It's been some time since I've dined at Eightysix. It is hard to believe the restaurant is now eight years old. It's aged well - the restaurant space still feels trendy, and familiar cues like the yellow neon sign and the perfectly handwritten menu along the black chalkboard walls welcome us like old friends.
The one-page menu is familiar, dotted with staples that Eightysix has become known for. Its infamous caramel popcorn sundae, for instance, and dishes such as black chicken and sirloin with salsa verde. There are lots of new dishes on the menu, too, so whether you're looking for something old or something new, you're bound to be spoilt for choice.
The wine list is filled with interesting picks, covering most of the major wine regions, with a firm foot in Australia. There are gems from little known vineyards such as Place of Changing Winds ($14/$65), alongside other local favourites.
An Eightysix staple, the organic hot dog ($10) sums up the restaurant in a nutshell. It's fun, irreverent and rebellious in a truly Eightysix sort of way. Who upscales fast food? Eightysix does. Fluffy, cloud-like brioche buns hold an organic hot dog covered in generous shavings of cheese. Underneath, a pico de gallo adds a vinegary kick. I can't remember the last time I ate a hot dog, much less enjoyed one, but this one is delightful.
The cauliflower gratin with sesame and aged cheddar ($22) is a sophisticated take on a classic. It's lighter than a traditional gratin, and the savouriness of the aged cheddar pairs well with the sweetness of the cauliflower. Toasted sesame brings a nice nutty undertone, while breadcrumbs add crunch. It's a bit subtle for a standalone dish - it seems more of a side - but that's par for the course with this free-form share plates approach.
Dishes arrive one after the other, so there's no option to have a bite of this and one of that. Perhaps they intend it that way, but I quite like having the option.
Tagliatelle with tiger prawn ($36) is luxurious, more prawn than pasta. Under the mound of prawns the pasta is al dente yet delicate. It's a simple dish, well executed - hints of chilli, lemon and parsley all beautifully intertwined.
I am quite surprised by the dishes tonight. They've been fun in parts, elegant in others and overall, bit more refined than I've come to expect from Eightysix. The wild barramundi ($40) for instance, beautifully pan seared with a crisp skin and served on a light dill cream, piled high with a mixture of young herbs. It's on the small side, fine for sharing between two but more difficult to share between a group.
The larger dishes fare less well. I enjoy a share plate menu, but Eightysix's menu proves a little tricky to navigate and we end up ordering far too much food. It's a shame, not just because I hate wasting food, but also because of diminishing returns - once optimum fullness is reached, every additional bite has a decreased impact. Simply put, a very good dish is less good when you're stuffed.
The black chicken with buttermilk coleslaw ($44) arrives as we are contemplating dessert. It is very large - two Jurassic chicken marylands smothered in a blackened barbecue sauce. The coleslaw is light and fresh, with roasted walnuts setting it apart from a more traditional slaw.
Perhaps it is because we are getting full, but it pales in comparison to previous dishes. It's less polished and more rustic and, looking closely, the chicken skin is rubbery in parts and the meat itself doesn't have much flavour.
While we are inordinately full, I can't resist the lure of the bosc pear tarte tartin with vanilla ice-cream ($26) especially in wintertime. It's certainly not small and would easily have fed four or five. Once again, it's more rustic than refined. The pastry isn't as crisp throughout as I would've liked and the ice-cream is a little underwhelming in a night filled with highlights.
It is always difficult to know how much to order from a shared menu, but we've well and truly overdone it tonight. Perhaps the staff could've gently hinted that one less dish would've been sufficient, or headed us towards a smaller dessert. Overall though service has been personable without being overly clingy. Where one waiter whisks away a wine glass with a sip still lurking, another notices and insists on bringing us a new glass and pours a little splash more.
It's worth noting that as a whole, the smaller dishes are much better executed; more refined and elegant, while the larger dishes are less finessed. The larger dishes are where tonight's dinner comes a little unstuck. Perhaps it's just too much food - and with the larger dishes coming right at the end, we go from just nice to uncomfortably full all too quickly. Whichever it is, Eightysix has still given us lots of reason to return, perhaps with more friends in tow to help us eat it all.
Address: Cnr Lonsdale and Elouera Streets, Braddon
Hours: Dinner seven nights
Chef: Michael Rees
Vegetarian: Plenty of options
Noise: Might be hard to have a quiet conversation
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: