Perhaps I was wrong to think a Sunday night would be a relatively quiet night to head out to dinner in Braddon. School starts the next day, come on people, we're all back at work, shouldn't you be tucked away in bed preparing yourself for the working week ahead?
But no. Young people, families, older couples are bursting out on to the streets, there's music coming from somewhere, laughter, a vibe, and I like it, given Braddon's past (and it does seem so long ago now) that a car even revs its engine for us all. Somewhat ironically it's a white Porsche SUV with kids in the back. How the place has changed.
It is the end of school holidays and all I wanted to do was take the boy out for dinner to say well done (me) for getting through that 12 week break and here's to the final years of school.
He's in Year 11, still only 16, disappointed when I tell him we're going to BentSpoke's Brew Pub, but no he can't order a beer. He's slightly placated when I tell him they do use beer, and beer by-products in some of the food (but no, you're not likely to get drunk, even slightly tipsy, no matter how much Crankshaft dip you eat).
I've wanted to try the food here for a while. I went to some launch a while back for the Innovator beer, which was brewed using crickets and black fly larvae. The insects were in little bowls for us to sample as snacks, but, honestly, how could they compare with a serving of smoked mac 'n' cheese balls. These little nuggets were delicious and moreish, served with a chilli jam and roasted corn salsa.
I was intrigued whether the rest of the menu was a step above traditional pub fare (but what's the definition of that anyway these days, given the depth and breadth of food offerings in places whose main function is liquid).
It's pleasant enough to sit outside, the smoke has cleared and the night has cooled a little, but when we see a vacant table inside we grab that. For just two people the outside tables are a little broad, conversation would be hard.
We order a drink. He asks for a lemonade, but gets what seems to be a sparkling water, perhaps the premix isn't working, or the guy behind the bar had trouble hearing me. But whatevs as the young kids say.
I'll be upfront here too (and BentSpoke owners Tracy Margrain and Richard Watkins know this), when it comes to beer I'm a Carlton Draught kind of girl. I don't get this craft beer thing, like I don't get the coffee thing, if a beer is cold and wet and not too fruity or pretentious it's a good drop. I can't appreciate the difference between a Barley Griffin or a bitter or a Cluster 8. Indeed the beer of the moment is Frenzy, a raspberry wheat beer "infused through the 'Hopinator' (whatever that is) with fresh summer berries and mint". Maybe the glass contraption on the bar is in fact the Hopinator, but what's inside looks like something more suited to the dessert menu than a drink's list.
I decide to go with a Brindabella cider, in full support of the bushfire recovery. It's the house blend made from Batlow grown Granny Smith and Red Delicious apples which are crushed on site. I like it.
But to the food. There's a good range of Share (or not ...) plates, from cider cooked edamame beans lightly dusted with hops salt ($8) to Bent nachos topped with beans which have been baked with the Braddon Bitter beer and served with the usual nacho accompaniments ($22).
We choose the grain-crusted hot wings coated in a brewery-made sauce served with a blue cheese aioli and two little pieces of pickled cucumber ($13 for six pieces) and the How's it Gosen lemon pepper squid with wasabi kewpie mayonnaise and a mango chilli salsa ($16).
I asked for regular wings rather than "seriously Bent heat" but these little bites beat us. There's still plenty of tender well-cooked meat on the bone, and we pick at it in between deep breaths. Even the blue cheese aioli does little to soothe our mouths and I contemplate buying him a beer to help him cool down. A tasty start if you like it spicier than we do.
The squid on the other hand is the highlight of the night. The Gosen is a fruity, salty, sour ale, perhaps the squid is marinated in it to tenderise it. Three little piles, tender, lightly coated, on a nice squiggle of mayo with dots of vibrant salsa. One of the best flavour combinations I've had with calamari for a long time
We ordered our mains at the same time and they do bring everything out together. Rookie error but what a pain to get up and reorder everytime. Maybe I should have asked them to stagger the meals, I wonder if they even would?
Our "Bigger Bites" are the wagyu Bent burger with a Cluster 8 bacon jam ($22) and the Mort's Moroccan pork ($20). I'll let you guess who ordered what. He enjoys the burger, I can see the patty is not overcooked, still a little pink, a good layer of lettuce with a smokey mustard sauce that he's not too keen on. He does like the bacon jam, just a little sweet, but with a bacon flavour. The chips (hops salt potatoes thank you very much) are excellent. Crisp on the outside but still fluffy.
My pork is a beautiful, colourful dish. It looks like Israeli couscous, cooked with tumeric that has turned it the colour of sweet corn, scattered with pink pomegranate seeds on a bed of labneh made with the Frenzy beer, turning it the colour of a taramosalata. There's a salad of bright green snow pea tendrils and crimson carrots which have been pickled with the Mort's Gold, alas these have a little too much bite left in them, but they don't detract too much from the rest of the dish. The pork itself is cooked well enough, there's not a lot of juice left in it, but there's a good caramel char and the portion size is generous. A nice meal you wouldn't expect in a pub, as such.
We're thinking about dessert, but it's getting noisier and more crowded. Time for our little family to leave. On the way out I notice the pavlova board on the special's menu. One of those deconstructed things you have to reconstruct yourself on your plate. I wonder if they recycle the fruit from the Frenzy beer in the pav.
Instead we duck around to Mr Frugii for a cup of vanilla and salted caramel ice cream. Guess we can't review two places at once, but, as is standard, Mr Frugii is without fault.
And I guess neither is the Brew Pub for what it is. You're not likely to come here looking for a gourmet meal but it's nice to have some flavoursome and sometimes surprising food to wash down with an ale. You'll get that here if you choose correctly.
My one gripe, and it's not really that, is that it would be nice to know more about how the kitchen does use the beer and by-products in the development of the menu. I guess at a fancy restaurant you could pepper the poor waiter with all your questions, but here the wait staff are too busy pulling beers. And that's their job.
BentSpoke Brew Pub
Address: 38 Mort St, Braddon
Hours: Seven days, 11am til midnight
Owners: (and brewers) Tracy Margrain and Richard Watkins
Chef: Erin Moore
Wheelchair access: Yes
Vegetarian: Some good choices
Noise: Can get a little raucous, it is a pub