The Grounds of the City, Sydney CBD
It barely takes an extra location to quantify the success of Ramzey Choker's first Grounds site in Alexandria. It's the attention to detail that ranked it the 7th most Geotagged location in Australia in 2016, mind you - with those remaining in the top ten all national tourist hot-spots like Bondi, the National Gallery of Victoria alongside Taronga Zoo. Again, no detail has been spared when it comes to Grounds of the City, and if it wasn't for the dim and yellowed lighting needed to push the 1920's theme home, Ramzey may have scored another place in the topped geotagged list for 2017.
Decades different to the rest of The Galleries, Grounds of the City is much of a time capsule. Decked out with art deco elements from floor to ceiling there's a sheen of class and elegance. The coffee machines alone are built in a full custom fashion to mimic machinery of an older world. Foil pressed ceilings. Detailed pewter plates and crystal cut glasses. Your kicks really don't fit here.
Between the constant photo taking, milk steam wands aggressively replicating steam locomotives, and the dessert cart ringing rounds to try and tempt you into more, there's quite alot going on. This distraction only adds to the existing difficulty landing a decision when it comes to the confusing menu, as there's no real direction. Despite a clear asian influence in most of the dishes it barely concretes much of a theme, leaving it a stark contrast to the decor. The Grounds are are really trying offer something to suit everyone and losing out on their intention in the process. There's pasta yet plates of fresh, chilled seafood, burgers yet the much more refined steak tartare. What's lately been a heavily hyped dish around town if you're reading from Sydney, there's Poke-style salad yet smoked trout tarts with leek. Japanese-influenced quail buns ($19), are easily mistaken for something like a pork bun, unless you clarify with wait staff that these are much more of a lobster roll in style. We order it anyway as quail doesn't often meet with bread.
Despite the foot traffic, the service here is speedy, exceeding the usual efforts seen back in Alexandria. The quail buns are an absolute treat and aren't too dissimilar to the 'Social Dog' at Kensington Street Social - yet much more impressive beyond the presentation which is where Kensington's stops. The quail is generous in size, with a deep pink hue and beautifully tender despite the golden colour on the outer. The kimchi is the softest note in the roll, but collectively the ponzu and nori make it something that should be ordered much more regularly. The bun to filling ratio is just about right with everything evenly moist at each and every bite taken. The bun is essentially the mid point of milk bun meets brioche - moderate in structure but still quite soft and squishy.
The Hand-Cut Steak Tartare ($25) does not aim for sharp lines. Rustically served, there's plenty of capers throughout the mix. A cracked quail egg is perched ontop and nursed by a nest of elderflower. Deep charcoal coloured crisps give the tartare a striking hue by contrast. The horseradish is far too mellow but in turn allows the steak to truly shine as star of the show. The Spaghetti Pecorino ($24) is a little basic despite written promise. The 63 degree onsen egg was the amplifier of it's written impression, yet there's really no creativity in it's execution. There's minimal shiitake that's quite light on acidity and unimaginative circular slices of asparagus. There is one band of flavour and its mostly cheese, which only really livens up with a sprinkle of salt that you need to add. It's a mystery motive why it's topped with fuschia coloured florals but i'll leave talk on garnish for another day.
With the Grounds so reliant on social media, it's really no wonder so much effort has been put into the fitout. That being said, carrying this through to a matching menu would be the icing on the cake, rather than a reveal of it's strategy for success. Anyone can mix and match their offering, but it doesn't necessarily make them a standout. Let's consider the likes of Hartsyard, Continental, or even The Fish Shop. (Sure, Dan Hong's cheese burger is the one exception, but bare in mind it's only one and if you've ever ordered it you appreciate it as this one exception). Each of their respective menus are 100% in line with their complete concept and it very much fuels the experience for each venue.
Mon 7:00 - 17:00
Tue-Thur, Sun 7:00 - 21:30
Fri & Sat 7:00 - 22:00