend and founder Raf and I tend to arrive early to our dining ventures, and often decide to commence the evening with a cocktail; and tonight was no exception.
As you enter the restaurant your eyes dance around the room, lit dimly with a warm yellow glow. The moody tones and jewel accents comfort you as you reach your table and it’s easy to forget reality outside.
I’m often quite adventurous with my cocktail choices but I decided on an old favourite with a twist, the Pineapple Colada. Pineapple & Coconut washed Havana 3yr rum infused with house kale, pressed pineapple, agave served in a coconut rimmed glass. It was smooth and creamy and brought a different overall flavour to what I’m used to.
Raf on the other hand chose a little less Havana Nights and more Garden party with the Wakame Mule. A brass cup filled to the brim of Success Rota evaporator wakame Wyborowa Vodka, black sesame orgeat, orange blossom, fresh pressed lime topped with crushed ice. The flavour was a little too botanical for my liking but I think it’s definitely worth a try if you prefer drinks on the more flowery side.
Our waitress for the evening, Jewel, sat us by the window on low dark teal velvet lounges and began taking us through the ethos and history of the restaurant. We learned when naturalist Daniel Solander arrived in Australia he extensively explored and researched the region’s flora and fauna and was tasked with the role of identifying and documenting the new landscape that was Australia. Jewel revealed to us that each dish on the menu had at least one native Australian botanical ingredient and that all flora dishes were in fact vegan and not just vegetarian.
She left us to peruse through the menu, with each page adorned with a beautiful illustrated floral or plant and after a few moments of negotiating, we were ready to order.
I’ve recently been exploring more non-meat or as the menu calls, flora meals into my diet and try to opt for at least one vegetarian dish when I eat out. For starters, I ordered the fermented macadamia nut cheese with roasted baby beets and balsamic which when placed in front of me, looked almost too good to eat, almost! The ingredients were colourful and meticulously put into its place to create a culinary artwork. The mixture of textures between the crunchy pecans, fluffy macadamia cheese and acidic balsamic had my tastebuds dancing.
Raf ordered the charred bugs with chilli butter and bush tomato, and although presented less elegantly, it was equally delicious. The bugs were fresh and full of flavour and resulted in three yums and a mini shoulder dance upon first taste.
When we described the wines we are drawn to when eating meaty dishes, Jewel suggested the 2016 Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon from WA’s Margaret River. The bold drop had blackberry and blackcurrants notes that became more pronounced with each sip.
Both mains were served in small porcelain dishes with a lid and it was clear that the emphasis was more on taste than presentation, which is never a bad thing in my books. When each lid was lifted, the aromas from both dishes reached my nose before my eyes met the food.
I chose the Young Henry-braised pork cheeks with shiitake Kakadu plum which was served in a thick glaze sauce. The meat was tender and delightfully flavoursome and paired perfectly with the roasted butternut squash with vintage goat cheese and pomegranate we ordered as a side. My meal tasted more grandma’s roast on a Sunday night than fine dining, and I absolutely loved that aspect.
Raf took Jewel’s recommendation and ordered the slow cooked wallaby shanks with macadamia cream and Quandong berry. I’m not the biggest fan of animals who hop around and so I’m not a great judge of taste on wallaby or kangaroo dishes but seeing Raf’s expressions from opposite me when eating, it must have been delicious. I did opt to try a small piece but was quite content with my pork cheeks. We also added in the warrigal greens with black garlic and if you’re a garlic lover like me, it’s a great compliment to both mains.
For dessert, I was feeling rather French and ordered the selection of NSW finest cheeses, crusty bread and fruit chutney whilst Raf indulged his sweet tooth by ordering the watermelon drop cake with sloe gin pearls, pepper charcoal coral and micro basil. My cheese board was an impressive array of a blue, a soft brie and a hard cheddar cheese with a spiced raisin chutney and quince paste. I would recommend if you’re feeling like a bit of cheese to end your meal, I’d share it as it’s a lot to eat for one person.
The watermelon drop cake was an interesting dish that was more jelly than cake. The flavours were fresh and light and the addition of pepper charcoal coral gave the dish a bit of a kick.
The only little disappointment on the evening was on two occasions, the wrong dish was brought to our table and was abruptly taken away in error. Both dishes looked interesting and were almost eagerly sliced which was a shame to miss out on.
If you’re after a hearty meal in a romantic setting, Solander is your go to. The staff are pleasant and have pride in the service they deliver. The food is delicious, the ambience and decor very chic and would the perfect venue for a date night, special occasion or just because.
Solander Dining and Bar
West Hotel Sydney
65 Sussex St, Sydney NSW 2000
T: +61 2 8297 6500 | E: firstname.lastname@example.org