Pink Salt Revamp – The Sunday Telegraph

22
Nov
2014

Pink Salt in Double Bay has undergone a revamp both in and out of the kitchen.
AS FAR as backstories go, Pink Salt has one of the more, er, colourful.

Springing from a reality television show way back in 2005, the restaurant placed second in Channel 7’s original cooking contest My Restaurant Rules which was axed in 2006 after just two seasons. (A revamped format, named Restaurant Revolution is, however, back on Seven’s programming slate for 2015. Go figure!) Once the cameras stopped rolling its owners “Evan and Bella” aka Evan Hansimikali and Bella Serventi, uprooted the business from the original Manly location to its current home on Double Bay’s swanky Cross St.

Interiors ace Alex Zabotto-Bentley has taken the frou frou out of Pink Salt.
Interiors ace Alex Zabotto-Bentley has taken the frou frou out of Pink Salt.

Despite its tabloid roots, Pink Salt has managed to hum along quite steadily for the best part of 10 years and, for the record, is the only My Restaurant Rules eatery still operating. Now you could call that an achievement of sorts. (Along the way, however, Hansimikali and Serventi went their separate ways with Hansimikali buying out his ex-partner. Hansimikali has since married.) Now, just shy of a decade in the business and with the InterContinental breathing new life into Cross St a few doors down, Hansimikali admitted it was time for an overhaul. Out went the pink furnishings, the monochrome awnings and the fine-dining menu.

Pink Salt restaurant review
Pink Salt’s head chef Mark Williamson has sharpened up the menu too.

In came a stripped back New York-style aesthetic from interiors wiz Alex Zabotto-Bentley and, in the kitchen, some new attitude courtesy of Mark Williamson who arrived in Double Bay via The Tilbury in Woolloomooloo and, more recently, Bondi Hardware. Zabotto-Bentley has done a great job of taking out the frou frou and giving the large space a sleeker, more industrial feel — with a dash of plantation about it — and Williamson’s simplified menu is right in the pocket of where modern dining seems to be right now. Similar to the approach of places such as Chiswick and Fratelli Fresh (which Hansimikali openly admits he took inspiration from) dishes are broken up into “fare to share” — nine dishes which are all around $20 — and “larger plates” which top out at a $68 lamb shoulder.

The octopus terrine with crab cakes is a unique combination.
The octopus terrine with crab cakes is a unique combination.

There’s also a charcuterie board, three Angus beef options from Glenburn in Victoria and an impressive cheese selection that includes local and international — the highlight being a beautiful Irish cheese called Cashel Blue. The wine list, too, is short and sharp but affordable and includes all the big hitters (including a Shaw & Smith chardonnay) as well as boutique drops, such as a rose from Adelaide’s Hahndorf Hill Winery.
We started with the crab cakes ($22) made from a mix of Alaskan king crab, royal blue potato and a pinch of parsley and lemon. Williamson has rolled them in panko crumb before deep frying and they’re served atop an octopus terrine which is braised in a stock of fennel, star anise and coriander. It’s a unique combo and works well.

The haloumi salad was a bit light on the cheese.
The haloumi salad was a bit light on the cheese.

Next is a simple haloumi salad ($17) — around four slices of the Cypriot cheese set on a bed of kale, quinoa and parsley and sprinkled with toasted hazelnuts and pomegranate seeds. It’s a lovely spring dish but felt a little light on the haloumi side.
The last of the small plates is seared scallops (about five at $19) served on a cauliflower puree with a merlot vinegar and topped with pork crackling shavings — it’s deemed the standout of our starters with the sweetness of the seafood working really well with the saltiness of the crackling. Next is three of the larger plates — the first a 12-hour, slow-cooked slab of kurobota pork belly ($29) which is served with carrot puree and buttered savoy pear fondant.

The blue-eyed cod.
The blue-eyed cod.

It’s literally cooked to perfection — the meat not overly fatty and yielding to a soft touch with a knife while the crackling is light and crunchy and not chewy. Next is a decent-sized fillet of line-caught blue-eye cod ($33) on celeriac puree with about half-a-dozen big, thick asparagus spears and a sprinkling of bacon crumbs. It, too, is a winner; as is the pan-roasted spatchcock ($29) which is also a generous serving and comes out crispy and buttery brown atop a delightful sweet corn puree and savoury granola; a mix of toasted nuts and seeds which Williamson says is his take on “bird food”. There’s a hint of spice to the mix as well which works well with the corn puree and broccolini.

The spatchcock is a real highlight.
The spatchcock is a real highlight.

We also order a side of shaved cabbage with truffle parmesan (a nod to Fratelli Fresh’s famed cabbage salad) for $9 as well as a bowl of crinkle cut fries which disappear in minutes. Dessert is out of the question but if we were to pick anything we decide it would have been the buttermilk panacotta with milk crumb and strawberry sorbet which we vow to order on the next visit. Clearly Hansimikali and his team have worked hard to shake their reality restaurant origins and the latest makeover — both in and out of the kitchen — should ensure a future far from the footnotes of fad telly.