It's not exactly a restaurant and it's not exactly a bar. It's hard to tell what it is, but perhaps Vincent is somewhere in between. Not that it matters, really. I'm not one for categorising, it doesn't need to be one or the other, but as reviews go, you'd review bar food quite differently to restaurant food.
Tucked away in the office blocks of Barton, I can see why Vincent is pitching to a wide audience. Inside the opaque windows, the striking S-shaped bar snakes around the entire dining room. You're either seated at the bar or at a table that leans up against the bar. It's a beautiful minimalist space though for groups, there don't seem to be any tables that seat more than five people.
It's dark, moody and dimly lit - the only lighting in here is from hipster lightbulbs, the ones with the visible filament bulbs. The wait staff wear logo tees and casual pants. I think I'm leaning towards it being a bar.
The scrabble board menu on the wall makes for a cool display. Wooden slats hold single letter tiles that spell out the dishes and drinks, but if you have to crane your neck to see it, fear not, there are printed versions of the menu to hand too.
The waitress explains that the food is designed for sharing and the menu is divided into starters, large plates and dessert. It's hard to eat out in these COVID times - most restaurants only offer a set menu, but here, Vincent offers an a la carte menu alongside its $75 chef's tasting menu.
There are a couple of things that niggle at me a little though. For one, rather than being poured in front of you, wine is poured into glasses and brought over. It's also pretty dark in here: the minimal lighting might make for an intimate chat over a glass of wine, but it makes it hard to see the detail in the food. The high bar stools aren't particularly comfortable for a longer dinner session either, and combined with the fact that there's nowhere to hang our coats we're left uncomfortably perched with jackets draped on the back of chairs.
I'm also a little surprised that the wine list isn't more exciting. Of the 10 reds by the glass, only one is local and while there's enough of a weight range from the pinot through to the shiraz, there's doesn't seem to be quite enough differing flavour profiles in the wines by the glass. By the bottle options are a bit more interesting, but probably a stretch for two people on a school night.
The scallop dish ($24) appears perplexingly dark, but the waitress explains that it's been charcoal tempura battered. The batter is light and the black sesame, shiso, nori and bonito flakes all come together in an unmistakably Japanese influenced dish. It's delicious, but the delicate flavour of the scallop gets a bit lost in amongst it all.
The king prawns ($25) are fine, the prawn heads have darkened, making the dish look less appetising. I was mostly excited for the dish because it was listed as having a bisque, but there is no bisque to be seen. I can only assume that it refers to the rather light sauce over the top. The sous vide quail eggs add a nice creaminess, while the zing of a touch of horseradish helps to lift the dish.
The heirloom cauliflower ($21) is very Ottolenghi-esque. As vegetarian dishes go, it's a good one with Dutch carrots, cranberries and pepitas for crunch. There are also some unmistakable Middle Eastern influences - labneh and a good hum of spice - which come across as a bit eclectic given the previous courses.
The gnocchi with creamy mixed mushrooms ($25) is the stand out of the night, a seemingly simple pasta dish made all the more interesting with the use of black garlic that adds an earthy, almost smoky undertone. It's rich without being cloying from too much cream and crisp fried enoki mushrooms bring a welcome crunch.
I wouldn't describe the wagyu sirloin ($38) as a "large plate" as suggested by the menu, and the negative plating makes the steak appear even smaller than it is. It's covered with oyster mushrooms and eschallots; and it doesn't help when the waitress says "there is a steak under there somewhere." The beef is well-cooked though, and the jus has depth and richness so all is forgiven.
Pistachio cake ($14) isn't quite a sweet finish, but the coconut crisp meringue adds a tropical vibe to an otherwise dull dessert. The base cake is a bit dry unfortunately, and the other elements on the plate are hard-pressed to distract from that.
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If it's a bar, the kind where you come for a chat, a few drinks and have a few plates of food to share - then Vincent has good bar food. Its by-the-glass wine list could do with a bit more depth, but as bar food goes, it's shareable and has something for everyone. As a restaurant, it's slightly less impressive, though that's partly due to the high chairs and awkward seating where you can't quite get comfortable. Perhaps Vincent is a hybrid of the two - either way, it's a cozy little respite in Barton, perfect for an after work drink or two and some food to share.
Address: 48 Macquarie St, Barton
Hours: Tuesday to Friday, noon til 11pm; Saturday 6-11pm
Owner: Hanna Kim
Chef: Hanna Kim
Vegetarian: A few good options
Noise: No problem